After months of playing wedge politics, the Parti Québécois has inched high enough in popular approval to be within reach of a majority government, a new poll suggests.
According to a Léger Marketing survey released on Monday, support for the government of Premier Pauline Marois is at its highest since it won a minority mandate in September, 2012.
Ms. Marois, who was in London giving a speech to the Canada-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, was careful not to address the poll numbers specifically when asked by The Globe and Mail. "We have a good project to offer Quebeckers," she said, adding that her government is working to strengthen the economy and create jobs. "That's my main task."
The PQ still has to shore up its economic credentials, with the province's economy remaining sluggish. Last fall, Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau announced that the government would not be able to meet its goal of a balanced budget until the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year.
But Léger says that, after an allocation of undecided voters, the PQ now has the backing of 43 per cent of the key francophone electorate, just enough to win a slim majority.
Over all, the PQ has 36 per cent support, up from 32 per cent in December.
The PQ lead is particularly marked in the seat-rich, mostly French-speaking areas outside Montreal and Quebec City, where 44 per cent of respondents would vote for the separatist party, against 27 per cent for the Liberals.
The PQ's improving fortunes coincide with rising support for its controversial Charter of Values, which is more popular among francophones in rural regions despite concerns about its impact on minority rights.
The Liberals have had trouble defining their position in the polarizing debate over the charter and have lost ground since December, slipping four points to 33 per cent.
Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard has been hobbled by dissension within his own caucus. His wavering led veteran Montreal Gazette columnist Don Macpherson to dub him "Philippe-flop," a label now picked up by his political rivals.
François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec party also suffered, slipping two points since December down to 17 per cent.
The PQ has benefited from a hardening of the support for the charter, with 48 per cent of respondents (57 per cent among francophones) backing the charter, compared with 43 per cent (49 per cent among francophones) in September.
The most controversial aspect of the charter, a proposal to ban public-sector workers from wearing conspicuous religious garments, is even more popular, with 60 per cent support (69 per cent among francophones).
Support for Quebec independence remained soft, with 37 per cent saying they would vote Yes for sovereignty if a referendum was held now, against 50 per cent who would vote No.
The online panel poll of 1,207 was conducted Jan. 17 and 18. Léger said a probabilistic sample of similar size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.