It is an understatement to say Quebec voters are volatile. Now, less than a year after giving 59 seats to the NDP, they are back in the old fold of the Bloc Québécois.
According to a recent survey by Leger Marketing, the Bloc has the most support, at 31 per cent, four points ahead of the NDP, while the Liberals are slightly lagging behind at 22 per cent. The Conservatives are at the bottom with a miserable 14 per cent.
Of course, much of this has to do with the NDP leadership race, having literally sent into oblivion their brightest stars, who have spent seven months campaigning behind closed doors for the party's rank and file, instead of taking positions in Parliament and being part of the public scene.
There is little doubt that a new NDP leader would revive the party's fortune in Quebec as elsewhere, especially if the crown goes to Thomas Mulcair, virtually the only contender who could have a real impact in the province because of his perfect command of French and his political acumen – unless, of course, his abrasive personality leads him astray, something that can happen when he gets carried away by his quick temper.
The Bloc is also likely benefiting from the rise of the Parti Québécois. Two recent polls show the PQ might now be in majority territory, with a strong majority among francophones – the key to the vote-rich regions outside Montreal. According to the blog Too Close Too Call, which makes electoral projections, the PQ might obtain 72 seats versus 33 for the Liberals and 19 for François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec.
The CAQ was soaring in the polls last year – largely because it represented a virtual promise of change, as imprecise as it was – but now that the party exists for real, the balloon has deflated, and CAQ supporters are going back in droves to the PQ, while Liberal Premier Jean Charest's Liberals remain plagued with a 70-per-cent dissatisfaction rate.
Moreover, for the first time, the PQ's Pauline Marois is seen as the best premier, albeit by only several points. Much of Ms. Marois's triumph is due to her remarkable resilience during the nasty attacks by some of her party's militants, which won her the nickname of "the concrete lady." (The Iron Lady title being already taken.)
She also owes her revival to the disappearance of Gilles Duceppe, the former Bloc leader who was actively working to overthrow her with the complicity of heavyweight party insiders – until he found himself embroiled in the controversy surrounding the Bloc's previous use of parliamentary funds, which allegedly served to pay a party official working in Montreal. Mr. Duceppe is gone for good from the public scene, wholly focused on battling the accusations against him.
Interestingly, though, the rise in support for both the Bloc and the PQ doesn't apply to support for sovereignty, which still draws hardly more than 40 per cent.
Claire Durand, a sociologist who specializes in survey methodology at the University of Montreal, says there is no link between support for the PQ and support for independence: "Voting for the PQ or the Bloc is a question of identity, but not an expression of support for sovereignty." To which Jean-Herman Guy, a political scientist from Sherbrooke University, adds that, "it's like Catholicism. Quebeckers identify themselves as Catholics, but there is a wide gap between identity and practice. Sovereignty is an option that can easily be relegated to the backburner."