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Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Quebec government house leader Jean-Marc Fournier are seen at the National Assembly, Quebec City’s legislature, in 2017.Jacques Boissinot

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard's right-hand man is leaving politics, making him the sixth member of the Liberal government to announce they will head to the door rather than face voters in seven months.

Jean-Marc Fournier, the 58-year-old Liberal House Leader who was also a trusted political confidant of former premier Jean Charest, is the biggest name yet to announce he will leave politics in advance of a provincial election that may upset the traditional governing order in the province.

Mr. Fournier insisted his departure has nothing to do with the Liberals sinking badly in public opinion polls, but said the party needs new candidates to regain voter confidence.

"I am not fleeing," Mr. Fournier told reporters in Quebec City as he announced the decision on Monday, adding he will still ride the election campaign bus with Mr. Couillard as an adviser – a role he once played for Mr. Charest.

"I am convinced we will win the next election, but at the same time, I'm convinced to win the next election we need some new faces who will bring new ideas and perspectives. I am not fleeing, and I will be there."

The provincial election on Oct. 1 remains a long way off, but a poll published on the weekend is the latest in a series to show the Liberals sinking steadily while the upstart Coalition Avenir Québec is pulling away with popular support that would give François Legault's party a majority government.

Four polls in a row by the Léger firm show Mr. Legault's party ahead of the Liberals and with growing momentum. The latest poll published on the weekend showed the CAQ at 37 per cent, the Liberals at 26, the Parti Québécois four points behind and the left-wing Québec Solidaire at 9 per cent.

Among francophone voters, who usually decide key swing ridings, the CAQ sat at 42 per cent, 26 percentage points ahead of the Liberals.

Pollster Jean-Marc Léger pointed out the lowest popular vote result in the 150-year history of the Quebec Liberal Party was 31 per cent in the 2012 election. The latest poll, conducted among 993 Quebeckers over four days last week, puts them five points lower than that. (A poll of this size is considered to have a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

First elected in 1994, Mr. Fournier cut his teeth in opposition where he quickly gained a reputation for his quick wit and partisan jabs.

In later years, his folksy style and humour disguised his status as a member of the inner circle who counselled Liberal leaders on strategic matters.

Five other Liberal members of the National Assembly have announced their departure in recent weeks, including Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, the MNA best known outside the province as the architect of Quebec's law limiting the wearing of veils in public services. A Quebec Superior Court judge put application of the law on hold late last year.

The Parti Québécois also has a half-dozen MNAs who will not run in the next election.

The serious nature of the CAQ challenge is showing in hardening rhetoric from the Liberal Premier.

Travelling in Paris on Monday, Mr. Couillard was asked whether he is concerned about the rise of populist anti-immigration forces in Europe, including two parties that have risen to prominence in advance of the Italian election. Mr. Couillard said Quebec is not immune to such forces, adding "the CAQ represents economic, financial and social reversal for Quebec."

He then turned toward Mr. Legault's proposal to give new tax breaks or cash to women who have a second or third child. "I don't think in the 21st century, we should be paying women to have babies," Mr. Couillard said, even though Quebec already subsidizes child-rearing through a host of policies.

Mr. Legault accused Mr. Couillard of sinking into desperation and dishonesty. "We can expect them to sink to new depths as they cling to power," Mr. Legault said.

Mr. Legault has 21 MNAs and the most recent departure from his ranks was nearly three years ago.

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