The contenders trailing Philippe Couillard in the race to replace Jean Charest as Quebec Liberal leader are grasping at the Ontario party’s recent example for hope their race is not over.
With Mr. Couillard firmly in the lead and, according to some reports, holding the support of around half of committed delegates, his two opponents are evoking Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s come-from-behind victory as they try to rally their troops for next weekend’s leadership vote.
Both former finance minister Raymond Bachand and former transport minister Pierre Moreau suggested they might join forces to stop Mr. Couillard should he fall short of a first-ballot victory. But neither man is ready to concede second place, making it unclear who might receive such support after a first ballot.
Recent history shows the person who comes in first on the first ballot without winning finds himself in a difficult position, Mr. Moreau told Radio-Canada’s Sunday political talk show. “It’s not to be hard on Mr. Couillard,” he said. “It’s that I think he’ll be first, I think he’ll fall short, and things will get difficult in the second round.”
The recent history cited by Mr. Moreau is Ms. Wynne’s Ontario Liberal convention win earlier this year, which she took in the third round after trailing for two rounds of voting behind favourite Sandra Pupatello.
As strategy goes, it may be a long shot in the Quebec Liberal race. Mr. Couillard, by far the most popular of the three men among Quebec voters, has somewhere near half of the 2,600 Liberal delegates locked up. A report by La Presse last month predicted a first-round win for Mr. Couillard. A tally conducted by the newspaper found he had locked up 60 per cent of committed delegates, a figure strenuously contested by his rivals.
Mr. Couillard’s advantage heading into the convention appears to be far stronger than that of Ms. Pupatello, who only had 27 per cent of declared delegate support going in and was only slightly ahead of Ms. Wynne.
In the Ontario example, the two front-runners vied for support from four also-rans as the convention went into second and third ballots. Quebec’s convention will be over in one or two ballots. If Mr. Couillard falls short of 50 per cent on the first round, the third-place finisher will have a difficult choice to make.
In a leadership race that has failed to spark enormous interest or boost Liberal membership, Mr. Couillard has built his entire campaign on appearing to be as conciliatory as possible.
In one of the few pointed salvos of the campaign, Mr. Bachand attacked him for leaving government in 2008 and for his association with Dr. Arthur Porter, the health-care executive who faces criminal charges including fraud for his handling of a contract to construct a major Montreal hospital.
“During the campaign, Mr. Couillard has never attacked anybody, in public, in private, anywhere,” said his spokesman, Harold Fortin. “It will be easier for him to rally people in different camps because of his behaviour.”