CAQ on track to win big — despite itself
François Legault careens toward a larger majority government
The Coalition Avenir Québec is likely to win a majority government in today’s provincial election. And that majority government is likely to be even bigger than the one the CAQ secured back in 2018.
Not that François Legault hasn’t tried to derail things.
It has been a strange campaign in Quebec. The polls have hardly budged and the four opposition parties have neatly divided the non-CAQ vote almost evenly between them. None could gather that anti-government vote behind them because there was so little overlap between them and the other opposition parties. The CAQ’s position in the centre of Quebec’s political spectrum has meant that any consolidation of the anti-CAQ vote essentially required voters to move through the CAQ first to get to the other side — hardly an easy thing to pull off.
But Legault provided the other parties with ample opportunity, be it his repeated pratfalls on the issue of immigration, his Montreal-vs-the-rest-of-Quebec rhetoric, his dour debate performances or his government’s lack of transparency on things such as the Quebec-Lévis “third link” or the hiring of the McKinsey consultancy firm during the pandemic.
None of the other parties could take advantage of the CAQ’s distracted campaign because they had their own problems, with the Quebec Liberals struggling to run their own campaign smoothly, Québec Solidaire knocked onto the back foot defending its tax proposals, the Parti Québécois limited by its narrow focus on independence and the Quebec Conservatives running into the ceiling that their populism and candidate issues created.
Does this mean that Legault and the CAQ will win by default? No. Credit where credit is due: they have successfully put themselves in the juicy middle of where Quebec’s politics sit today. The CAQ’s voter base, motivated most by economic management and identity issues, could reasonably look back on the last four years and think the government has done a good job. And the missteps Legault and Co. have had over the last five weeks might be cared about more by those in the media than those who support the CAQ.
And if the challenger parties provide uninspiring alternatives, then the bar the incumbent party has to meet is accordingly lower — and you can’t blame that party for not trying to beat that bar by more than is absolutely necessary.
So, a done deal today? Let’s not go that far. While it is hard to imagine anything but a CAQ majority tonight — even a slightly reduced one would be an upset — there are still lots of unknowns that will have a significant impact on the next four years, and potentially the next few decades, in Quebec politics.
Let’s go through each of the parties and how things are shaping up for them ahead of the polls closing at 8 PM ET tonight. By the way, you can catch me on CBC Radio One in Quebec and online. I’ll be analyzing the results as they come in. The show starts at 7:30 PM ET and I hope you’ll tune in!
CAQ takes advantage of weak opponents
The CAQ started the campaign with about 42% support, according to Léger. It ended the campaign with about 38% support, according to the same pollster.
But the CAQ’s trend line only dipped after the first few weeks of the campaign. Since then, Léger has continued to give the CAQ either 37% or 38% support. More importantly, the CAQ’s lead over the second-place party has never been less than 20 points.
Mainstreet Research, the other consistently active pollster in Quebec, has also shown an enduringly comfortable lead for the CAQ, with their advantage over the other parties even more potent at the regional level.
Among francophones, the two pollsters give the CAQ between 44% and 46% support, representing a gain of seven to 10 points over these pollsters’ final 2018 surveys (which under-estimated CAQ support). That dominance among the francophone electorate — no other party is higher than 19% — virtually guarantees a big majority for the CAQ.
The party is well-positioned to make gains from the Liberals, QS and PQ. At the Liberals’ expense, the CAQ is likely to gain seats in the Greater Montreal area off the island — places like Laval and Vaudreuil. The CAQ might also benefit from vote-splits to gain a few seats on the island of Montreal. There is some dispute between Léger and Mainstreet about how well the CAQ is doing in the city. If Mainstreet is right, the Liberals have more to fear from the CAQ than from QS in Montreal.
From QS, the CAQ will be targeting the seats the party won off the island of Montreal: Sherbrooke, Rouyn-Noranda–Témiscamingue and Jean-Lesage.
And from the Parti Québécois, the CAQ can gobble up the seats vacated by popular incumbent MNAs in Jonquière and Joliette, while also encroaching on the PQ’s eastern strongholds in the Côte-Nord and the Bas-St-Laurent and Gaspésie.
How well the CAQ does in all of these regions will depend on whether voters decide to opt for an opposition — or stay home due to the inevitability of the CAQ’s victory.
The CAQ has a big advantage among older voters who tend to vote in bigger numbers, so the CAQ could out-perform its polls due to turnout effects. If that’s the case, Legault’s party will likely end up with over 40% of the vote and 90 seats.
Polling consensus: Around 38-41%, but support among older Quebecers could see them beat their polls.
Seat estimate: 75 to 102 seats, but more likely at the higher end of that range.
Liberals fall back to base as francophone vote collapses
Expectations were low for Dominique Anglade and the Liberals heading into the campaign. Those expectations have largely been met — the Liberals have about as much support as they did at the beginning of September. And that’s bad news.
The Liberals look set to take less than 20% of the vote, which would represent the party’s worst performance in its history. It’ll be lucky to win more than a handful of seats off the island of Montreal, and it’ll be lucky not to lose seats on the island, too (and that could include Anglade’s own riding of Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne).
Both Léger and Mainstreet gave the Liberals single-digit support among francophones (6% and 7%, respectively). That’s horrific for a party that has governed the province for most of its history, and it represents a drop of 11 to 13 points since these pollsters’ final 2018 polls. The party is also below 10% outside of the Greater Montreal area — they will simply not be competitive beyond a few rare exceptions.
Even the anglophone and allophone vote has abandoned them in big numbers. Léger and Mainstreet give the Liberals 48% among non-francophones, representing a drop of at least 20 percentage points since 2018. That might not be enough to lose them their anglophone seats, but it will make those races far tighter. If anglophones stay home, as many did in 2018, then there is the potential for the Liberals to lose some seats that they used to take for granted.
Outside of the Montreal area, the Liberals only have a few chances, particularly in the Outaouais (Pontiac and Hull). Around the city but off the island itself, the Liberals could still struggle to hold anything but Chomedey in Laval. But losing official opposition status is unlikely for the Liberals, as they would probably need to be sub-15 seats for that to happen. The swing we’ve seen in the polls makes that possible, but only just.
It’s more likely that the Liberals finish second in the seats, but not second in the vote count. And if they find themselves with few seats in francophone Quebec, what will that say about the future of the Quebec Liberals as a party of government?
Polling consensus: Around 15-17%, but concentration of support among anglophones who did not turn out in big numbers in 2018 could produce worse results.
Seat estimate: 14 to 26 seats.
An opportunity missed for Québec Solidaire
Québec Solidaire has made gains in every election since it was founded. That trend could come to a halt tonight.
If that’s what happens, it’ll be a missed opportunity for QS to emerge as the alternative to the CAQ. Some polls during the campaign put QS second province wide and among francophones, but that position has since been lost to the Liberals or Conservatives, on the one hand, and the Parti Québécois, on the other.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois ran a good campaign, so he can’t be entirely blamed if things don’t keep moving forward for QS. But the added scrutiny from the other parties put a damper on Québec Solidaire, be it the CAQ’s successful branding of QS’s tax policy as the “orange tax” or the Liberals casting of QS as a party unfriendly to non-francophones. Polls suggest the party has made no significant inroads among non-francophones since 2018.
They also do not indicate that QS is well-positioned to make significant gains. They could benefit from a weakened Liberal Party to make inroads in Montreal (Maurice-Richard and Verdun, for example) but they have lost ground outside of Montreal. That could cost them a few seats. The best case scenario for QS is that they hold their 2018 breakthroughs in the ‘regions’ (and perhaps add another one or two in seats like Saint-François, Ungava and Hull) while also knocking off a few Liberals in Montreal. If that happens, official opposition status is plausible.
But the biggest problem facing QS might be turnout. According to both Léger and Mainstreet, QS is either the top choice or tied for first among those under the age of 35. Among the oldest tranche of voters, though, QS is in single-digits. It’ll be hard for them to beat their polls, which is what they have to do in order to beat the CAQ and the Liberals in some of these battleground ridings.
Polling consensus: Around 12-15%, but support among younger Quebecers could see them under-perform their polls.
Seat estimate: 7 to 14 seats, but closer to the lower end of the range.
A bad result that staves off disaster for the PQ
At the outset of the campaign, the Parti Québécois was in danger of being reduced to a single seat: Pascal Bérubé’s fiefdom of Matane–Matapédia.
After running a smooth campaign, avoiding the attention of the other parties and pulling off two good debate performances, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon has made the PQ feel pretty good about what is likely to be the party’s worst performance ever.
Because it could have been even worse.
Rather than being at or below 10%, the PQ is ending the campaign somewhere in the mid-teens and in second place among francophones. St-Pierre Plamondon has been seen by the most voters as the one who ran the best campaign (even CAQ voters agree) and he might have earned himself a seat, with a little help from a mailer-swapping QS candidate who had to withdraw.
St-Pierre Plamondon could turn his positive press into a win in the riding of Camille-Laurin in Montreal, thanks in part to that QS candidate not being on the ballot. Apart from that, though, the PQ is likely to be reduced to the very edges of the province: Matane–Matapédia, Bonaventure, Gaspé and Îles-de-la-Madeleine, if things go well.
Perhaps some remnant of PQ support will see them win in Marie-Victorin or places like Joliette or Jonquière, but that’ll take some luck. With signs of mildly positive momentum, don’t be too surprised if the PQ squeaks by in a few extra ridings if they haven’t yet peaked. But a lot of their potential wins could be very tight, so don’t be surprised either if they come up just short across the board and Bérubé finds himself with few friends in the National Assembly.
Polling consensus: Around 12-15%, but finishing with momentum.
Seat estimate: 2 to 10 seats, but the bottom of that range more likely.
Can the Conservatives secure themselves a future?
The Quebec Conservatives were quite a story earlier this year. A party that disappeared from the history books when it helped formed the Union Nationale in the 1930s, only to re-emerge as a fringe party in recent elections, the Conservatives made a splash when they chose shock-jock radio host Éric Duhaime as their leader. He grasped onto the anger of some Quebecers over pandemic restrictions and pushed himself into the political conversation in the province, polling in the mid-to-high-teens.
But that has been about as far as he has gone.
Duhaime hasn’t been able to grow from that surge of a few months ago and has remained in the mid-to-high teens throughout the campaign.
Whether or not the party will continue to plateau will be determined tonight, because they are not guaranteed to win a seat. Four years outside of the National Assembly without the pandemic to give the party a raison d’être would be a very long time for Duhaime and the Conservatives. Without a seat, the party could prove to be a flash in the pan and revert to fringe status in 2026.
Their chances of winning a seat are limited to probably three ridings: Chauveau in Quebec City, where Duhaime is running, and the two Beauce ridings. Local polls have only given the Conservatives the lead in Beauce-Nord and have had the party trailing in both Beauce-Sud and Chauveau.
If things go Duhaime’s way, he could win three seats, including his own. But the Conservatives could also only win a single seat (not Duhaime’s) or be shutout. Those scenarios would put the party’s future into question.
Polling consensus: Around 14-17%, but losing steam.
Seat estimate: 0 to 3 seats.
Even if it is thanks to a divided opposition, a victory for François Legault will still be an impressive feat. Quebec hasn’t re-elected an incumbent government since Jean Charest’s Liberals won in 2008, and it hasn’t given a premier two consecutive majority governments since Robert Bourassa in 1989. A win’s is a win, and winning isn’t easy — just ask Anglade, Nadeau-Dubois, St-Pierre Plamondon and Duhaime.
What’s at stake is the future of their parties. The Quebec Liberals need some signal that they are still vying for government with a future that goes beyond the anglophone West Island.
The Parti Québécois needs to be given some hope that it isn’t the party of a previous generation and that it hasn’t been supplanted entirely by both the CAQ and QS.
Québec Solidaire wants to move from Montreal-based protest party to viable alternative government. A weak showing will suggest they still aren’t ready for primetime. A strong showing will put their sights on 2026.
The Conservatives need to establish themselves to prove that the political re-alignment happening in Quebec has space for more than one party on the right — and that it isn’t just a creature of the pandemic.
In addition to their party’s futures, three leaders are fighting for their own. With a particularly cold roll of the dice, Legault and Nadeau-Dubois could very well be the only leaders still holding a seat on Tuesday morning.
Boring election? Not a chance.
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