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Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) co-founder Francois Legault speaks during a news conference with his co-founder Charles Sirois (unseen) at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City, November 14, 2011. (REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger) (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)
Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) co-founder Francois Legault speaks during a news conference with his co-founder Charles Sirois (unseen) at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City, November 14, 2011. (REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger) (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)

Number Cruncher

Can Quebec's new party win over non-francophones? Add to ...

Though the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) was officially launched as a political party only two weeks ago, it would virtually sweep the province of Quebec if an election were held today – but only if Gilles Duceppe stays on the sidelines.

Since the party was launched on Nov. 14, two polls have been conducted by the Quebec-based firms Léger Marketing and CROP, both showing the CAQ with a commanding lead over the governing Liberals.

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Averaging those two polls indicates that the CAQ, the brainchild of former PQ cabinet minister François Legault, has the support of about 34 per cent of Quebeckers. This gives the new party a 9.5-point lead over Jean Charest’s Liberals, who stand at about 24.5 per cent support. The Parti Québécois, which continues to go through its internal squabbles after the expulsion of PQ MNA Daniel Ratthé for flirting with the CAQ, has the support of only 20 per cent of Quebeckers.

Gérard Deltell’s Action Démocratique du Québec, which shares many of the same positions as the CAQ and which is rumoured to be in talks for a merger, garners the support of seven per cent of Quebeckers, putting them tied with Québec Solidaire.

Mr. Legault’s CAQ dominates the francophone vote at 40 per cent, 16 points ahead of Pauline Marois’ PQ. But the CAQ, with its policies concerning the protection of the French language, has not made any inroads among the non-francophone population. The Liberals have 64.5 per cent support among this demographic, while the CAQ stands at only 8.5 per cent, behind the provincial Greens.

The CAQ’s appeal is its novelty and the New Democrats recently demonstrated the power of change in Quebec. But the inability of the CAQ to gain traction among non-francophone Quebeckers, a demographic that warmed up to the NDP in the May election and helped send several NDP MPs from western Montreal to Ottawa, indicates that the CAQ is not following in the footsteps of Jack Layton entirely. Though pulling support from both the right-of-centre ADQ and left-wing Québec Solidaire, the CAQ remains a coalition of francophone voters only.

But François Legault does not need the non-francophone vote to become the province’s next premier. His party still leads in the Montreal region with 30.5 per cent to the Liberals’ 27 per cent, and his lead in and around Quebec City (38.5 per cent to 19.5 per cent for the Liberals) and in the rest of the province (36.5 per cent to 22.5 per cent) is massive.

At these levels of regional support, the Coalition Avenir Québec would likely win 88 of the National Assembly’s 125 seats, reducing the Liberals to only 27 seats. The Parti Québécois, like the Bloc Québécois in May, would be decimated and occupy only eight seats, while Québec Solidaire would win two.

The Liberals currently hold 64 seats in the National Assembly. The PQ holds 45, the ADQ four, and Québec Solidaire one. Ten seats are occupied by independents and one is vacant.

The CAQ would sweep Quebec City and its surrounding region, while also taking 57 of the 59 seats outside of the two main urban centres. Most of the opposition seats would come around Montreal, with 26 for the Liberals and seven for the Parti Québécois. On the island of Montreal itself, however, the CAQ would likely win only one seat; the Liberals would take 19 of them, the PQ three, and Québec Solidaire two.

In this respect, François Legault is following more in the footsteps of Mario Dumont. The ADQ made big gains in the 2007 election outside of Montreal but was kept off the island. In these early days, Mr. Legault appears to be at a big disadvantage in Quebec’s metropolis.

However, the line-up of parties and leaders may change before the next election. Talk of a merger between the ADQ and the CAQ persists, and Pauline Marois’ leadership of the PQ continues to be fragile. Gilles Duceppe, former leader of the Bloc Québécois, has been rumoured to be waiting in the wings to replace her if she steps down.

Despite a merger of the ADQ and CAQ, if Mr. Duceppe becomes the next leader of the Parti Québécois, the tables would be turned on Mr. Legault. CROP finds that in such a scenario the PQ would narrowly beat out the enlarged CAQ by 34 to 31 per cent support, with the Liberals well behind at 25 per cent.

With the PQ leading in Montreal and the CAQ in Quebec City, the tightest contests would take place in the rest of the province. In this hypothetical, but increasingly plausible, scenario the Parti Québécois would win 64 seats and form the government, with Mr. Legault and the Liberals in the opposition with 30 seats apiece. It would barely be over the majority threshold for Mr. Duceppe, but a majority nonetheless. Here again, the CAQ’s weakness in and around Montreal hurts the party, as it would not win a single seat in the region.

But neither the CAQ nor the PQ is quite there yet. Points of contention still exist between Mr. Deltell and Mr. Legault, and any merger (or, more accurately, takeover of the ADQ by the CAQ) would need to be approved by the ADQ’s sparse membership. Pauline Marois is fighting tooth and nail to keep her job and it seems highly unlikely that Gilles Duceppe will push her out himself.

The only certainty is that Jean Charest is on track to lose the next election. But there is a lot of time between now and the next vote in Quebec, and the relatively uncharismatic François Legault may stumble in the coming months against the wily Liberal leader. Nevertheless, with his party only weeks old, François Legault has made a stunning debut.

Eric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com

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