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  • David Boudeweel-Lefebvre

Week 3 recap: Legault battle-tested on the campaign trail

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

The third week of the Québec election campaign was full of pitfalls for Premier Legault, providing many openings to his main rivals. Here’s a look back at a week that might move the needle.

The CAQ still fighting for control over immigration and economic narratives

The troops behind the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) campaign started off the week trying to get back on target on the contentious issue of immigration. At a major mid-campaign rally in Drummondville, CAQ leader and outgoing premier François Legault said that uncontrolled non-French immigration is a threat to national cohesion in Québec. This statement earned him a volley of criticism from some political heavyweights, including at the federal level, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Québec lieutenant, Pablo Rodriguez, responded with strong words.

The CAQ then released its fiscal policy proposals, calling for a return to a balanced budget in five years, after the next term in office. This disappointed many financial analysts who were more optimistic, especially considering the pre-election report tabled by Finance Minister Éric Girard a few weeks before the campaign began. However, given that Québec Liberals miscalculated their projections by $16 billion, Premier Legault still managed to retain the upper hand in the numbers war.

Poll results reveal possible trouble for the CAQ

The first true wake-up call, though, came in the middle of the week with the release of a new Léger poll, which showed a small but present erosion of support for the CAQ, from 42% to 38% of voting intentions. This is a significant loss, marking the first downturn for the governing party in public opinion in months. The drop in support was especially marked in Montréal and Laval, which has become a key battleground, as well as among young people.

With just over two weeks to go before the election, local polling numbers have also started to emerge, revealing that some CAQ candidates will face tougher battles than expected. The incumbent MNA candidate in Saint-François (Eastern Townships) is in danger of being defeated by left-leaning Québec solidaire (QS), while star candidate Caroline Saint-Hilaire could be swept away by the same opposing party in Sherbrooke.

Legault ends week with lacklustre debate performance

To finish the week strong, Legault needed to deliver an effective performance in the first televised leaders' debate on Thursday, Sept. 15. While he avoided being knocked out by concentrated attacks from his opponents, he nevertheless mostly came across bland and overdefensive, appearing tense in the face of younger and more vigorous opponents. Apart from a heartfelt defence of his government’s handling of the pandemic, which put an otherwise solid Éric Duhaime on the ropes, Legault seemed to lack energy and the type of straight talk that Quebecers love and typically get from him. (For more commentary on the debate, check out our recap.)

This week was by no means a disaster for the CAQ, and one week alone does not make or break a campaign. Legault is still comfortably ahead in the polls for now, and no single other party leader is emerging as an alternative. And while Legault's debate performance was disappointing, it was not catastrophic. However, overall, there was enough to light a few warning signs on the CAQ’s dashboard this past week on the campaign trail.

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