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For the first time in decades, Quebec voters went to the polls Monday in an election that does not revolve around sovereignty. As a result, Quebeckers are splintering into factions in ways that have made the province’s politics chaotic, confusing and highly unpredictable, as The Globe’s Konrad Yakabuski reports.

The latest

  • Polls closed at 8 p.m. Monday. To follow the live results, go here
  • A surge in the polls by the left-wing party Québec solidaire makes it more likely that the province is headed for minority government. 
  • Philippe Couillard’s Liberals and François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec are neck-and-neck in the campaign’s final week. The Parti Québécois is struggling in third place and struggling to establish a new raison d'être for Quebeckers, The Globe and Mail’s Ingrid Peritz explains.
  • Quebec’s party leaders, who formed a united front in opposing changes to dairy supply management, woke up on election day to a new tentative Canada-U.S. trade deal that gave U.S. producers more access to the Canadian market. Mr. Couillard said he had been in touch with Quebec dairy producers.




Who’s who: The parties and their leaders

Liberals

Leader: Philippe Couillard

Aside from an 18-month interlude of PQ rule, the Liberals have governed Quebec for the past 15 years. Philippe Couillard, a former neurosurgeon, inherited the leadership after corruption scandals and student anti-austerity protests helped topple his predecessor, Jean Charest, in the 2012 provincial election. But in 2014, Mr. Couillard brought the federalist party back into power on a message of stability. Now, after four years of healthy growth and declining unemployment, Mr. Couillard is trying to persuade Quebeckers that economic good times will continue under a re-elected Liberal government. Read here why Globe columnist Barrie McKenna thinks Quebec’s good-news economic story may not save Mr. Couillard.

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Coalition Avenir Québec

Leader: François Legault

Co-founded by former PQ cabinet minister François Legault in 2011, the CAQ is a centre-right populist party that brought together Quebec nationalists, federalists and the last remnants of an earlier populist party, the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ). The CAQ has been leading the polls for months ahead of the 2018 campaign, though the CAQ and ADQ have seen races before where their strong leads collapsed by election day. Mr. Legault, a former airline executive, is positioning himself as the change candidate and playing up his business credentials, promising to be the “economic premier.”

Parti Québécois

Leader: Jean-François Lisée

Since premier Pauline Marois’s defeat in 2014, the PQ has come to be seen as a spent force in a province where young people are less and less interested in the sovereignty question. The last election gave the separatist party its fewest seats in 25 years, and its poll numbers have not improved under Ms. Marois’s embattled successor, Jean-François Lisée. The PQ Leader has so far concentrated his rhetoric against the CAQ, arguing that its promises of change are all flash and that voters will prefer the PQ’s “conviction and credibility” on election day.

Québec Solidaire

Spokespeople: Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Manon Massé

The left-wing sovereigntist party has only three seats in the National Assembly, but if they win a few more from PQ ridings, they could be influential players in a minority-government scenario. The party doesn’t have a leader in the traditional sense, only two spokespeople, one female (feminist activist Manon Massé) and one male (Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, one of the former leaders of the 2012 student protests).

Five charts you should look at before you vote

1. Immigration

For Quebec’s municipalities and businesses, immigration is a lifeline: Worker shortages, a low birth rate and an aging population have made the province increasingly dependent on skilled workers from overseas. But for Quebec’s politicians, immigration is a hot-button issue that divides people along questions of language, integration and national identity. The CAQ is taking a hard line, proposing to cut immigration quotas from 50,000 people per year to 40,000 and to expel immigrants who fail a test of “Quebec values.” The Liberals plan to raise the immigration quota to 60,000 people per year.

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2. The bottom line

Mr. Couillard’s tenure as premier began with drastic cuts to public spending in an effort to bring Quebec’s debt levels, among the highest in Canada, under control. Deficits turned into three years of surpluses, but critics said the austerity measures for health and education were harming students, seniors and the sick. Then, six months before the election, the Liberals' latest budget brought spending up 5.2 per cent, the largest increase in a decade, with promises of new money for education and hospitals. Mr. Legault, meanwhile, is promising government efficiencies that will put more money into Quebeckers' pockets.

3. Trade in the time of Trump

Quebec’s campaign began amid a long-running and painful tariff feud between the Trump administration and many of its traditional trade allies, including its NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico. Just before election day, Canadian and U.S. negotiators apparently reached a breakthrough on a new deal that would open up Canada’s protected dairy market to U.S. producers. That’s an important change for Quebec, whose lucrative dairy industry has long benefited from the supply-management regime that the Trump administration sought to abolish. All Quebec parties have come out against any weakening of dairy supply management. The challenge for Mr. Legault – whose anti-establishment nationalism has earned him comparisons to Donald Trump himself – is to persuade Quebeckers that he can better navigate the province through the shifting trade landscape than Mr. Couillard can.

4. Education

Compared with the rest of Canada, Quebec’s pupils have been doing well in recent years: In 2016, Quebec was the only province above the national average in standardized Grade 8/Secondary II math tests, and next to PEI, it saw the biggest improvements in math and reading scores. But in this election, Quebeckers are getting very different options for how the province’s schools should be run. The CAQ wants to abolish school boards entirely, replacing them with regional service centres that they say will save money. The Liberals considered similar measures a few years ago, but abandoned the plan amid outcry from Anglo-Quebeckers who see the nine anglophone boards as a vital defence of minority language rights. Now, Mr. Couillard is running on a promise to keep the school boards.

5. The S-word

If Quebec’s opposition parties are looking for an issue to galvanize voters to change, sovereignty isn’t it. Polls like the one cited above suggest support for Quebec’s separation from Canada has waned to historic lows. But in this election, for the first time in four decades, Quebeckers are getting a break on the sovereignty debate. Even the PQ is promising it won’t hold a referendum until after the next election in 2022. That frees up voters and politicians alike to try new approaches that could change the province’s political landscape, The Globe’s Les Perreaux explains.

How to vote: A primer

  • Am I eligible to vote? You can vote if you’re a Canadian citizen, aged 18 or older, who has lived in Quebec since April 1. If this is your first time voting, you need to have registered before Oct. 1. If you’re already registered, you should have received an information card in the mail explaining what to do, and a reminder card shortly before election day.
  • Who am I voting for? Search here to find your riding and the list of candidates there. 
  • When and where do I vote? Your information card should say where your riding’s polling place is. Advance polls were on Sept. 23-24, and there was time to vote at your returning officer’s office on Sept. 21-22 and Sept. 25-27. On election day, polls open at 9:30 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. 
  • What ID should I bring to vote? Accepted forms of identification include driver’s licenses, health cards, passports, Indigenous status cards or Canadian Forces ID cards.
  • When do I know who wins? There are 125 National Assembly seats up for grabs, and a party needs 63 of them to form majority. Minority governments are rare in Quebec (there have been only three in the province’s history), but if it happens this year, it could be hours or days before we know who the premier will be. On election night, check back at globeandmail.com for the latest news.

Commentary and analysis

D'Arcy Jenish: In Quebec, sovereigntists haven’t found an argument that will captivate the next generation of voters

Barrie McKenna: Why Quebec’s good-news economic story can’t save Philippe Couillard

Editorial: Quebec’s election offers an exciting chance to look forward – so long as one nationalist fixation doesn’t replace another



With reports from Les Perreaux, Ingrid Peritz, The Canadian Press and Reuters

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