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PQ in minority territory as CAQ surges among francophones: poll

Coalition Avenir Quebec leader Francois Legault greets a supporter during an election campaign stop in Laval, Que., Saturday, August 25, 2012.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Parti Québécois is now heading for a minority government on Sept. 4, according to the latest Quebec election poll.

The upstart Coalition Avenir Québec is the only party with forward momentum in the race after leapfrogging over the third-placed Quebec Liberal Party. In particular, the CAQ is growing among the francophone electorate, which has a large influence in a majority of the province's riding.

According to CROP, the PQ has the support of 33 per cent of electors, compared to the CAQ at 28 per cent and the Liberals at 26 per cent. Québec Solidaire, a sovereigntist, left-wing party, remained stable at 7 per cent among voters.

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Among francophone voters, the PQ is in the lead at 36 per cent support, while the CAQ are at 30 per cent and Liberals are at 19 per cent.

The CROP poll was released in Tuesday's edition of La Presse. It was conducted between August 24 and 26, meaning that the phone calls to 1,002 respondents started two days after the end of four straight days of debates between the major party leaders, providing for a margin of error of 3.1-per cent.

The polls suggests the election of a PQ minority at this point, although there remains a full week before the vote. The numbers are particularly dramatic for Liberal Leader Jean Charest, who was hoping for a fourth mandate when he called the summer election.

"The PQ is on the razor's edge, but it has managed to maintain its support. [CAQ Leader François] Legault is on the rise, but will it continue or die down, that is the question," CROP pollster Youri Rivest told the Montreal newspaper.

The Liberal Party's shrinking fortunes signal that there might be fewer three-way races on election day, replaced by a fight among francophone voters in ridings outside of Montreal between the PQ and the CAQ.

The CAQ momentum comes as the PQ is struggling to stay on message. PQ Leader Pauline Marois struggled on a number of issues since the end of the debates, including whether citizens could start collecting 850,000 signatures to directly initiate a referendum on sovereignty.

CAQ Leader François Legault has been trying to soften his message, arguing that he would be flexible in implementing key planks in his platform such as increasing tuition fees and cutting thousands of jobs across government. In particular, Mr. Legault is trying to increase the CAQ's support among women voters.

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Mr. Charest is scrambling to increase his own support among francophone voters, stating that he would try to expand the reach of Bill 101 into federally-regulated industries such as banking and transport. However, the Liberals are also striving to maintain their traditional support among the province's anglophone community.

Recent regional polls have suggested that Mr. Charest is in danger in his own riding of Sherbrooke, which he has represented at the federal or provincial level since 1984.

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