The 2012 Quebec summer election is coming to an end.
The province’s party leaders have one last day to convince undecided voters to join their camps and to get their supporters to go out and vote on Tuesday Sept. 4.
Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest and Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois are focusing their activities in the Quebec City area, while Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault is campaigning in ridings north of Montreal.
The race is too close to call in a majority of the province’s ridings. But after one last push from the various campaigns, the electorate will be ready to deliver its verdict.
Here’s how the party leaders spent their last day on the campaign trail:
Coalition Avenir Québec: Legault takes battle for election victory to Quebec’s 450 area code
François Legault has embarked on a tour of seven ridings in the 450 area code, saying that this is where his dream of a majority government will be won or lost in Tuesday’s election.
The Leader of the upstart Coalition Avenir Québec is in a fighting mood to the end, but his statements and his body language conveyed the sense he is ready for everything from an upset victory to an underwhelming finish. The party is in second-place in the polls, but Mr. Legault is leading a junior organization that cannot be sure of its true level of support among suburban families or the province’s linguistic minorities.
Mr. Legault acknowledged in his last news conference of the campaign that his major rivals – the Parti Québécois and the Quebec Liberal Party – have more on-the-ground resources to get out the vote and more money to buy last-minute advertising.
He also agreed that his sometimes austere message of economic troubles and government cutbacks might have shocked some voters, but he said it’s time for the province to face up to its challenges.
“At some point, we have to speak bluntly amongst ourselves,” Mr. Legault told reporters. “If we want to change things, we have to admit that there are problems.”
The CAQ Leader said that whatever happens, his party has given a much-needed jolt to the province’s political system and forced the other parties to look at new issues, such as the exodus of company headquarters from the province.
“Whatever happens, we’ve changed also the perspective of the other parties,” he said.
Mr. Legault said the 450 area code, which encompasses ridings in the suburban and semi-rural areas north and south of Montreal, is where the election will be largely decided. While his major rivals are in Quebec City on Monday, Mr. Legault is ending his campaign in the area that includes the riding of L’Assomption where he is running. It's also the area where his star candidates, anti-corruption crusader Jacques Duchesneau and doctor Gaétan Barrette, are trying to unseat the PQ.
“The real issue of the campaign will be in the 450 tomorrow night,” Mr. Legault said. “It’s very important that we convince families from the middle class to support our proposals.”
However, he also gave the clear sense that the CAQ might be able to get more support from various groups in the next election, after seeing what the new party can achieve in the National Assembly. The province’s anglophone community, in particular, remains concerned about the CAQ’s constitutional agenda and its promise to do everything in its power to oppose a third referendum on sovereignty.
“I think we’ll have a good support from anglophones, but I think that at the next election, we’ll replace, clearly, the Liberal Party. Right now, some of them will test us,” he said.
Quebec Liberal Party: Charest skips the 450 for potential gains in Quebec City
Jean Charest is doubling down on Quebec City, whether it somehow proves vital to an improbable comeback from third to first, or just gives the Liberal Party of Quebec a base outside Montreal from which to build opposition.
From the outset, the Quebec election campaign was framed as a battle of the 450, the suburban ridings around Montreal that usually determine election victors. Mr. Charest hasn’t been there once in the final week of the campaign.
Instead, he’s spending the final two days of the campaign trying to save the eight seats his party holds among a dozen in that region. Monday was dedicated to series of legacy projects Mr. Charest has overseen in Quebec City, including an impressive park development along several kilometres of Quebec City’s waterfront, where he held his daily news conference, and a ground-breaking on an arena project most Quebeckers hope will someday lead to the return of the National Hockey League to Quebec’s capital.
Mr. Charest’s entire campaign has been built around slamming the other options available to Quebeckers. He has spent much of the campaign warning about instability under a pro-independence PQ and the quarrels the CAQ would trigger. On Sunday, he played a desperate hockey card, warning all of that turmoil won’t help Quebec City attract an NHL team.
Asked if a miracle would be required for him to win at this stage, trailing badly as he is among Francophone voters, Mr. Charest returned to the familiar theme: “I have confidence. In the daily life of Quebeckers, it’s work, family and community that matters. . . we don’t need risk.”
Mr. Charest ran a smooth campaign but spent much of it touring factories and farms, away from the risk of a rude reception from protesters or irate citizens. Partisan gatherings with small crowds have outnumbered enthusiastic, large gatherings. The Liberal leader was asked if he would have done anything differently. “I’ve run the campaign I wanted to run,” Mr. Charest. “I’m very happy with the campaign we’ve run.”
Parti Québécois: Marois has no explanation for party’s struggles in Quebec City
Confident that victory was within reach, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois spent the final day of the campaign promising an orderly transition when her party takes over the reins of power after Tuesday’s election.
Ms. Marois urged voters to give her a majority government to ensure that a PQ government could move quickly to implement the changes promised during the campaign. She said new laws would be introduced to tighten the rules around the reward of government contracts. The changes, however, will come after the Charbonneau Commission into corruption in the construction industry, which resumes hearings in two weeks.
“The Parti Québécois will form a responsible government. We are prepared to govern the day after the vote. There will be several changes but it will done in an orderly way,” Ms. Marois said on the final day of her campaign, calling on voters to severely punish Jean Charest’s Liberals.
Even if she forms a government with the support of only a third of votes cast, Ms. Marois argued she will have legitimacy to proceed with her “sovereignist government” agenda, which would also include using public funds to examine the feasibility of achieving Quebec sovereignty.
Ms. Marois, however, predicted a minority government situation would make her task much more difficult, and lead to another election within the next year.
Ms. Marois kicked-off her campaign in Quebec City 34 days ago and this is where she chose to end it, in one of the party’s most unfriendly territories in the province. It won only one seat in the region in the last election, and is not expected to do much better in Tuesday’s vote.
In several of the dozen ridings in the region, the PQ has been trailing the Coalition Avenir Québec and the Liberals. Ms. Marois recognized that her party’s left-leaning platform in a region where right-wing conservatism continues to prevail has not been an easy sale for the PQ.
“We are a progressive party and we will continue to be that. But while we are progressive party, I will govern Quebec in a responsible way,” Ms. Marois said.
The PQ leader, however, had no solid explanation as to why her campaign has been struggling in the Quebec City region. Last year, her caucus supported a controversial bill allowing for the construction of a new sports arena without public tenders to help attract an NHL franchise. The debate created conflict within her caucus, and some members quit. It was a heavy price to pay in an effort to win popular support.
The PQ leader then went out to join the march that marked the start of the construction of a new sports complex, with hundreds of fans of the now-disbanded Quebec Nordiques on hand to support efforts to bring back an NHL franchise to the city. Some of the marchers began chanting "Canada, Canada" to the separatist leader, while other booed her presence at the event - another indication of just how hostile Quebec City has become for the PQ leader.