Si la tendance se maintient, the Bloc Québécois will win a majority of Quebec seats in the next election for the seventh consecutive time. The next election will also be Gilles Duceppe's sixth as head of the party, making him the undisputed greybeard of the five federal leaders.
With Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton spending some time outside Ottawa on much-publicized tours, the Bloc Leader has also been on the road, visiting some of the regions in the province that will be hotly contested whenever Canadians go to the polls.
An analysis of the 75 ridings in Quebec indicates that less than a dozen will likely be the primary focus of the Bloc's next election campaign.
The sovereigntist party has 25 "fortress" ridings that they are virtually assured to retain. More than two-thirds of them are in the Bloc's core region of support between Montreal and Quebec City. The suburbs north and south of Montreal vote solidly Bloc, with levels of support running at about or well over 50 per cent in the last three elections.
There are another 18 ridings the Bloc currently holds that can be considered to be secure. Half of these are in the Bloc's heartland, while there are three in the regions around Quebec City and the Saguenay and another three in Montreal and Laval.
This gives the Bloc a hard floor of 25 seats, but the party is in a strong position considering that 43 of the 47 seats they currently hold can be considered safe.
The real campaigning will take place in the 11 ridings that are on the bubble, and if we assume the Bloc's objective is to win 55 seats, or one better than the party's best results in 1993 and 2004, Mr. Duceppe will have to carry most of these to have a shot at attaining it.
There are five Bloc ridings that can be considered vulnerable, three of which are particularly interesting. First among these is the eastern Quebec riding of Haute-Gaspésie-La Mitis-Matane - Matapédia, primarily because it could topple before the next election. Long-time MP Jean-Yves Roy resigned his seat in the fall, and unless the writ drops this spring a by-election will have to take place. The riding was won in 2008 by a slim margin, as the Bloc beat out the Liberal candidate by 37.5 to 35.6 per cent. Jean-François Fortin, a local mayor, will be carrying the Bloc banner next time around. Nancy Charest will be running again for the Liberals, while the Conservatives have also put up a good candidate.
Ahuntsic, a riding on the island of Montreal, is also vulnerable. Maria Mourani took the riding by only 423 votes in 2008 against former Liberal MP Eleni Bakopanos, who will not be running again and has been replaced by Noushig Eloyan, a well-known city councillor. The last three elections in Ahuntsic went down to the wire and it is likely to be another close race.
The third Bloc riding to watch is Gatineau, which was won by Richard Nadeau in 2008. This was the closest three-way race in the country, as the Bloc won the riding with 29.2 per cent of the vote, beating out the NDP's Françoise Boivin by 3.1 points. The Liberals, at 25.3 per cent support, were not far behind. The pair are set to face-off against each other again, and the permutations of such a close three-way race make the outcome completely unpredictable.
Brome-Missisquoi and Jeanne-Le Ber will also be ones to watch, as the margin was just a little over two points in both cases.
While playing defence in these five ridings, the Bloc Québécois will also likely be targeting six ridings which they have a good chance to take in the next election.
Two of them are in the Montreal region. The Liberals took Brossard-La Prairie, on the southern shore, by only 69 votes in 2008. The other riding is Papineau, held by Liberal MP Justin Trudeau. It was won by a small margin in 2008 and applying a uniform swing to the riding would give the Bloc a narrow victory. But the son of Pierre Trudeau will not be easy to beat.
Beauport-Limoilou and Portneuf-Jacques Cartier, two ridings in the region of the provincial capital, will also be on the Bloc's list. The first is held by Conservative MP Sylvie Boucher and was taken by a margin of 4.2 points, but was won by the Bloc in 2004.
The second is the home of independent MP André Arthur. The Bloc came within 1.5 points of taking the riding back in 2008. Mr. Arthur's chances depend mightily on whether the Conservatives will opt not to run a candidate there again.
The last two targeted ridings are in eastern Quebec. Conservative MP Denis Lebel is at risk in Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean unless he can buck provincial trends, while the Bloc Québécois should campaign hard to win Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup back after the Conservatives stole it from them in a 2009 by-election.
But even if the Bloc won all of these ridings, they would still be one short of 55 seats and a historic best. In order to reach this objective, Mr. Duceppe will have to win one of the 10 ridings in which they have an outside chance of an upset.
The Bloc could take advantage of a Conservative/Liberal split and swipe Pontiac away from Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, or they could beat Tory MP Daniel Petit in the Quebec City riding of Charlesbourg-Haute-Saint-Charles. After these two seats, the Bloc would have the difficult task of overcoming margins of 15 points or more.
It is no accident that the Bloc has won the plurality of votes in Quebec in all but one of the elections that has taken place since the party was formed after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. Mr. Duceppe runs a tight ship (some say he has even more control over his MPs than does Stephen Harper), is rarely off-message, and is one of the most popular politicians in Quebec.
The Bloc Leader can enter the next election confident that his party will come out of it with more seats than they currently have. Buoyed by good poll numbers, half-a-dozen seats in Quebec are ripe for the Bloc's picking, but Gilles Duceppe will have to campaign hard and pull a few upsets in order to bring his party to new heights.
This is the second of a five-part series analyzing the electoral chances of each of the five federal parties in Canada. Last week, we looked at the Greens ; next week, we will take a look at the New Democratic Party.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com
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