It is as sure as anything can be in politics: Quebec Premier Pauline Marois will call an election on March 11 for a vote on April 14. And why wouldn’t she? According to the latest CROP poll published Tuesday in La Presse, the Parti Québécois is virtually assured of winning a majority.
This poll confirms the tendency shown by previous polls conducted by different firms over the past few months: the gradual rise of the PQ government’s popularity and the corresponding downfall of the Opposition Liberals, who are losing ground under the ineffective leadership of Philippe Couillard.
All the indicators point to a resounding victory for the PQ. At 40-per-cent support, the party is six percentage points ahead of the Liberals, whose votes are heavily concentrated in the Montreal area. Ms. Marois is eight points ahead of Mr. Couillard, with 30 per cent of those polled saying she would make the best premier, compared with 22 per cent for Mr. Couillard. The dominance of the PQ among the French-speaking electorate is greater than it has been since the last time the party won a majority of seats (in 1998, with the election of Lucien Bouchard). Now the party leads among francophones by 26 points over the Liberals.
The PQ is poised to win back the ridings lost to the Coalition Avenir Québec in the last election, including L’Assomption, where CAQ leader François Legault risks a defeat. The CAQ is down to a meagre 16 per cent.
For the PQ, there is only one small dark cloud on the horizon. A sizable part of its recent gains come from those who were previously “undecided” – a category of voters who can easily change their minds and may not bother to vote. But if Ms. Marois runs a good campaign, she will consolidate her current gains.
The Premier, buoyed by her success in the polls, looks quite self-confident. She changed her delicate, designer glasses for a more masculine square frame – an aesthetically dubious choice, but one that projects an air of authority. An experienced politician with an election campaign as party leader under her belt, she will not be intimidated by the Liberal leader, whose performance as a neophyte party leader has been marred by countless blunders.
This turn of events is surprising for those who remember how demoralized the PQ government was a year ago, but there are explanations: The Charter on secularism boosted the PQ among francophones, especially older ones and those living outside Montreal, who resent the visible presence of Muslim immigrants; while catering to the conservative nationalist voters with its identity politics, the government has acquired some credibility on the economic front by silencing its radical environmentalist wing and making peace with the mining companies. Ms. Marois now appears to be an enthusiastic promoter of foreign investment and development, including the exploration of oil fields that might exist in the province, and the pipeline project to bring tar-sands oil to the east.
The CROP poll even registered a little wave of optimism in the public mood. “There is a feeling that things are being done,” CROP analyst Youri Rivest says.
If the PQ wins a majority of seats, it will be free to pass the two controversial bills that were blocked by the opposition: the charter bill that restricts the rights of religious minorities, and the language bill that will force the “francization” of small enterprises. Will it push for sovereignty? It will certainly try to, but on this issue, everything will depend on the polls. The PQ will never again call for a referendum it isn’t sure of winning handsomely.