- David Boudeweel-Lefebvre
Battleground watch: Montréal and Laval
One the most interesting stories of the 2022 Québec election campaign is that Montréal is emerging as a political battlefield. For the last few decades, Montréal and its immediate northern suburb of Laval had always overwhelmingly voted Liberal, as well as the suburbs to the west, with only a bit of support going to the Parti Québécois in the east of Montréal and Laval. Cracks started to appear in 2007. Now, the floodgates might open.
Montréal and Laval epitomized the two-party system in Québec for decades. While the Liberals and Parti Québécois alternated in power at the provincial level, only a few seats would ever change hands in the Montréal region during each general election. Apart from some surprising results in by-elections, most seats were assumed to be safely guaranteed to one party or the other, and mainly to the Liberals.
That started to change in 2008, when leftist party Québec solidaire (QS), also somewhat separatist, started to seriously dent PQ’s support east of Montréal, as well as the east side of the city’s downtown core. Solidaires won their first riding in 2008, then one more in 2012 and now have built a significant beachhead of five to six ridings on the island. At the same time, François Legault’s Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) started knocking on the door in 2014, and was finally able to win two seats in Montréal and also one in Laval in the 2018 election.
With provincial Liberals having a hard time maintaining support across the province, some of their “traditional” seats in Montréal are now vulnerable. Both the CAQ and QS are roaming around, like sharks smelling blood in the water, making moves. Québec’s Conservative party is also trying to seduce English-speaking voters, leeching previously unchallenged support from the Liberals. Laval is no different, except that the fight there is solely between the CAQ and the Liberals, with other parties playing spoilers.
We can expect Québec solidaire to make gains, especially in French-speaking ridings in the south west of the island (Verdun, Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne). Maurice-Richard, in the north, will be a three-way race between the Liberals, CAQ and solidaires. The CAQ also has its sights on at least two Laval ridings (Vimont and Mille-Isles), as well as Anjou-Louis-Riel (Montréal) and maybe one more in the east. Making these predictions 10 years ago would have been heresy for election watchers, but such is the state of some bona fide Liberal seats these days.
Historically, the Liberals have expected a general level of success positioning themselves as the pro-Canada party, while also fiscally responsible and business-friendly. But during the current election campaign, their leader has called for a green shift, abandoned the regions beyond Montréal and now has to defend many of the party’s seats in the Montréal region as well. While the decline in serious interest in separatism has certainly hurt the PQ, it’s shaken the Liberals’ raison d’être as well. After decades of political gridlock, Montréal consequently might be looking at experiencing its first significant political shift in a generation.