Quebecers have so far been watching the federal election campaign with relative indifference. There are three possible reasons for this lack of interest: few major polarizing issues, no particular enthusiasm for any of the leaders, and the fact that election day is still some time away. Nevertheless, count on Quebecers to take an interest in this campaign when the right time comes. They have long understood that they are key players in shaping the Canadian electorate mood and in determining how the vote swings, and that they have considerable influence on the composition of the House of Commons.
A few weeks ago, Quebec Premier François Legault ordered his ministers, members of the National Assembly and political employees to remain absolutely neutral to avoid any interference in this election. Clearly, this word of caution did not apply to him. Within hours of the writ drop, François Legault's nationalist wish list stole the spotlight in the first leg of this electoral marathon, forcing leaders to commit themselves publicly. The list of priorities also highlighted the nature of the disputes between Quebec and Ottawa.
One thing is certain; the move was providential for Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet, giving him an opportunity to consolidate his strategy of riding along with the Legault government’s popularity and becoming its voice on the federal scene. The Bloc leader has understood for some time that his party's resurrection depended on greater promiscuity with the Coalition Avenir Québec, knowing all too well that his provincial big brother, the Parti Québécois, is struggling.
Justin Trudeau remains at the top of the voting intentions in Quebec, and his electoral success will depend on his ability to win over Quebec, which could compensate setbacks elsewhere in the country. Even though he had a rather difficult start in the election campaign to say the least, his support in Quebec remains strong. The latest surveys show that the LPC is losing ground in the country, but not in Quebec, despite its vague position on the legal challenge to Quebec's secularism law and the blackface controversy.
Communicators have long acknowledged that relentlessly and excessively berating someone often ends up in generating empathy and compassion for the “victim”. This may explain why the damages have been limited for Trudeau in Quebec. For a large number of Quebecers, the case is clear: Justin Trudeau is an advocate of multiculturalism; he cannot be considered racist. However, the fact remains that the Liberal brand has been tarnished. Fortunately for him, the blackface episode has run out of steam. The last few days seem to have shown that he has succeeded in relaunching his campaign.
At the conclusion of the first third of this election campaign, the electoral compass has begun to move slightly in Quebec:
- The LPC’s lead is decreasing;
- The CPC is at a standstill;
- Maxime Bernier will have to work really hard to keep his Beauce stronghold. His unexpected presence at the leaders' debate is an opportunity to score points, as he’s always been known to speak his mind;
- Jagmeet Singh's strong campaign isn’t stemming the fall in NDP support;
- The Bloc is sneakily climbing to second place.
As a result, the sovereignist party could deprive the Conservatives of the gains they need. The Bloc could also take seats away from the Liberals in the coveted 450 battleground. Provided, of course, that support for the Bloc continues to rise and reaches the 25% mark, at which point its vote will become "effective" and will translate into seats.
In other words, the NDP's expected defeat in Quebec—the key to this election in the province—could potentially benefit the Bloc Québécois. In fact, Yves-François Blanchet is in exactly the same position as Justin Trudeau was in 2015: he’s the underdog.
Bloc Québécois partisans are already picturing the party holding the balance of power in the event of a minority government. In fact, this status could more realistically befall to the Greens or the New Democrats, who are more closely aligned with the Liberals ideologically speaking. In case of a minority Conservative government who campaigned on a platform advocating for more autonomy in provincial jurisdictions, the Bloc could negotiate new powers for Quebec. To the great satisfaction of... François Legault.