Has the Liberal Party become the “natural governing party” of Quebec?
This is the opinion of Jean-Marc Léger, head of Leger Marketing, and this is also the fear of many Parti Québécois activists. After his party’s crushing defeat at the hands of Philippe Couillard’s Liberals, former transport minister Sylvain Gaudreault said his worry “is that the Liberal Party will keep being elected and re-elected, like the Conservative Party in Alberta.”
Indeed, the future looks bright for the Quebec Liberals, who won 70 seats and more than 41 per cent of the vote in last week’s provincial election. The PQ will be in disarray for many months, and the Coalition Avenir Québec, the third party headed by Air Transat founder François Legault, lost 200,000 votes compared to the 2012 election, although its performance was better than expected.
The Liberal Party is the oldest party in Quebec – it was founded as a section of the Liberal Party of Canada in 1867 and broke its ties with the federal party in 1955. It’s also been by far the most successful at the polls.
Mr. Léger points out that the Liberals have won 25 of the 41 provincial elections held since 1867. Maurice Duplessis’s Union Nationale, a right-wing, nationalist party, won six times, but lost its momentum in the mid-1970s, when it was replaced by the PQ as the major opposition to the Liberals. While the PQ’s clientele is almost exclusively limited to old-stock francophones because of its sovereigntist agenda, the Liberal Party is the only truly multicultural formation. It always could count on the support of anglophones and new citizens, a rock-solid bloc that can only grow as new immigrants settle in the province.
The Liberals spent little time in political purgatory after former premier Jean Charest’s government lost office, tainted by allegations of illegal financing. Even though most of its MNAs are former members of Mr. Charest’s government, the party was able to appear renewed under the leadership of Mr. Couillard, who ran a better campaign than many expected. The former neurosurgeon projected the reassuring image of the good doctor with gracious bedside manners, and his calm, almost phlegmatic demeanour came as a welcome respite after the psychodramas inflicted on the population by Pauline Marois’s PQ government, with its divisive secular charter and its constant about-faces on policy matters. (After just 18 months in power, the PQ now lays claim to the shortest-lived government in the province’s history.)
For now, the one thing most likely to prevent the Liberals from enjoying at least four relatively quiet years in power is the possibility of more corruption allegations emerging from the Charbonneau commission, which has resumed after pausing for the election campaign. But for this to really hurt Mr. Couillard, the allegations would have to be extremely serious and substantiated, and touch key people in his new government.
Will the centre-right CAQ, a nationalist party, eventually grow up to be a modern version of the Union Nationale? Will the CAQ and the PQ (or part of it) eventually merge? For now, the Péquistes don’t have time to look into a crystal ball. They are busy nursing their wounds after the second-worst election result in their history, and they’re about to enter a leadership race with stormy internal divisions – especially around the polarizing figure of former Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau, who has obvious leadership ambitions.
For now, at least, the Liberals can relax and enjoy their victory.