Analysis by Jack Jedwab
Association for Canadian Studies
August 1, 2012
As expected, today Premier Jean Charest called a provincial election with over one year left in his government’s mandate. The Premier is betting that a late summer election campaign will pay dividends for an administration that has suffered from a high rate of dissatisfaction amongst the population. At this juncture, if Quebec had some equivalent of Las Vegas bookmakers they would probably receive more bets on a Parti Quebecois victory and many would likely wager on a minority government were that option made available. But too many observers have made the mistake of betting against Jean Charest as the Premier has shown an uncanny ability to beat the odds and leave many a pundit scratching their heads.
As a rule of thumb in Quebec politics it is generally held that the electorate favours a change of government following two consecutive mandates. A fourth electoral victory for Jean Charest would be quite the accomplishment as no Quebec Premier has enjoyed such success since Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale won four consecutive majorities in the 1940’s and the 1950’s (though one of Premier Charest’s victories was a minority government). .
Despite certain observers forecasting a Parti Quebecois victory, at this stage the results of the 2012 election are extremely difficult to predict. There are several imponderables in a late summer election. To begin with, the campaign is unlikely to generate a lot of excitement. Over the first two to three weeks more Quebecers will probably be tuning in to Olympics and not concentrating on the electoral campaign. Perhaps, the Liberals are counting on a relatively disengaged population to quell the hostility directed at the government this past spring by sometimes unruly protesters. On the other hand a campaign that only captures the public’s attention in the final ten days may not allow the Premier to showcase his fierce campaign style. Electoral participation will be extremely important and the respective party’s ability to bring out their voters will undoubtedly play a role in the outcome. How the Coalition pour l’Avenir du Quebec splits the votes in various ridings will make a big difference in the electoral fortunes for the Liberals and the Parti Quebecois. Quebec Solidaire and the fledging Option Nationale are likely to have only a minor impact on the prospects of the Parti Quebecois.
In 2008 the Liberals won the majority of Quebec’s 125 seats (66) with 42% of the popular vote compared with 35% for the Parti Quebecois (51 seats) and 16% for the now defunct Action Democratique du Quebec (7 seats). Quebec commentators are generally quick to point out that francophone voters ultimately determine provincial election results. In 2008, the Liberals had an estimated 32-34% of Quebec’s francophone vote, the Parti Quebecois with 36-38% and the ADQ had approximately 20% of the majority language group.
Conventional wisdom suggests that a six point lead in overall public opinion is needed by the Liberals to secure a majority of seats in the Assembly. Polling conducted in June and July does not give the Liberals that margin and seems to put the PQ closer to minority territory despite being near even with the Liberals in total support. The last July CROP poll suggested that 36% of the francophone vote was with the PQ, 28% with the CAQ and 22% for the Liberals. A previous CROP poll suggested that the PQ’s francophone base was disproportionately larger in greater Montreal and in the South Shore, smaller in the Quebec City region and a number of other parts of the province. All that makes for a high degree of unpredictability.
On August 4th we will likely see the election of either a minority Liberal or Parti Quebecois government. In part, that forecast is based on the average support as reflected in the last three public opinion polls and the results of the 2008 provincial election notably with a focus on the margin of victory in the ridings. Where that margin of victory is large for any of the parties it is safe to assume that the incumbent will hold the seat. I think it is also safe to assume that the overwhelming majority of non-francophones will vote for the Liberals guaranteeing them a certain number of sears. The Parti Quebecois also has a certain number of guaranteed seats in those parts of the province with large numbers of voters that are committed to sovereignty. I assume that the there will be no NDP like wave in public support for either the Parti Quebecois or the CAQ. Neither Pauline Marois nor Francois Legault possesses the charisma of the late Jack Layton that contributed to the stunning sweep of the Federal New Democrats in Quebec. While both leaders will insist they represent change, a highly cynical electorate is not likely to be persuaded by such claims. Failing any major gaffes on the part of the party leaders, the two major parties should be entering the campaign confident that they each can hold 45 seats, the CAQ about eight seats and Quebec Solidaire with one seat. That leaves about 25 seats that for the time being might be described as too close to call. It is those seats that will be determine which of the two major parties will be in a position to form the next government and the role played by the CAQ in a balance of power situation.
My projections riding-by-riding:
PLQ – Parti Libéral du Québec / Quebec Liberal Party
Bonaventure, Gaspe, Kamouraska-Témiscouata, Charlesbourg, Chauveau, Jean-Lesage, Jean-Talon
Louis-Hébert, Vanier, Laviolette, Trois-Rivieres, Chutes de la Chaudiere, Montmagny-L’Islet, Orford, Richmond, Sherbrooke, Brome-Missisquoi, La Pinière, Laporte, Vaudreuil, D’Arcy-McGee, Marguerite-Bourgeoys, Mont-Royal, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Outremont, Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne, Verdun, Westmount–Saint-Louis, Acadie, Bourassa-Sauvé, Jeanne-Mance–Viger, Laurier-Dorion, Viau, Anjou, Lafontaine, Jacques-Cartier, Marquette, Nelligan, Robert-Baldwin, Saint-Laurent, Chomedey, Chapleau, Gatineau, Hull, Papineau, Pontiac, Frontenac
PQ – Parti Québecois
Iles de Madelaine, Matane, Matapedia, Rimouski, Chicoutimi, Dubuc, Duplessis, Jonquiere, Lac St. Jean, Rene Levesque, Roberval, Charlevoix, Taschereau, Champlain, Maskinonge, Saint-Maurice, Johnson, Borduas, Chambly, Iberville, Richelieu, Saint-Hyacinthe, Saint-Jean, Verchères, Beauharnois, Chateauguay, Marguerite-D’Youville, Marie-Victorin, Taillon, Vachon, Gouin, Sainte-Marie–Saint-Jacques, Bourget, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Pointe-aux-Trembles, Rosemont, Laval Des Rapides, Berthier, Joliette, L’Assomption, Masson, Bertrand, Blainville, Labelle, Mirabel, Prévost, Abitibi-Ouest
CAQ – Coalition Avenir Québec
Riviere de Loup, La Peltrie, Montmorency, Levis, Lotbiniere, Shefford, Rousseau, Deux-Montagnes, Drummond
ON/QS – Option National & Québec Solidaire have a non-aggression pact in place, and so won’t run candidates against one another where there’s a clear favourite.
Too close to call:
Arthabaska, Beauce-Nord, Beauce-Sud, Nicolet Yamaska, Megantic Compton, Saint-Francois, Huntingdon, Soulanges, La Prairie, Cremazie, Fabre, Portneuf, Mille-Îles, Vimont, Argenteuil, Abitibi-Est, Rouyn-Noranda–Témiscamingue, Ungava, Groulx, Terrebonne, Bellechase