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La Presse editor-in-chief André Pratte, left, and Globe and Mail columnist John IbbitsonThe Globe and Mail

Throughout the Quebec election, Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson and La Presse editor-in-chief André Pratte will engage in an online discussion on the issues arising in the campaign. Today they discuss the sudden rise of upstart party Coalition Avenir Quebec.

John: Hello, Andre. I had been meaning to ask you this week for your thoughts on the upstart Coalition Avenir Quebec, when lo and behold, along comes a Forum poll Thursday that shows them surging: up 10 points, from 14 per cent to 24 per cent, while the PQ have slid from 39 per cent to 34 per cent and the Liberals are doing just as badly, dropping from 38 per cent to 32 per cent. So what do you think is happening and why?

Andre: Hi, John. There are both short-term and long-term factors at play into what seems to be a CAQ surge in the early stages of the campaign.

One long-term factor: Many Quebeckers are tired of the Liberal-PQ bipolar system, which has dominated Quebec politics for 40 years. They want real change, not only a change from the Liberals to the Péquistes.

Another long-term issue: Many voters are not interested any more in the debate on the political future of the province. It's not that people don't have views for or against separation. It's just that they know the thing will not be solved, if it can be solved, in the foreseeable future.

Therefore, why not have a government that puts all its energy in attacking more immediate problems, for instance, the indecent delays before getting an appointment with a doctor or care in an emergency ward?

Short-term: the CAQ has dominated the first week of the campaign, by recruiting star candidates (including the former Montreal police chief and admired anti-corruption crusader Jacques Duchesneau). Also, the CAQ has made very concrete promises, for instance guaranteeing by law that parents with children under six will have a right to five days of parental leave each year.

Seventy per cent of Quebeckers want Jean Charest's Liberals out. For them, the issue of this campaign is: which party – the PQ or the CAQ – can best take the Liberals' place. If the CAQ continues to run a professional and popular campaign, they could create a big surprise.

But there are still four weeks remaining, including four leader's debates. So the election results are more unpredictable than ever.

John: Fascinating, Andre. It reminds me a bit of the last federal election, when the NDP came from nowhere to obliterate the Parti Québécois and smother the Liberals' hope for a Quebec breakthrough.

Many of the new NDP MPs were inexperienced, to say the least. But their Quebec caucus is performing well here in Ottawa, with most of the new MPs growing into their jobs. If there were a similar breakthrough for the CAQ – and I realize that's a very big "if" – would Mr. Legault have the bench strength to form a credible cabinet? For that matter, does he have the judgment and experience to serve as premier?

Andre: As far as his team is concerned, yes, he does have the bench strength necessary, including former ADQ MNAs and a couple of star candidates. Legault himself has weaknesses, but so do PQ Leader Pauline Marois and (as we have seen in recent years) Mr. Charest.

John: Last question on this compelling turn of events, Andre: If these polls hold – and I know that's another very big "if" – the CAQ could hold the balance of power in a minority government. Which party would they be likely to support, and what are the chances of a coalition government?

Andre: I think most CAQ people would be more comfortable with the Liberals, because they are more to the right of the political spectrum. As for a coalition, I think that scenario is very improbable. It's simply not part of our political culture.

John: Thanks for these insights, Andre. Much appreciated, as always. Let's do this again next week.