The fourth week of the Québec election campaign was, without a doubt, the most eventful so far.
Highlights from the past week include the final leaders’ debate, a new round of attacks from all sides, several new polls, and post-tropical storm Fiona forcing evacuations and road closures across the Magdalen Islands.
Winds of change might be coming
While Québec’s political climate has not resulted in any waves nearly as strong as the hurricane, there might be a change in the air. The Parti québécois is doing better in the polls, the Liberals are continuing their descent and, through it all, a fight to the finish is brewing in a handful of key ridings between the governing Coalition avenir Québec and Québec solidaire on the left. On top of all that, Éric Duhaime and his Conservatives have been trying to secure a few seats in the Québec City area, leading to more and more voters taking an interest in this election.
As the campaign draws to a close, party leaders have started ignoring some of their rivals and instead have become laser-focused on attacking others. With five viable parties standing a chance to win multiple ridings, and a wide variety of regions for each of them to visit, their strategies have been complex and sometimes difficult to follow or anticipate.
The CAQ remains determined to stay on top
The CAQ, still far ahead in the polls, has been focused on maintaining their lead. Their leader and incumbent premier, François Legault, stepped aside from campaigning over the weekend to respond to the state of emergency that has taken hold of the Magdalen Islands, providing a good opportunity to reinforce his image as a unifying leader. At this point, he is likely just happy to keep his efforts focused on getting the vote out and not messing anything up.
The Liberals continue to play defence
Dominique Anglade has been focusing her attention on ridings already safely secured by the Liberal party, which shows how defensively she is playing. Despite an already difficult campaign, the party may not have hit rock bottom yet. While Anglade threw a few Hail Mary passes during the last debate, her efforts do not seem to have moved the needle much.
The QS might be spreading itself thin
Québec solidaire has been working hard to get voters out to advance polls, mainly because their younger base tends to vote less. Regionally, the party is focused on the Island of Montréal and a few urban areas outside Montréal, hoping to make gains in ridings with a more progressive electorate. This has placed the QS in a difficult position, as fighting the Liberals in Montréal could take away from their efforts to battle the PQ and the CAQ for seats in other regions. A challenging puzzle to solve with limited resources.
The Conservatives are making a major play for the capital region
Duhaime and his Conservatives have been ramping up rallies and other various shows of force and events in the greater Québec City area and surrounding suburbs. His goal is to show his supporters that they are not alone, and that, if they vote together, they can make a difference. His almost unique target is the party in power. The end of the election campaign in and around Québec City will play out much differently compared to the rest of the province, almost as if that region is in its own little world.
Is the PQ making a comeback?
The PQ deserves deeper analysis this week: An interesting dynamic from the fourth week of the election campaign has been the emergence of public opinion showing support for Québec's sovereignist party. After a moribund start to the campaign, with the party seemingly headed for extinction, the PQ, pulled up by the performance of its leader, might now be able to salvage the furniture and potentially elect a half-dozen members to the National Assembly.
The day after the first leaders' debate, during which he delivered a solid performance, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon launched a media offensive, claiming that his support had jumped, despite having no evidence on hand to back up his assertion.
This message was quickly relayed by his candidates and supporters, through traditional news media channels, as well as their social media networks online. Since then, testimonies of voters returning to the PQ fold, after voting for the CAQ in 2018, have multiplied. Plamondon also performed well in the second hour of the most recent debate and, despite recently spending a day away from campaigning due to illness, he seems to have genuinely created some momentum.
Several former PQ members turned political columnists have also used their platform to fuel this message. Jean-François Lisée, who, as leader, led the PQ to its worst electoral defeat, even predicted this week that his former party has a chance to take the official opposition in the National Assembly from the Liberals! Though his projection appears to be far-fetched, it is interesting to note that the PQ have seen a rise in support despite the fact that the possibility of separation, the party’s raison d'être, no longer appears to be taken seriously by most Quebecers. Maybe some Québec voters want to park their vote in a third party that can put forward some ideas representing their interests, without being in power. The PQ may have positioned themselves as the right place for that this election.