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  • David Boudeweel-Lefebvre

Election campaign recap: The ground has shifted


After more than five weeks of politicking, Québec will elect a new government on Monday, Oct.3.


While polls continue to reinforce the seemingly foregone conclusion that the Coalition avenir Québec will win a second term, the 2022 general election nevertheless has altered the province’s political landscape in some significant ways. Despite being a fairly boring campaign for election watchers, a few of its impacts will continue to be felt for some time to come.


No one folded

Never in the province’s history has Québec had an election season start out with five parties as serious contenders. At the beginning of this campaign, pundits questioned whether all of the main parties competing for seats actually had the capacity to get candidates elected, especially the Parti québécois and Québec’s Conservatives. We will have to see what Monday brings, but at this point we can safely say that all five parties ran professional races and all deserve to send at least a handful of representatives to the National Assembly.


By no means was everything smooth sailing for each party, but after a trying campaign, and intense scrutiny from media and voters, no one folded. To some extent, most are now stronger than they were five weeks ago.


Governing might become more challenging

While the CAQ and incumbent premier François Legault were prohibitive favourites, they might have tricked themselves into thinking the ride would be easy. True, the first 20 days of the campaign were pretty good for them. But then came two difficult debates, and Legault’s increasing tendency to go off script, ultimately creating confusion around their messaging and resulting in more voters looking to alternatives. For instance, the PQ was able to find a way to take advantage of the CAQ’s campaign weaknesses, and now has a better chance at surviving as a viable party. The CAQ’s missteps have also greatly limited their ambitions to make significant gains on the Island of Montréal, where negative statements about immigration don’t play well at all. Even some of their seats in the Québec City area are now more vulnerable than they would have been if the CAQ campaign had followed a more steady course.


In the end, Legault will likely get an enhanced majority, expanding his party’s current seat count beyond 76 MNAs, while falling short of the 100 seats that the CAQ has been projected to win. Once re-elected as premier, the fallout from some of his party’s campaign messaging might make it harder for him to govern, as his future opposition will have more fodder for arguments to attack his government.


Age matters

Now more than ever, the CAQ relies on older voters to win big. Similar to the voting pattern familiar to the PQ, the CAQ’s main voter base is aging, and they are struggling to replace their core supporters with younger ones at the same rate. In the 2022 election, the CAQ will make out OK with support from only a small segment of younger voters, because they know they can currently count on widespread support from older ones, who still make up a significant portion of Québec’s electorate. But a turning point is coming, as changing demographics will likely make it harder for a single party to rely on broad support from various age groups in the future. Looking at rapidly aging societies like Italy, Japan, or Greece, we can see that generational political fractures can have unforeseen consequences. Québec isn’t necessarily headed down the same road, but this is certainly a yellow flag to raise.


Canada portrayed as only good for cutting cheques

Refreshingly, the 2022 Québec election campaign has not centred around separatism, constitutional issues, or any other axis of the provincial-federal relationship. However, most of the provincial parties have potentially gone too far downplaying challenges in this area, by portraying the federal government’s role as nothing more than a financial backer for Québec's policy ambitions.


Election platforms from all parties, although maybe a bit less from Québec’s Liberals, seem based on an assumption that the province will be receiving an increase in federal transfer payments resulting from the Trudeau government’s plans for new programs, while taking for granted that Québec will have a right to spend this hypothetical increase in funds as it pleases, with no strings attached. If the federal government does in fact continue to pursue a policy agenda that requires becoming more active in provincial matters (dental care, drug insurance programs, etc.), this might end up playing out very differently.


As for Québec's relationship with other provinces, Ontario was mentioned only a few times in party platforms, but that’s about it. This was a provincial election campaign that really did not look much beyond Québec's borders.


Aftermath

Most political experts and commentators expected that the outcome of the 1995 Québec referendum would lead to the province becoming more integrated into Canada’s national political culture. Twenty-seven years later, the opposite seems to be true.


Quebecers now seem to take for granted that Canada will be there to help their province no matter what, and they don’t appear interested in ruffling any feathers as long as there is constitutional peace. Politically, Québec seems happy to manage its own affairs on its own terms. For the time being, the province appears to be enjoying the best of both worlds, but we’ll have to see how long this lasts.


A lack of collaboration with the rest of the country could lead to lost opportunities for Québec. With a number of campaign commitments from various parties, mostly related to language rights and immigration, going against some cherished values in English Canada, existing fractures could eventually reach a breaking point. There is also a growing sense of isolation among some of Québec's most cosmopolitan, educated and bilingual residents, who typically also are the most mobile. They might be tempted to leave if the province becomes too focused on promoting Québec nationalism to the detriment of other priorities more relevant to their values and quality of life.


For the most part, the CAQ did an excellent job governing from the centre, and being a fair referee on most social issues during their first term in power. The COVID-19 pandemic also allowed Québec to sweep some of its political challenges under the rug while dealing with the all-consuming urgency of the crisis. With the province now struggling under a wider variety of social and economic pressures, a second term will be the real test for Legault and his party.

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