The Conservatives are hoping to make a comeback in Quebec in 2015, and as part of this renewed drive have pledged to hold a cabinet meeting in the provincial capital at the end of the summer. But just how realistic are Conservative hopes in Quebec?
The Conservatives captured just under 17 per cent of the vote in the province in the 2011 federal election. This was the second consecutive decrease since the breakthrough of 2006 when the party took 25 per cent of the vote. Polls suggest that the Tories could take another step backwards next year.
In only seven of the 58 polls conducted in the province over the last year have the Conservatives managed 17 per cent or better – and they have never bettered that mark by more than the margin of error in that time. Since the beginning of 2014, the party has averaged just 13 per cent support in Quebec, no different from its average performance in polls conducted throughout 2013. The party is in a funk in Quebec.
Part of that is the fault of Stephen Harper, who is deeply unpopular in the province. When asked who would make the best prime minister of the five federal leaders, Mr. Harper ranks third. In the most recent survey by CROP, only 9 per cent of respondents chose him. That compared to 31 per cent for NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and 25 per cent for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
The most recent poll by Léger also found that 68 per cent of Quebeckers said they had a bad opinion of Mr. Harper, the highest of any provincial or federal figure. That pales in comparison to the popularity of Mr. Mulcair. Only 12 per cent of Quebeckers said their opinion of him was negative, compared to 57 per cent who said they had a good opinion of the NDP leader (Mr. Trudeau's numbers were more mixed, at 42 per cent positive and 36 per cent negative).
The fight for province-wide supremacy will be between these two men. The Liberals have averaged 33 per cent support in Quebec polls conducted so far in 2014, while the NDP has averaged 29 per cent. That represents a 19-point gain for the Liberals and a drop of 14 points for the NDP since 2011, but the advantage the New Democrats hold among francophones (35 per cent to 26 per cent for the Liberals on average in 2014) should do them well in the quest for seats.
The Bloc Québécois has become almost an afterthought as a result. The party is still polling above the Conservatives at an average of 21 per cent in 2014, but the Bloc's support is diffuse and this will make it difficult to win seats. Controversial new leader Mario Beaulieu has not helped matters. In the four polls conducted since his leadership victory, the Bloc averaged 18 per cent support.
But the Conservatives are not expecting to make the same kind of breakthrough that the New Democrats did in 2011. Instead, their strategy is more targeted, with hopes of winning new seats in and around Quebec City and the Lac-Saint-Jean region.
In this the Conservatives have better odds. According to the last poll from CROP, the Conservatives have just 8 per cent support outside of the Quebec City region. In that region, however, their support was pegged at 34 per cent. While that was on the higher side of recent findings, it is clear that the Conservatives are strongest in this part of the province.
Their primary opponent in the provincial capital should be the New Democrats, who currently hold the seats and are polling in first place in the region. But their support has dipped by a greater extent and this opens up an opportunity for the Tories. On current trends, the Conservatives should be able to retain their seats and pick up a few more, perhaps taking as many as eight in all. If the Conservatives end up in the lower or higher bands of recent polling, they could take between four and 12 seats. That range is wide enough to be electorally significant if the race is close in the rest of the country.
There is plenty of time for the Tories to boost their chances of a dozen or more seats in the province before next year's election, but Quebeckers are not always the fickle electorate they are made out to be. Throughout 2009 and 2010, the Conservatives averaged just over 16 per cent support – exactly where they ended up on election night in 2011. Quebeckers may have wavered between the Bloc and NDP that year, and between the NDP and Liberals since, but their opinion of the Harper Conservatives may be much more difficult to change.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.