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Merkel's visit to scientists heightens contrast with PM on environmentJacques Boissinot

François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec made major gains in the second week of the Quebec election campaign, but Pauline Marois's Parti Québécois remains in the driver's seat with three weeks to go before Quebeckers go to the polls on Sept. 4.

According to's vote and seat projection model, the Parti Québécois still holds the lead with a projected 34.5 per cent support. However, that is a drop of 3.5 points since the end of the first week of the campaign. The Liberals, down four points, trail with 32.7 per cent support. These numbers would likely deliver 58 seats to the PQ and 47 to the Liberals.

The CAQ has made the most of the losses by the two leading parties with a 7.4-point gain. They are now projected to have the support of 22.7 per cent of Quebeckers, enough to give them 18 seats. That is an increase of 11 since last week, while the Liberals have dropped 10 and the PQ two. Québec Solidaire, at 5.8 per cent and two seats, made the other seat gain.

Whereas the polls hinted earlier that either the PQ or the Liberals could pull out a victory with these levels of support, the odds of the Liberals winning the most seats has decreased considerably. Last week, the Liberals were projected to be in the running to win as many as 77 seats, enough for a very comfortable majority. They are now a factor in only 69, leaving them very little margin for error. The PQ, by contrast, could plausibly win as many as 81 seats with these levels of support.

The CAQ is a factor in 42 ridings, giving them a very slim outside shot of finishing ahead of the Liberals if an election were held today. Their main gains over the last week occurred in Quebec City and the suburbs of Montreal. In the provincial capital, the Liberals hold a very narrow lead with 33.1 per cent to 32.8 per cent for the CAQ, but that is a far cry from the 39.7 per cent of the vote the Liberals claimed only a week ago. And in the suburbs of Montreal, the CAQ is up 8.4 points to 28.3 per cent, putting them marginally behind the Liberals. The PQ leads but has dropped 6.6 points in this region.

The Parti Québécois is also down on the island of Montreal, slipping four points to 27.2 per cent. The Liberals still hold a comfortable lead with 41.6 per cent, but the real danger to Ms. Marois is the presence of Québec Solidaire. The left-wing sovereigntist party is up 3.2 points on the island to 11.6 per cent, enough to give their two leaders, Amir Khadir and Françoise David, a very good chance of being elected. In addition to the election of Ms. David costing the PQ one of their seats, the increase in support for Québec Solidaire may split the vote in as many as three other Montreal ridings to the benefit of the Liberals.

Nevertheless, the Parti Québécois's seat count has only been slightly dented due to the party's continued support among francophones. In the weighted average of all polls, their support has held relatively steady at 39 per cent. The Liberals have dropped significantly from a little more than 29 per cent in the first week of the campaign to less than 23 per cent. The CAQ has seen its vote increase from 19 per cent to 28 per cent among francophones.

Either way, the PQ's double-digit margin among French-speaking voters puts them in a strong position to win the most seats on election night. But Mr. Legault is now challenging the PQ's dominance and is a far greater threat to Ms. Marois than Jean Charest, whose party has long struggled among francophones.

The Liberals continue to command strong support among non-francophones, however, at 74 per cent. The CAQ trails in second with 9 per cent, suggesting that Mr. Legault's efforts to court the anglophone community have yet to bear any fruit.

While this gives the Liberals a solid base of seats to fall back upon, they cannot form government without more support off the island of Montreal. Their drop in Quebec City is problematic, as is their slip of 7.5 points in central Quebec. They have lost the lead in this region to the PQ, which is ahead with 35.2 per cent to 29.9 per cent for the Liberals. The CAQ has made gains and now sits at 25.3 per cent, enough to give them five seats in the region to the Liberals' two. A poll released late last week for Mr. Charest's riding of Sherbrooke, which put him behind the PQ candidate by 15 points, was a stark demonstration of the Liberals' struggles in this region.

Though the CAQ made important gains in the second week of Quebec, they still have a long way to go before they can seriously challenge the Liberals or the Parti Québécois for government. Mr. Legault has yet to even reach the level of support that Mario Dumont's ADQ managed in the 2007 election. The leaders' debates, scheduled for early next week, may be the deciding factor between more CAQ growth and the party hitting a plateau.

The projection aggregates all publicly available polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy and track record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all 125 ridings in the province, based on the regional shifts in support since the 2008 election and including the application of factors unique to each riding, such as the effects of incumbency. The projection is subject to the margins of error of the polls included as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at