The campaign season for the 2018 Quebec election officially began on August 23rd. It will last 39 days, compared to the 33-day minimum that the last election was based on. The 2014 provincial election was dominated by the Parti Québecois’ (PQ) controversial proposal for a Quebec Charter of Rights and Values, which included banning public sector employees from wearing overt religious symbols. The PQ lost the election, and leader Pauline Marois also lost her own seat. In October 2017, Couillard’s Liberals passed Bill 62, which bans face coverings in public spaces. While the two parties have previously dominated Quebec politics and certainly dominated the previous election, the upcoming election will not be fought between the Liberals and the Parti Québecois.
Parti Quebecois: Former Favourites Fall From Grace
After Marois’ defeat, Jean-François Lisée was elected to take her place on a platform for eventual separation of Quebec from Canada. He was an advisor to Jacques Parizeau, who infamously said after the second Quebec referendum that the separatists had lost because of “the ethnic vote.” Although Lisée has said that he will put aside any attempts to trigger a referendum in his first term, this has not helped the Parti Québecois rally public opinion. In the current polls, the PQ trails behind the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) and the Liberals. The PQ has been in government or official opposition since 1973, with the exception of the election in 2007. Even then, they held 36 of the 125 seats in l’Assemblée nationale. They are currently projected to be reduced to 9 seats, but could end the election with as few as 1.
Quebec Solidaire: The Dark Horse
The PQ are not the only separatist party running in the fall election. Québec Solidaire (QS) has been rising in the polls, due to their newly elected spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. His rise to fame originated from the student protests in 2012, where he was a leading voice in stopping the tuition hike. While the PQ’s main voter base is the aging Francophone population, the leftist platform of QS finds support in the younger population. Their platform includes free tuition, stronger ties with the Aboriginal population, and increased funding to help immigrants integrate into Quebec society. They appeal to the voters who did not experience the apex of Parti Québecois’ popularity when they were led by René Levesque, Jacques Parizeau, and Lucien Bouchard. Nor do they push for the same hardline nationalism fronted by the CAQ. Despite the party’s growing profile, it is still uncertain that they will ever occupy government or even Official Opposition. While they usually hold around 2 seats in L’assemblée nationale, they are now projected to win 7, and could potentially overtake the PQ.
Liberals: The Struggling Incumbents
Although Philippe Couillard is currently serving his first term as premier and leader of the Quebec Liberals, it may be be his last. Voters are continually dissatisfied with him as Premier and his party despite the province’s stellar economic performance. He has tried to appeal to the nationalist sentiment that fuels Quebec politics by passing Bill 62, which is a moderate secularism piece of legislation relative to those proposed by rivalling parties. The PQ and CAQ both argued that Bill 62 did not go far enough, and vowed to increase the scope of the bill by extending the religious symbols ban to police officers, teachers, and judges. Additionally, he has asked Ottawa to reopen the Constitutional negotiations, so that Quebec will finally sign. The request has been denied by Justin Trudeau, and not many Quebec voters are interested either. Couillard’s appeasement approach has failed. Fortunately, the Liberals enjoy a loyal voter pool in the anglophone and allophone communities, as they are the only provincial party to champion diversity and multiculturalism. They are now hoping to win the election with a stronger emphasis on the economy.
CAQ: The Front Runner
The Coalition Avenir Québec is a rising star in provincial politics. Leader François Legault co-founded Air Transat before becoming a cabinet minister for the PQ, before he quit and founded the CAQ in 2011. Although he was a staunch separatist in the PQ, he says that he now supports a strong Quebec within Canada. For him and the CAQ, a stronger Quebec means a tighter immigration policy. He promises to reduce immigration by 10,000 people a year and implement a three-point program in order to obtain a “certificat de sélection.” The program will require new immigrants to show proof of job search, pass a French language test, and a highly controversial Quebec values test. Many Quebec voters are bothered by these proposals, but others are supportive, especially since the CAQ’s immigration policy does not come with the perilous question of sovereignty.
The dissatisfaction of voters with the two parties that have occupied government since the 60s has led them to a crossroads for the future of Quebec politics. Since February, the CAQ has held a comfortable lead over the Liberals. This marks the first time in the past 50 years that the ballot question has not been sovereignty, as two federalist parties fight for power.
Looking Ahead: The Road to October 1st
As the campaign period begins, voters should keep an eye on the Coalition Avenir Québec. Without previous terms in office base their opinion on, voters will have to rely on the party’s upcoming policy promises to determine if the CAQ is the best choice to form government. Couillard’s Liberals will have to scramble to regain the public’s interest and support in order to secure a second term. With Québec Solidaire at its turning point, whether or not the Parti Québecois will survive this election with official party status remains to be determined.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.