Provincial general elections were held in Quebec on April 7, 2014. All 125 members of the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), elected by first-past-the-post in single-member constituencies (riding, or comtés/circonscriptions in French), were up for reelection. Right before the last provincial election in 2012, I posted an election preview which included a political history of Quebec and profiles of all the main parties; most of the information in there should naturally still be accurate and provides a useful backgrounder to the main issues in Quebec politics and the provincial parties.
These elections came less than two years after the September 4, 2012 provincial elections, which returned a minority government led by the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ) under Premier Pauline Marois. The PQ, which ostensibly seeks the independence of Quebec, won a minority government with 54 seats out of 125. Although he was personally defeated in his own riding of Sherbrooke, Premier Jean Charest’s governing Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), which had been in power since 2003, performed better than anyone could have expected. Although polls taken right before the election showed the PLQ lingering in third place between François Legault’s new centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), the Liberals came within a hair of actually winning the election, and ended up very close behind the PQ both in terms of votes and seats – 31.2% of the vote, against 31.9% for the PQ, and 50 seats. The CAQ had a good result in the popular vote, taking 27.1%, but the nature of FPTP and their rather inefficient vote distribution meant that the party ended up with only 19 seats.
The Liberals’ third term in office had proven extremely difficult for them, and they entered the 2012 election at a net disadvantage. Although Quebec’s economic situation between 2008 and 2012 was comparatively strong given the global economic situation, the Liberals faced major corruption scandals, voter fatigue and student protests. Quebec politics at the municipal and provincial levels have been rocked by a series of corruption scandals, many of them in the construction industry, which is now being investigated by the Charbonneau Commission, a public inquiry launched by Charest’s government in October 2011. The bulk of the commission’s work thus far has focused on corruption at the municipal level, revealing the existence of cartels of construction contractors which monopolized public works projects in cities such as Montreal in return for kickbacks to the mafia, municipal employees and municipal politicians. The mayors of Montreal and Laval, Quebec’s largest and third largest cities, were forced to resign following some of the revelations at the commission directly involved them. It is also clear, however, that similar cartels and corrupt dealings exist(ed) at the provincial level, albeit under a slightly different system because most public works projects are designed and supervised by private engineering firms employed by the Ministry of Transportation. Developers and construction contractors, and ‘figurehead employees’ (to circumvent electoral laws), illegally contributed to political parties at the municipal and provincial level, with the PLQ and PQ receiving the lion’s share of illegal contributions. It has also been alleged that engineering firms and contractors used public funds to make their contributions to political parties (contractors were compensated by being granted fake cost overruns by engineering firms). In November 2012, an investigator for the commission found that several high-ranking provincial politicians, including senior cabinet ministers in then-Premier Charest’s government, were invited to exclusive dinners or events at a private club in Montreal by contractors. Notably, two Liberal cabinet ministers were found to have contractors tied to construction cartels and the Rizzuto mafia clan (a Sicilian clan which controlled the Montreal mafia underworld from the 1980s until 2006-2007). Charest refused to give in to mounting public pressure to call a public inquiry into the construction industry, weakening his personal and political credibility, before finally doing an about-turn in late 2011.
In spring 2012, the Liberal government’s decision to increase post-secondary tuition fees by 75% over five years (from $2,168 in 2012 to $3,793 in 2017, increasing by $325 every year) sparked major student protests, which earned the sobriquet printemps québécois or printemps érable (‘Quebecois spring’ or ‘maple spring’). The government claimed that the tuition increase was required to alleviate the underfinancing of the province’s universities, while student federations found it unacceptable given the rising burden of student debt. Some student leaders demanded free post-secondary education. Unable to resolve the growing crisis, the Liberal government, in May 2012, adopted a controversial law – Bill 78 – which restricted freedom of assembly and protest without prior police approval.
Despite the PLQ’s countless challenges and voter fatigue after nine years in power, the PQ very much won by default. In 2011 and 2012, PQ leader Pauline Marois, who took the reins of the party after its third-place result in the 2007 election, faced a major challenge to her leadership within PQ ranks. In June 2011, four PQ MNAs quit the party to protest the party’s decision to support a government bill which immunized the controversial construction of a new hockey stadium in Quebec City from judicial proceedings. However, these resignations also symbolized the unease of certain of the PQ’s purs et durs (hardline supporters of sovereignty) with Marois’ decision to put the national question on the backburner for a while. The ranks of those who stepped down included Pierre Curzi and Lisette Lapointe (the wife of former Premier Jacques Parizeau, himself a critic of Marois), two well-known hardline sovereigntists within the PQ. Jean-Martin Aussant, another of those who stepped down in June 2011, went on to create his own party – Option nationale (ON), a hardline sovereigntist party, in October 2011. Marois weathered the crisis, although at the cost of some concessions to the hardline nationalist opinion within the PQ (a “popular initiative referendum”, where voters themselves could spark a third referendum on sovereignty if they gathered signatures, which she personally opposed but which was inserted into the PQ’s platform; the extension of language legislation to post-secondary college education, or Cégep). As a result of a lackluster campaign heavily marred by kerfuffles over these and other issues (notably an ill-advised suggestion that Anglophones or allophones with poor French-language skills should be barred from running in elections), the PQ failed to win a majority government and it ended up with only 31.9% of the vote, which was actually down 3.2% on the 2008 election, in which the PLQ won a majority government.
Elected with an uncertain mandate and the support of only a minority of the National Assembly, Marois’ government needed to tread carefully as far as governing went but also to govern in a way which would allow the PQ to return to the voters seeking a majority mandate. Pauline Marois’ government had trouble finding its cruising altitude. Her government began with the immediate cancellation of the tuition fee increase, the repeal of most articles of Law 78 and the closing of the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant. The latter decision was met with significant local opposition in Bécancour, where Gentilly-2 was located. The new government also took action against corruption, passing integrity laws for construction contracts (contractors bidding will have to obtain a ‘certificate of good ethics’), limiting individual contributions to parties to $100 (down from $1,000, a 1977 law passed by René Lévesque’s first PQ government banned donations from corporations and unions) and passing a law allowing courts to provisionally remove mayors and councillors from office if they are charged during their terms.
The PQ government was rapidly forced to break a number of major campaign promises. In October 2012, finance minister Nicolas Marceau announced that the PQ would not, unlike it had promised in the election, abolish a controversial $200 health tax created by the PLQ government. Instead, the PQ government made the health tax progressive, with those earning less than $18,000 being exempted while those earning over $150,000 would pay $1,000, with intermediate levels in between. The government raised taxes on those earning over $100,000 to 25.75%, a 1.75% increase. The first PQ government budget, announced in November 2012, projected a return to a balanced budget in FY 2013-2014. Savings would be achieved by capping increases in government spending to 1.8% in 2013-14 and 2.4% in 2014-5, increased taxes on alcohol and the loss of 2,000 jobs through attrition at Hydro-Québec. In 2013, the government’s cuts and reforms in social welfare measures and programs was criticized by numerous social organizations.
In its 2014-2015 budget, the government did not achieve a balanced budget and delayed a return to ‘fiscal balance’ until FY 2015-2016. The budget included an increase in the fees of Quebec’s generous subsidized daycare system (from $7 to $8 a day).
The government held a post-secondary education summit with student federations in February 2013. While student federations wanted either free post-secondary education or a tuition fee freeze (as they had been between 1994 and 2007), the PQ decided on a “3% indexation of tuition fees”, or, in other terms, an increase of about $70 every year. The PQ had the chutzpah to portray it as “another kind of freeze” because increases will be offset by increases in income, even if that isn’t really the case (largely because it isn’t an actual indexation). Student organizations, including those (the FÉUQ and FÉUC) who had participated in the summit (the more leftist ASSÉ, which supports free tuition, demonstrated outside the summit and boycotted the event), criticized the government’s decision. Any goodwill for the PQ from the anti-fee hike students evaporated.
In 2012, the PQ opposition had roundly criticized the Charest government’s Plan Nord, a plan for over $80 billion in public and private investments over 25 years to promote economic development, sustainable development and growth in the province’s northern regions. The plan was criticized by environmentalists and others who decried the low royalties for mining companies and fears that the government was ‘selling off’ Quebec’s natural resources to foreign mining companies. In government, the PQ effectively readopted the PLQ’s plan, with minor changes. On mining royalties, the PQ announced in May 2013 a much lower set of expectations: under their new plan, the government would receive $690 million less than they originally projected.
The Liberals, in opposition, were called to chose a new permanent leader at a leadership convention in March 2013. Philippe Couillard, a neurosurgeon who served as health minister between 2003 and 2008 in Charest’s cabinet, and was, until his retirement in 2008, often suggested as a potential successor to Charest, took the somewhat surprising decision to reenter politics. As the candidate with the highest profile, Couillard easily won the PLQ leadership, winning 58.5% on the first ballot against 22% for Pierre Moreau, a former transportation minister under Charest and 19.5% for Raymond Bachand, Charest’s finance minister between 2005 and 2013.
In July 2013, a freight train carrying crude oil derailed in central Lac-Mégantic, a town in the Eastern Townships, killing 47 people and causing massive devastation to the town. The provincial government’s response, which included the announcement of a $60 million aid package for Lac-Mégantic, was positively received. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the PQ government seemed to have found its cruising altitude.
The issue of national identity and, closely connected to that, the status of the French language, has been a highly contentious matter in Quebec. In 1977, the first PQ government under René Lévesque passed Bill 101 (loi 101 or Charter of the French Language), which made French the official language of work in the public and private sectors, education, advertising and in courts. The new bill restricted access to English schools to those children whose father and/or mother had received most of their instruction in English. While Bill 101 is largely popular with Francophones in Quebec, it has been heavily criticized by Anglophones in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. In 1988, the PLQ government of Robert Bourassa adopted Bill 178, which used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause to impose unilingual French advertising outside private businesses. In 2009, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down a clause of Bill 104 (which strengthened language of education rules, limiting access to English schools and closing loopholes used by some to send their children to English schools), passed by Bernard Landry’s PQ government with the support of all opposition parties in 2002. In the 2012 campaign, the PQ had proposed extending Bill 101’s provisions to the Cégeps, two-year post-secondary collegiate institutions, and to all businesses with over 11 employees (until then, it was applicable for businesses employing more than 50 people). In April 2013, the PQ government proposed Bill 14, which would have extended Bill 101 to businesses with 26-49 employees, removing the bilingual status granted to municipalities which now have less than 50% of Anglophones, removing the language of education exemption for military families and enforcing French as the language of communication in the public, para-public, healthcare and social sectors. Lacking support from the PLQ or the CAQ, the PQ was forced to withdraw the bill.
Far more controversial, however, was the PQ’s Charter of Values (Charte des valeurs québécoises). The PQ presented its project as a defense and affirmation of laïcité (secularism), and the Charter’s most notable proposal was to ban all public servants from wearing conspicuous religious symbols (veil, cross, turban, hijab, kippah) and public servants would need to be religiously neutral. Critics accused the PQ of inventing a problem which didn’t actually exist, or using laïcité as a pretext to stigmatize minorities (particularly Muslims). Others felt that the PQ was proposing ‘two-speed laïcité‘ because the party supported keeping the crucifix (very much a visible and conspicuous religious symbol) in the National Assembly.
The federal NDP, federal Liberals and the federal Conservative government all expressed opposition to the Charter; the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, the Bar of Quebec, McGill University, the Université de Montréal, the Université de Sherbrooke and many academics have also opposed the Charter. Notably, both men behind the Bouchard-Taylor commission, came out against the Charter. Polls have shown a narrow plurality/majority of Quebecers, and a larger (but not overwhelming) majority of Francophones support the Charter.
The PQ’s Charter was the party’s response to a long-running debate on ‘reasonable accommodations’ in Quebec, which has been a hot-button issue in the province in the last 10 years. Between 2006 and 2007, several incidents of religious groups demanding special ‘accommodations’ incensed public opinion in Quebec – a court decision allowing a Sikh student to wear a kirpan to school, Hasidim Jews asking for tinted windows at a local YMCA in Montreal (so that children would not see women in athletic clothes), Muslims asking for a prayer room at work, a Muslim girl wearing a hijab in a soccer match and so forth. Responding to the controversy, the Charest government created a commission, the Bouchard-Taylor commission, to debate the issue of reasonable accommodations in 2007. In 2008, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission’s final report recommended that government employees with coercive powers (police offices, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens but not teachers) be barred from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, but also that the crucifix be removed from the National Assembly and to ban opening prayers at municipal councils. The Charest government rejected the commission’s proposals, and the PLQ government completed its terms without doing anything on the issue. In 2012, the PQ had announced that it would draft a Charter of Quebec values and secularism if elected. The issue of ‘reasonable accommodations’ has been used as a wedge issue by a good number of politicians, especially in the old Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), a conservative third party whose shocking second place showing in 2007 (ahead of the PQ) was often assigned to the debate on reasonable accommodations, or the PQ.
The PQ has been accused of using the Charter as an electoral wedge issue, catering to a conservative and suburban/rural Francophone Catholic electorate’s primal fear of multiculturalism or (Muslim) immigration. The PQ’s opponents have in turn compared the PQ to the far-right FN in France, which is a very unfair comparison, regardless of one’s view on the Charter. The PQ has, especially under René Lévesque, traditionally been a fairly progressive civic nationalist party; a far cry from the conservative, Catholic, inward-oriented nationalism of survivance which existed prior to the Quiet Revolution. Nevertheless, given history and persistent concerns (real or exaggerated or imagined) about the status of the French language, there has always been a dose of cultural nationalism in the PQ’s generally civic nationalist outlook. The Charter does represent a move away from civic nationalism towards cultural nationalism, although one which remains couched in ostensibly progressive and liberal nationalist rhetoric (secularism). It is, above all, however, an electoralist ploy and wedge issue designed by the PQ to please the base, mobilize the PQ’s traditional electorate and seize the advantage over the PLQ and the CAQ.
François Legault’s CAQ said that it supported some kind of charter of secularism, but denounced the PQ’s electoralist use of the Charter and felt that it went too far. The CAQ suggested that government employees with coercive or moral (school principals) authority be banned from wearing religious symbols.
The PLQ is uncomfortable on identity. The PLQ is the party of choice for Quebec’s Anglophone and allophone minorities, therefore, unlike the PQ/CAQ, it must be careful of not burning bridges with them by supporting linguistic legislation or identity projects which are strongly opposed by linguistic minorities. Although the Liberal Party’s hold on the minority vote is extremely solid, there remains the precedent of 1989, when the Equality Party won 4 seats (all Anglophone seats on Montreal’s West Island) in reaction to the Bourassa Liberals’ language legislation (Bill 178 etc). On the other hand, the PLQ has a sizable Francophone electorate to appeal to, which is susceptible to supporting some sort of soft nationalism. Indeed, the Charter badly hurt and divided the PLQ. For months, the Liberals lacked a clear position on the issue. In October 2013, Liberal leader Philippe Couillard stated that he would never work with the PQ in adopting the Charter, but he remained uncomfortable on the issues which the Charter rose, notably public servants wearing religious symbols. In November 2013, Liberal MNA Marc Tanguay said that the PLQ would, hypothetically, accept a candidate who wore an Iranian-style chador. His colleague, Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin, the only Muslim member, publicly criticized Tanguay’s comments. A longstanding opponent of political Islam and religious extremism, Houda-Pépin supported banning government employees with coercive authority from wearing religious symbols. Then, Couillard himself contradicted Tanguay, saying that, no, the Liberals wouldn’t accept a woman wearing a chador as a candidate.
In January 2014, Houda-Pépin quit the Liberal caucus to sit as an independent MNA. She could not bring herself to agree with the PLQ’s opposition to the Charter. The whole affair was terribly handled by Couillard and the PLQ leadership; hitherto a relatively little-known backbencher, Houda-Pépin was allowed to gain a significant presence in the media by opposing the party line and reinforcing views that the PLQ was badly divided over the Charter and lacked a coherent position on the issue.
Premier Pauline Marois called an election for April 7 on March 5. After opting against calling a snap election for December 2013, it looked very likely that the PQ government would fall on the budget, given the PLQ and CAQ’s opposition to Nicolas Marceau’s 2014-5 budget.
Parties, Issues and Campaigns
The PQ entered the campaign clearly seeking a majority government from voters. The PQ trailed the Liberals in polls between March and December 2013, with the PLQ leading the PQ by up to 10 points in poll. The PQ managed to close the gap beginning in the fall of 2013, reducing the PLQ’s advantage to single digits and finally stealing the lead from the PQ in the New Year. A CROP poll in mid-February 2014 showed the PQ leading the PLQ by 6 points, 40 to 34, which would have been enough for a PQ majority. The first polls during the campaign showed a close race in the popular vote, with a statistical tie or narrow PQ lead (up to 2 points). However, given that the PLQ’s vote is inefficiently distributed, a tied race in Quebec translates into a PQ lead in terms of seats. In 1998, the PQ narrowly lost the popular vote to the PLQ but it was reelected with a majority government.
The PQ remains committed, on paper, to the independence of Quebec. The PQ’s platform opened with the traditional commitment to ‘make Quebec a country’. In reality, however, the prospects of an independent Quebec are low: support for independence is stuck at around 40%, there is no public interest outside nationalist circles for a third referendum and a lot of ‘soft nationalist’ voters (who voted or would have voted oui in 1995) have lost interest in the cause and are more interested in daily life issues. The federal Bloc Québécois’ massive defeat at the hands of the NDP in the 2011 federal election was correctly interpreted by most as a sign that Quebec voters had lost interest in the ‘national question’. The NDP, historically a non-entity in Quebec, attracted a lot of ‘soft nationalists’ (and even not-so-soft nationalists) thanks to the appeal of Jack Layton’s energetic campaign but also the party’s progressive, centre-left politics which is generally a good fit for Quebec (which leans to the left of the rest of Canada on most issues except identity and immigration). The Bloc’s campaign, which doubled down on sovereignty, further alienated voters. To be sure, however, the NDP successfully pulled Tory and Liberal voters as well. In 2012, the PQ’s victory was entirely by default, and owed little to nothing to the PQ’s raison d’être. Pauline Marois, largely to placate the base, promised a vaguely-defined gouvernance souverainiste which, in reality (especially given the minority mandate), amounted to nothing out of the ordinary. The PQ government did disagree with the federal government on issues such as the fed’s reform of employment insurance, but beyond tougher words and pablum, it wasn’t of much importance.
The PQ’s platform clearly stated that it would not hold a referendum until it judged the population to be ready and the moment ‘appropriate’. To placate the base, the PQ promised to draft a ‘white book on the political future of Quebec’ and submit it to the people for ‘consultation’; to fight the fed’s interference and assuming all powers at its disposal. On the campaign trail, the PQ largely sought to downplay the referendum question. Instead, it emphasized the Charter, protecting the French language (likely adopting Bill 14) and affirming Quebec’s culture.
On economic issues, the PQ largely relied on the aborted budget, which focused on limiting growths in public spending, cutting spending in many ministries and some fee/tariff increases (daycares, from $7 to $9, electricity bills) to eliminate the deficit in 2015-2016. They promised 115,000 new jobs in 3 years, resource development (allowing oil exploration on Anticosti Island), assisting export-oriented companies and income and payroll tax cuts once the budget is balanced.
The PQ thought that it had recruited the top star candidate in Pierre Karl Péladeau, a media mogul who announced his candidacy for the PQ in Saint-Jérôme. Péladeau, colloquially known as PKP, was the president of Québecor Inc., a media and communications giant with a revenue of $4.28 billion in 2013. Québecor owns Vidéotron, one of Quebec’s main cable television, wireless internet and phone providers; TVA Group, centered around TVA, the single largest French-language TV channel in Quebec; Sun Media, the owner of many local tabloid newspapers across Canada including Le Journal de Montréal (a populist tabloid which is Quebec’s most popular newspaper), Le Journal de Québec (the third largest newspaper in Quebec) but also the Sun conservative tabloids (Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Ottawa Sun etc), local/regional dailies (The London Free Press, The Kingston Whig-Standard); Canoe.ca, a web portal; and Groupe Archambault, Quebec’s largest music (but also books, DVDs, magazines etc) retailer. Québecor also owns, through TVA Group and Sun Media, the Sun News Network, a conservative news channel launched in 2011 which self-describes as a ‘less politically correct’ and ‘straight talk’ channel (it is often referred to as ‘Fox News North’). Ironically, the Sun newspapers in English Canada are known for their strongly anti-separatist stances. Overall, Québecor’s newspapers account for about 31% of the average daily circulation of all newspapers in Canada (in 2012).
As part of an expansion into sports, Péladeau acquired naming and management rights for Quebec City’s new indoor arena (the city hopes to regain its NHL franchise). The city’s decision was contested in court by a former city manager, and in 2011, the National Assembly passed Bill 204, forbidding any judicial challenges. The PQ’s support of the bill, alongside the PLQ government, led to the 2011-2012 crisis in the PQ. Péladeau’s father, Pierre Péladeau, was openly nationalist, but PKP was fairly quiet about his own politics. Prior to the election, there were persistent rumours that PKP would run for the PQ, which he initially denied.
Péladeau was always a risky bet, since he public perceptions of the man in Quebec aren’t universally positive, especially on the left. In 2009, Québecor locked out over 200 unionized employees of Le Journal de Montréal, and employed strike-breakers to continue publishing the newspaper. As a powerful businessman and media mogul, his politics unsurprisingly lean towards the right. In recruiting Péladeau, the PQ knowingly took the risk of further alienating firmly left-wing nationalist voters away from the PQ, in exchange for attracting centrists and right-leaning nationalists/soft nationalists, primarily from the CAQ.
In his first speech as a PQ candidate, Péladeau enthusiastically declared, in the form of a fist pump, his ambition to ‘make Quebec a country’. Péladeau’s fist pump reignited the issue of a third referendum, which proved a clear liability for the PQ given that the majority of voters do not want a third referendum. The PQ’s campaign was badly hurt by Péladeau’s fist pumping, forcing the PQ to reiterate that there would no referendum and, in the first debate, Marois restated the PQ’s position that it would only hold a referendum when ‘the people is ready’ and took no commitment to hold a referendum during the next government’s term. Nevertheless, the can of worms had been opened. The PQ fell badly behind the PLQ in polls after PKP’s candidacy.
Instead, the PQ shifted focus back over to the Charter, hoping to successfully use it as a wedge issue to weaken the PLQ and take voters from the CAQ. But the PQ’s Charter focus was hit by three incidents. Firstly, at the end of March, Janette Bertrand, a popular feminist comedian and writer, spoke at a PQ event to promote the Charter. She stressed that the Charter was essential to ensuring gender equality and that there was a religious fundamentalist ‘danger’ if it was not adopted. Then she told a story about ‘two men’ (rich, presumably Arab, students from McGill) who obtain from the apartment building’s owner a special men’s-only day at the pool, and several months later, Bertrand said, they have the pool all the time. She used this largely invented story (which has only one fact: that Bertrand goes to the pool at her apartment building to do aqua-gymnastics) to describe ‘le grugeage‘ (process of ‘chewing’ or ‘nibbling’) and the dangers of the absence of the Charter. Besides, the Charter would not apply to private businesses like Bertrand’s apartment building. Her comments were widely criticized. Later, Marois stated that she would use, if necessary, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause to protect her Charter, after months of PQ claims that the Charter was compatible with the federal Charter. Finally, Marois confirmed that public employees could be fired if they did not respect the Charter’s secular dress code.
Panicking, the PQ tried to latch on to stupid and irrelevant issues. It accused Couillard, who worked as a neurosurgeon in Saudi Arabia, of not sufficiently criticizing the Kingdom’s human rights record. It then played on ‘alleged electoral irregularities’, with reports of ‘abnormally high’ numbers of Anglophones and allophones seeking to register to vote, so obviously the PQ blew the issue out of proportion with concern trolling.
The PLQ focused its campaign on economic issues, under the slogan ensemble on s’occupe des vraies affaires (together, addressing of the real issues); the term ‘real issues’ was also a direct criticism of the PQ’s alleged focused on identity politics, the threat of a third referendum and nationalism – which the PLQ implicitly defined as less important issues.
In terms of actual proposals, the PLQ’s platform (or the equivalent thereof, there does not seem to be a single document acting as platform, but rather a financial breakdown of major promises and a series of commitments, some of them micro-targeted to certain regions) focused on rather populist economic proposals to help create jobs and oriented towards the ‘middle class’. Like the PQ, the PLQ supported a rigorous management of government spending (a $1.3 billion in cuts) to return to a balanced budget as soon as possible. But it accused the PQ of mismanaging the economy, of having a poor record on job creation and cutting infrastructure spending instead of cutting in government administration. It proposed creating over 250,000 jobs over 5 years, reestablishing funding for the maintenance and modernization of infrastructures (cut by the PQ), introduce a tax credit for home renovations, creating a property savings plan to help people purchase their first homes, relaunching the Plan Nord (which the PLQ accuses the PQ of having destroyed), an ‘aggressive export strategy’ (to take advantage of the new FTA with the EU, and NAFTA), tax cuts and debt reduction with a budget surplus, a gradual elimination of the health tax over 4 years beginning in 2016-17, an indexation of daycare daily fees, reducing the bureaucracy in education and healthcare to ‘invest in patients and students’ and opening 24/7 ‘super clinics’. The PLQ also made a big deal of their ‘Maritime Strategy‘, with investments of over $7 billion, 30,000 new jobs and profits of over $3.5 billion over 15 years in Gaspésie, the Magdalen Islands and the Côte-Nord. The PLQ’s landmark strategy talked about developing maritime transport, tourism and supporting the fisheries industry. The PQ and independent economists criticized the PLQ’s costings and platform, notably for relying on predictions of high economic growth and unfounded assumptions.
To reinforce the party’s economic focus, the PLQ recruited a number of candidates with economic or financial backgrounds.
In their commitments, the PLQ makes no specific mention of language and identity issues, besides the usual platitudes. There is also no mention of the Charter or the issues that it raised; the PLQ is against the PQ’s Charter, but it is vague on what it wants instead. It talked of ‘guidelines’ for religious accommodations, and leaving it up to police chiefs to determine whether their officers may wear religious headgear and other symbols. Because of the PLQ’s extremely vague positioning on language issues and Couillard’s statements about bilingualism being an asset, the PQ and CAQ said that Couillard was incapable of defending Quebec values and the French language.
The PLQ also talked little of corruption and integrity, besides vaguely assuring voters that things had changed. During the second televised leaders debate, Couillard was attacked for his one-time association with Arthur Porter, the former head of the McGill University Health Center, who faces criminal charges over an alleged $22 million fraud and kickback scheme. He was arrested by Interpol in Panama in May 2013 and is awaiting extradition to Canada. He was also criticized for keeping an offshore bank account in Jersey while he was a doctor in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, which, while not illegal, gives a bad reputation.
The CAQ began the electoral campaign in an unfavourable position. After the party won 27% (but only 19 seats) in 2012, the CAQ began its campaign with only 15 to 16% support in polls, and in polls in the early half of the campaign, its support fell further to lows of 12-14%. Given the party’s rather inefficient vote distribution, such a low result could see the CAQ win only 4-6 seats, and CAQ leader François Legault faced a tough challenge from the PQ in his riding of L’Assomption, an historically péquiste area. The CAQ was also hurt by the retirement of two of its first term MNAs: Hélène Daneault (Groulx) and, above all, Jacques Duchesneau (Saint-Jérôme). Duchesneau, a former Montreal police chief and later a leader in the fight against corruption in Quebec since 2009, had been one of Legault’s leading star candidates in 2012 (as part of a heavy focus on integrity and ethics). Legault also lost Gaétan Barrette, a former president of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec (federation of medical specialists), who had run and lost for the CAQ in Terrebonne in 2012. Barrette ran for the PLQ in La Pinière, against ex-PLQ independent incumbent Fatima Houda-Pépin (who was supported by the PQ, which ran no candidate in the solidly Liberal seat).
The CAQ is a vaguely centre-right party, which largely consists of vacuous platitudes balancing out to a right-wing lean. It was founded in 2011 by François Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister and CEO of Air Transat until 1997. Legault resigned his seat as PQ MNA in 2009 but returned to politics with speculation that he would create a new centre-right party, which sought to go beyond the old federalist/separatist debate, opposed a new referendum and focused on more ‘urgent issues’. The conservative Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), founded in 1994 by right-leaning but autonomist/soft nationalist Liberals and a minor party under the leadership of Mario Dumont (the ADQ’s only MNA between 1994 and 2003) until it surged to become the second largest party in 2007. The ADQ, which was totally unprepared for prime team, did horrendously in opposition and the ADQ collapsed to 7 seats (from 41); Mario Dumont quickly retired from the party leadership, leaving the party without its historic leader and badly divided in the wake of a jumbled leadership contest. The ADQ merged into the CAQ; the ADQ’s remaining MNAs, led by ADQ leader Gérard Deltell, became the parliamentary backbone of the CAQ prior to the 2012 election, although it also welcomed three PQ defectors.
In this election, the CAQ presented itself as the ‘party of taxpayers’ and defended a conservative populist platform promising austerity, spending cuts, tax cuts, reducing the size of the bureaucracy but also a large project to make the St. Lawrence Valley into a new Silicon Valley. The CAQ’s platform decried Quebec’s high taxes and economic stagnation. It promised to return to a balanced budget as early as 2014-15, with major spending cuts in government expenditures, abolishing school boards and health agencies, reducing the size of the civil service through a 4-year hiring freeze, adopting a ‘taxpayers charter’ banning tax and utility price increases beyond the rate of inflation, abolishing the health and school taxes (projected to give ‘families’ $1,000), cutting the recent increase in electricity rates by half, limiting future increases in electricity rates and daycare prices to the rate of inflation, ending partisan nominations and exorbitant severance pays and fighting corruption. By cutting bureaucracy, the CAQ says it wants to improve services, notably in healthcare and education.
The CAQ’s landmark project, which headlined its platform, was the St. Lawrence Project, a major plan to turn the St. Lawrence into a ‘valley of innovation’ like the Silicon Valley, focusing on the high-tech and knowledge economy, with the promise of creating 100,000 ‘high quality’ jobs. The platform talked of stimulating investment and innovation, increasing the number of university graduates and a lot of vague statements about plans and policies. The costings for the project and the government’s role therein seemed extremely vague.
The CAQ has a mildly autonomist stance on the national question, which it styled as ‘Quebec first’ (as opposed to the PLQ’s ‘Canada first’ and the PQ’s ‘Quebec only’, in the CAQ’s words). It still opposes a referendum on independence. The CAQ supported the idea of a Charter, guaranteeing the religious neutrality of the province and gender equality, and banning judges, police officers, prison wardens but also school teachers and principals from wearing religious symbols. It also vaguely supported ‘respect for Quebec’s heritage’, which meant opposition to removing the crucifix from the National Assembly and protecting symbols associated with Christian religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter. The CAQ’s platform also wished to limit federal spending power, seek a single tax return for Quebec (Quebec is the only province where taxpayers need to fill out two separate tax returns, for the federal and provincial governments) and eliminating costly duplication of services between the provincial government and Ottawa. While Legault attacked Couillard for his allegedly weak stance on the French language and has stated that French is ‘in danger’ in Montreal, the CAQ’s platform made no specific mention of linguistic legislation.
The CAQ had 122 candidates, failing to put up candidates in Soulanges, Saint-Laurent and Westmount-Saint-Louis.
Québec solidaire (QS), a left-wing nationalist party, was founded in 2006 by the merger of a political party, the Union of Progressive Forces (UFP, itself a coalition of three parties including the former Quebec NDP and the Communist Party of Quebec, PCQ), and a social movement, Option citoyenne. QS describes itself as a feminist, environmentalist, democratic and alter-globalist party supporting social justice, equality, pluralism and the independence of Quebec. QS claims to be the only left-wing party in Quebec, judging that the three major parties have become right-wing neoliberal parties. Since its foundation in 2006, QS has enjoyed significant success at the polls. In 2008, QS elected its first MNA, Amir Khadir, an Iranian-born doctor and one of QS’ two spokesperson at the time. In 2012, QS increased its vote share from 3.8% to 6% and elected its second MNA, Françoise David, a well-known feminist and QS spokesperson. The loss of much of the PQ’s left flank to QS has become a major electoral issue for the PQ, which has been split between strategies to attract left-wing votes from QS or by sacrificing a few left-wing votes to QS in exchange for attracting right-wing votes from the CAQ. The PQ often charges the QS of dividing the nationalist vote and QS voters of ‘wasting their votes’, but the idea that QS voters would just all vote PQ if QS wasn’t there is an extremely faulty one.
QS’ platform focused on three main themes: ‘a fair Quebec’, ‘a free Quebec’ and ‘a green Quebec’. Under the first theme, QS proposed to create additional tax brackets for high incomes, raise corporate taxes, restore the capital tax on financial institutions, offer financial aid to low-income families, move towards free post-secondary education within 5 years, creating a universal public drug insurance program, investing $400 million in healthcare over 4 years, transfer all subsidies from private to public schools by 2020, fighting precarious work conditions, creating a guaranteed minimum income (initially to be set at $12,600), creating 50,000 new green housing units, reducing class sizes and increasing the number and length of paid holidays. QS was the only major party which did not set a balanced budget as a priority; its financial framework called for a 4% annual increase in government expenditures, higher than any of the three other parties, and it opposed the idea of ‘zero deficit at all costs’. On environmental issues, QS supported reducing GHG emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 through a plan to stop using fossil fuels, and QS strongly opposes oil exploration on Anticosti Island, nuclear power and shale oil and gas. On the issue of natural resources, QS’ platform supported nationalizing production of strategic resources, increase the royalties paid by mining companies, strengthen environmental oversight and approval of mining projects. QS has been very critical of the PQ’s record on economic and environmental issues, decrying cuts in social services and programs by the PQ’s austerity-minded budgets and some of the PQ’s environmental policies, notably with regards to Anticosti Island.
QS supports the independence of Quebec, but it calls for it through the election of a constituent assembly which would draft a constitution for Quebec, which would be ratified by voters in a referendum. QS’ platform called for improving First Nations’ rights, opposing current free trade agreements, opposition to ‘imperialism’ and militarism and adopting a MMP electoral system. QS seeks to strengthen Bill 101 by broadening its scope, but QS is pro-immigration and it opposed the PQ’s Charter. QS criticized the Charter for dividing Quebecers and for ‘two-speed’ secularism.
QS had no electoral agreement with Option nationale (ON), a more ‘hardline’ separatist party founded by ex-PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant in 2011. ON’s first priority is independence, and the party’s line is that a ON majority government would be understood as a mandate to break constitutional ties with Canada by repatriating powers over laws, treaties and taxes from Ottawa, before drafting a constitution confirming Quebec’s independence and ratifying said constitution in a referendum. Although ON says that independence is neither left nor right, the rest of ON’s platform leans to the left, similar to QS, supporting free education, the nationalization of natural resources, a public drug insurance program and opposition to private healthcare. In 2011, ON and QS had a non-aggression pact, with neither party opposing the other’s leader(s) in their constituencies. Aussant lost reelection in his riding of Nicolet-Bécancour and ON’s profile in the media declined significantly, and in June 2013 Aussant left ON’s leadership to accept a job at Morgan Stanley in London. The major differences between ON and QS is over the priority assigned to independence: QS supports independence, but it is much less of a priority, often featuring below goals of social justice. ON ran 116 candidates. QS ran candidates in every constituency except Nelligan.
The new Conservative Party of Quebec, founded in 2009, ran 59 candidates. The PCQ is led by Adrien Pouliot, a former ADQ member and conservative economist. It is federalist and right-wing.
The Green Party of Quebec (PVQ), which won 3.9% in 2007 and 2.2% in 2008, has been struggling for years with unstable leadership and poor electoral results. In 2012, the PVQ ran only 66 candidates and won 1% of the vote across the province. Under a new leader, Alex Tyrrell, the party now proclaims itself as an ecosocialist party. The PVQ claims to be the only party uniting federalists and separatists, who place a common emphasis on environmental issues. The PVQ ran only 44 candidates.
Turnout was 71.43%, down from 74.6% in 2012 but still far higher than the 2008 record low, which saw only 57.4%. Compared to other provincial elections, turnout in Quebec’s provincial elections is significantly higher, with turnout in the 70% range since 2003, with the exception of 2008 (an ‘unwanted’ election called by the PLQ to regain a majority government, only a bit after a year from the last election, with no suspense or major issues in the campaign). The higher turnout indicates the greater interest of Quebecers in provincial politics compared to other provinces, which isn’t very surprising.
PLQ 41.52% (+10.32%) winning 70 seats (+20)
PQ 25.38% (-6.57%) winning 30 seats (-24)
CAQ 23.05% (-4%) winning 22 seats (+3)
QS 7.63% (+1.6%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ON 0.73% (-1.16%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green 0.55% (-0.44%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Conservative 0.39% (+0.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 0.36% (+0.09%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.39% (+0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Quebec Liberals, only 18 months after losing power, were returned to government with a wide majority government. What the PQ expected to be an election which would return them to power with a majority government ended up being a major rout for the PQ, which throws the PQ into disarray and forces péquiste leaders and supporters to ask themselves some tough questions.
The 2014 election will go down in history as an excellent example of an horribly run electoral campaign, which turned what could have been a comfortable victory into a terrible rout. The PQ called the election optimistic that it would be able to win a majority government. Since the summer of 2013, after a tough start, Marois’ government had finally found its cruising altitude and had steadily eaten into the Liberal opposition’s sizable lead over the PQ before finally stealing the lead themselves. Polls at election call favoured the PQ: even if the popular vote matchup between the PQ and PLQ was tight, the PQ’s net advantage over the Liberals in the Francophone vote, the historic inefficiency of the Liberal’s vote distribution and the CAQ’s loses allowed the PQ to be confident that it would win a majority. In late February, Marois also sought to take advantage of the PLQ’s disarray bred by the debate over the Charter. PLQ MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin had just left the Liberal caucus with a bang, seriously weakening Couillard’s leadership and giving the image of a party which was divided and incoherent over a major political issue.
In the first days of the campaign, the PQ’s recruitment of Pierre Karl Péladeau as a candidate made headlines and was a major coup for the PQ. In the second half of Marois’ government, the PQ had taken the decision to reorient more towards the centre/centre-right, targeting CAQ voters, at the expense of less important loses on the left to QS. With PKP’s candidacy, the PQ aimed to appeal to CAQ voters and to gain a clear advantage over the PLQ and CAQ on economic issues, strengthening the PQ’s ‘economic credibility’. However, perhaps to calm the queasiness of the PQ’s left-wing and QS, PKP’s entrée en scène came with a stirring declaration of attachment to sovereigntist values (the infamous PKP fist pump and ‘Dean Scream’-like moment of faire du Québec un pays!). To many voters, opposed to a referendum, it really appeared as if the PQ was running on a third referendum if it was reelected. Despite the PQ and Marois’ later reassurances that there was no commitment to a quick referendum within the government’s term and that there would be no referendum until the people were ready and the conditions assembled, the damage had already been done and the incident flash polarized the electorate. The CAQ, which included a lot of voters who had backed the Liberals in 2008 and a plurality of CAQ supporters, in polls, indicated that the Liberals were their second choice, bled towards the PLQ, although some soft nationalists likely shifted from the PQ to the CAQ at this point. At this point, Couillard and the Liberals’ slogan of taking care of les vraies affaires began to benefit the Liberals. The PLQ seized on the fear/threat of an unwanted third referendum, accusing the PQ of focusing on divisive issues and issues of lesser importance rather than the ‘real issues’ (like the economy, healthcare, education, jobs) which polls showed to be the top issues in voters’ minds. The Liberal federalist base was mobilized by the threat of a referendum, even if in reality the threat was no greater than it was pre-PKP fist pump.
Marois applying the brakes on the referendum idea failed to have an effect. The Liberal base was already strongly mobilized. The PQ’s hardcore nationalist base was now losing enthusiasm (again) for Marois and demobilizing. The CAQ regained some lost votes from the PQ, while QS consolidated gains it had made from the PQ’s left after PKP’s candidacy.
The Charter was, by the looks of how the PQ played it, designed to be an electoral wedge issue to benefit the PQ rather than an actual policy which the PQ genuinely wanted to see passed rapidly with a large consensus. If the PQ had wanted to pass the Charter rapidly, it could probably have done so, given that there was wide agreement between the parties on the major goals of the Charter – the secularism of the state, affirmation of gender equality, the ban on receiving public services if one’s face was veiled, covered or masked. Instead, the PQ began using the Charter as a wedge issue, hoping to mobilize a culturally nationalist and conservative electorate, with a primal fear of multiculturalism (defined by many as a threat to Quebec’s French Catholic character) and Muslim immigration. Initially, the PQ was fairly good at playing the Charter as a wedge issue, as evidenced by the major division in the PLQ. However, during the campaign, the PQ’s decision to refocus the rhetoric on the Charter in a hope to forget the referendum frenzy failed. As mentioned above, the Charter blew up in the PQ’s face. On the left, many left-nationalist and progressive voters, strongly opposed to the Charter, moved towards or stayed with QS, which consolidated its gains with the PQ’s urban left/progressive flank. The Janette Bertrand story, the announcement that the PQ might need to use the notwithstanding clause to protect the Charter (despite Bernard Drainville having previously stated that the Charter was in line with the federal Charter) and the confirmation that people would be fired for breaking the Charter’s dress code (an issue on which a lot of people, including Charter supporters, had reservations with). The Charter’s more moderate supporters moved towards the CAQ, and solidified the Liberal hold on its base.
The PQ failed to benefit from the issue of corruption, which had been a major factor in the PLQ’s defeat (of sorts) in 2012. The PQ could no longer exploit the issue because it too had been targeted by some allegations at the Charbonneau commission; Marois’ own husband, a businessman, had come up in allegations of a political deal between him and the FTQ, Quebec’s largest labour union and later in allegations that he had sought donations from engineering firms to Marois’ 2007 PQ leadership campaign. The election call came days before Marois and her husband were due to attend a parliamentary hearing. The Liberals were lucky that the election came before the press revealed that Charest’s former Deputy Premier (Nathalie Normandeau, who resigned in 2012) was at the heart of a criminal conspiracy (construction companies bought themselves favours by illegally funding the PLQ) and that one incumbent PLQ MNA and three ex-MNAs were being investigated by the anti-corruption unit (UPAC).
The result was a disaster for the PQ, which was largely of its own making. The PQ won only 25.4% of the vote, which is the PQ’s worst result since 1970, the PQ’s first election in which the party won 23.1%; it is the lowest amount of votes received by the PQ since 1973 and the lowest number of seats won by the party since 1989. After the shortest provincial government since Confederation in 1867, Marois’ PQ government also becomes the first government to lose reelection since the Union Nationale (UN) government of 1966-1970, which lost reelection to the PLQ in 1970. Marois, like Charest before her, was defeated in her own constituency. The defeat raises some pretty existential questions for the PQ and its cause. In an election which inadvertently became a ‘referendum on a referendum’, the PQ was soundly defeated on the opposition of a large portion of the electorate to a third referendum. The issue isn’t dead, given that a significant share of the electorate – about 30% – are still attached to the old cause of Quebec independence. The PQ’s base is largely made up of such faithfuls to the cause. Nevertheless, for the past couple of years, the PQ and broader nationalist movement (including the federal Bloc Québécois) have struggled to come to terms with the electorate’s diminishing appetite for talks of a referendum, independence and even linguistic/cultural identity issues. The Bloc’s thumping in 2011 was the first major blow to the nationalist movement, and a year out from the next federal election, nothing indicates that the BQ will perform significantly better in 2015 than it did in 2011. In 2012, the PQ’s victory was a victory by default, with a lower share of the vote than in the 2008 election despite a dreaded, unpopular and exhausted Liberal government. The PQ has been defined and held together by the issue of nationalism and independence; with clear signs that the PQ loses when it talks about independence and referendum, the PQ faces an existential question. With declining support for the cause, can the PQ survive as a major party without redefining itself?
The catastrophic sense of this defeat for the PQ and its cause stems from the generational challenges of the PQ. A blog post by UdeM public opinion specialist Claire Durand during the campaign showed the aging nature of the nationalist PQ base: in 1979, support for independence was strongest (63%) with voters aged 18 to 34, and weakest with older voters (36% with those 35 to 54, 22% with those over 55); in 2013, 41.5% of voters over 55 supported independence against 45% of those over 35 and 39% of those less than 35. Léger Marketing’s last poll, which was relatively accurate (38 PLQ, 29 PQ, 23 CAQ, 9 QS), showed that the PQ’s support tended to increase with age: with those between 18 to 24, the PQ registered only 19% of voting intentions, placing fourth behind the Liberals (37%), QS (22%) and CAQ (21%). The PQ’s strongest support, in that poll, came with those 55 to 64, the only age group where the PQ led the Liberals, with 37% against 31% for the Liberals and 24% for the CAQ. The PQ also polled 35% with those 45-54 and 31% with those over 65. With young adults and younger middle-aged voters – those between the ages of 25 and 44 – the PQ was a distant third behind the PLQ and PQ. There are, therefore, increasing indications that the PQ and its cause is supported by older voters, likely those young, dedicated and faithful nationalists of the 1970s who have grown older. The Charter debate didn’t do the PQ any favours on the left, with non-Francophones and with minorities. PKP’s candidacy, which ended up hurting the PQ, may have done serious damage to the PQ’s traditional identification as a social democratic party and ally of organized labour. With the rise of QS, which the PQ has failed to check since 2007, the PQ no longer has the monopoly on the nationalist vote.
Again, the PQ needs to ask itself what its future is. The problem is that it cannot totally abandon independence, because a large portion of the PQ’s militant base remains very attached to the cause and any PQ leader who once again tries to place independence on the backburner as Lévesque did in 1984 with the beau risque or Marois in 2011-12 will find himself faced with the wrath of a good part of the caucus and the base. However, because of this, the PQ is in a bit of a dead-end, because focus on independence doesn’t sell well right now (and hasn’t really sold well for about a decade now). The challenge for the PQ is to find a way to retain the nationalist base’s loyalty while also expanding the PQ’s appeal to middle-of-the-road voters who just don’t care about independence and don’t want a third referendum. That’s easier said than done.
With 70 seats, Philippe Couillard’s Liberals has won a solid majority government which will last until the fall of 2018. Despite being a rookie campaigner, Couillard ran a fairly successful campaign, even if a lot of the PLQ’s victory owes to the PQ’s disastrous campaign rather than a particularly good Liberal campaign. Couillard’s own campaign was assisted by the expertise of former Liberal Premier Daniel Johnson Jr., who played a significant behind-the-scenes role in the PLQ’s victorious campaign. Couillard faced several major challenges during the campaign, particularly in the debates where he was attacked for his links to Arthur Porter, the conditions in which he left politics for the private sector in 2008 and the PLQ’s weak stance on the French language. Nevertheless, none of those attacks really took their toll on the Liberal leader.
Couillard personally won his risky gamble by standing in Roberval, a traditionally péquiste seat in the Saguenay, known as one of the most nationalist regions of Quebec. Couillard had represented the Montreal-area riding of Mont-Royal between 2003 and 2007, before winning reelection in the Quebec City riding of Jean-Talon in 2008 and returning to the National Assembly late last year with a by-election in the Montreal riding of Outremont. Couillard wanted to be elected for Roberval because he lives in Saint-Félicien (where his wife is from) and really enjoys hunting in the region. Politically, it was a risky gamble for Couillard, who would likely not have won the seat if the PQ had won the election but may also have lost, like Robert Bourassa in 1985, despite winning the election. In that sense, some have speculated that it was an up-or-out decision: if he wins, that would mean that the PLQ has won the province and he becomes Premier; if he loses, that likely would have meant that the PLQ lost and Couillard would have had an easy exit. Ultimately, Couillard won handily, winning 55.2% against 33.3% for the PQ incumbent. In 2012, the PQ won 46.7% in Roberval against 28.4% for the Liberals.
The Liberals were hugely successful at mobilizing their base. The core, rock-solid Liberal vote – that is, ethnic minorities and the Anglos – were motivated and mobilized to vote by the threat of the referendum and the unpopularity of the PQ’s Charter with non-Francophones. Although turnout decreased province-wide, turnout increased significantly in solidly Liberal ridings on Montreal Island, Greater Montreal and the Outaouais with a significant Anglo and/or allophone majority/minority. In Robert-Baldwin, a seat in Montreal’s West Island, turnout increased from 69.1% to 77%. In D’Arcy-McGee, a plurality Jewish riding in Montreal and the safest Liberal seat in the province, turnout increased from 65.8% to 72.1%. Overall, all ridings where turnout increased, often quite significantly, have a significant Anglophone or allophone population. In Francophone ridings, turnout decreased, with the steepest decreases in traditionally PQ strongholds of the Laurentides, Lanaudière, Montérégie, Centre-du-Québec and Gaspésie. In their strongholds, the Liberals faced even weaker opposition than in 2012 or past years. For example, in D’Arcy-McGee, where the PLQ had won 84.7% in 2012, it won 92.1%. The CAQ, which had polled decently (comparatively) in Anglo ridings in 2012, suffered some particularly significant loses in those same places this year. The PQ, which was already at a floor, stayed at its usual lows. QS lost support in many of these ridings, while the Greens – in 2007 and 2008 they’d been distant seconds to the Liberals in a lot of Anglo ridings – had no presence.
The CAQ can be quite pleased with its performance. The party came in the campaign with low poll numbers and most predictions placing them with no more than a handful of seats, against 19 seats in 2012. It ended up winning 22 seats – that is, a net gain of 3 seats since 2012, although the CAQ’s popular vote did fall by 4% to 23.1%. The CAQ, as in 2012, benefited from a fairly good campaign. Support for the CAQ increased in the final days of the campaign, in the aftermath of a strong debate performance by Legault (pounding Couillard on language and Marois on referendums) in the second televised leaders’ debate, as the PQ campaign continued to falter. Standing at about 15% as late as March 23, the CAQ grew to 18-19% (March 31-April 1), 21% (EKOS, April 3), 23% (Léger and Forum, April 3) and 25% (Angus-Reid, April 4). The CAQ’s gains in the final stretch came primarily from the PQ, which definitely fell below the 28-30% range.
The CAQ saw loses to the Liberals compensated, partially, by gains from the PQ. According to Forum’s last poll, 15% of the PQ’s 2008 voters said they were going to vote for the CAQ, compensating for the 29% of the CAQ’s 2008 voters who said they were going to vote for the Liberals. The results confirmed this: in terms of seats lost, the CAQ lost five seats to the Liberals – all but four of them in the Quebec City area (the final one, La Prairie, is in Montreal’s suburban South Shore), and one seat to the PQ (Saint-Jérôme, where CAQ star candidate/MNA Jacques Duchesneau was retiring and PKP picked up the seat for the PQ; it was the only seat to be gained by the PQ). In the Quebec City area, the CAQ’s main challenger was/is the PLQ. In contrast, the CAQ gained 9 seats from the PQ – ridings located in the 450 suburbs of Montreal, in the North Shore, the South Shore and the more rural areas of Montérégie and Centre-du-Québec. The CAQ’s vote held up remarkably well in these seats (with the exception of the CAQ-held seats of Groulx and Blainville), and the party benefited from a significant decline in the PQ’s vote share to gain these seats. In almost all of these seats, the CAQ’s main challenger was/is the PQ rather than the PLQ. In his riding of L’Assomption, Legault was reelected with an expanded majority – he won 49.4% against 30.4% for PQ star candidate Pierre Paquette, a former senior Bloc MP for Joliette, defeated by the Orange Crush in 2011. In the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, the CAQ gained three seats for the PQ, so that the CAQ now holds a majority of the North Shore suburban seats.
The CAQ’s performance on election night was interesting: as the first results came in, the CAQ was performing very poorly and for most of the night, it seemed as if the CAQ would lose seats. There was a late surge, as later results streamed in, which saw the CAQ steadily climb in the seat count; an unusual event on an election night. This may indicate that the CAQ performed poorly in advance voting, which were likely the first ballots to be counted after polls closed; advance voting began on March 28, before the CAQ climbed in the polls. Votes cast on election day were likely significantly better for the CAQ than those cast beforehand. Perhaps if all votes had been cast on election day, the CAQ may have formed the official opposition…
QS once again improved its result, gaining over 1% in the popular vote since 2012 and gaining their third seat – the downtown Montreal riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, where perennial QS candidate Manon Massé, a fairly well-known feminist and social activist, was narrowly victorious with 30.6% against 30.3% for the PLQ and 27.6% for incumbent PQ MNA Daniel Breton, an environmentalist who briefly served as Minister of the Environment before being dumped over some petty ethics concern. Both QS incumbents – Amir Khadir in Mercier and Françoise David in Gouin – were reelected to their third and second terms respectively, with David winning 51% and Khadir taking 46.2%. QS also performed very well in Laurier-Dorion, where QS co-spokesperson Andrés Fontecilla won 27.7%, and the PQ stronghold of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where QS won 30.6%, coming threateningly close to the PQ (30.6%). QS placed a strong third with 18.7% in Rosemont. However, outside these Montreal ridings which now form QS’ strongest ridings, QS largely stagnated on Montreal Island and fell back in some of the Montreal PLQ strongholds. In the regions, QS’ support generally held up or gained marginally.
There was some significant movement in Montreal (the island itself), traditionally extremely polarized between Liberals and PQ, with little change from election to election and only a tiny number of actual swing seats. This year, the PLQ won well over 50% of the vote on Montreal Island, and gained one seat from the PQ – Crémazie, traditionally the only consistent marginal riding disputed between the PQ and the PLQ. Crémazie, which largely covers the Ahuntsic neighborhood in northern Montreal (please note that I’m using Montreal’s demented and totally bizarre compass rather than the normal compass directions), had been held by the PQ since 2007, and in 2012, Diane De Courcy won the seat with a solid majority of 10% over former federal Liberal MP Elena Bakopanos. De Courcy was Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities in the PQ government. She won 31.6% against 39% for PLQ candidate Marie Montpetit. In Crémazie, the PQ has solid support in Ahuntsic, a Francophone middle-class neighborhood, but the PLQ has strong support in areas with a larger visible minority or Italian population (immigrants make up 28% of the riding’s population).
QS gained its third seat, Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, with 30.6% for QS candidate Manon Massé, who was finally successful in her fifth candidacy in the riding. The Liberals increased their support by nearly 11 points, winning 30.3% of the vote, placing second ahead of PQ incumbent Daniel Breton, who won just 27.6%, down from 35.8% in 2012 and 46.6% in 2008. The riding is fairly demographically similar to QS’ two other seats in Montreal: Mercier (which borders the riding to the north) and Gouin – that is, largely gentrified, young adults, well-educated, professionals (with high percentages employed in the arts, culture, education, social assistance). QS is particularly strong in the riding’s part of the municipal borough of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal – the stereotypical gentrified bobo borough of Montreal, but finds strong support in the Gay Village and Sainte-Marie (an historically French working-class neighborhood). The riding, predominantly Francophone (67% mother tongue), had been held by the PQ since the riding’s creation in 1989. The Liberals having been traditionally a distant second behind the PQ (28.2% in 2008), it was a major surprise to see them come in a very close second ahead of the PQ. The Liberals are strong in the revitalized areas of the Old Port and Old Montreal, with high-end condos and apartments.
QS easily held both its seats, Gouin and Mercier, which cover the gentrified and bobo neighborhoods in the boroughs of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal and Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie. QS’ other major target was Laurier-Dorion, where QS’ extraparliamentary co-spokesperson Andrés Fontecilla ran, having placed a solid third with over 24% of the vote in 2012. This year, QS increased its vote share to 27.7%, sending the PQ tumbling down from 26.4% to 15.9%. However, while QS finds strong support in Villeray, a newer gentrified bobo neighborhood with demographics similar to that of the QS strongholds, the riding is a much tougher nut to crack: the Liberals, who won 46.2% (up from 34.1% in 2012), have an extremely solid hold on Parc-Extension, a low-income immigrant (traditionally Greek, nowadays more South Asian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan) neighborhood (46% of the entire riding’s population are allophones, and immigrants/visible minorities constitute a large majority in Parc-Extension itself). While the Liberals placed third in Villeray in 2012, they retained well over 70% of the vote in Parc-Extension.
With the loss of two seats in Montreal, the PQ is left with only four seats on the island – and three of them were won by less than ten points. QS came within 4 points of winning Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (30.6% vs 34.9% for the PQ), historically a low-income Francophone working-class neighborhood, although with gentrification and younger residents seeking affordable housing, it is more mixed socially now. In Rosemont, the PQ Minister of International Relations Jean-François Lisée, a former journalist first elected in 2012, was reelected with 34.3% against 30% for the Liberals and 18.7% for QS. In Bourget, PQ Minister of Culture Maka Kotto was reelected with 37.8% against 28.9% for the PLQ.
In 2012, the Liberals had narrowly held Verdun and Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, the two generally Liberal-leaning seats on the Island in which the PQ usually has some potential. Both seats include a mix of old linguistically-diverse working-class neighborhoods (Irish, Francophone or blacks in Griffintown, Little Burgundy, Saint-Henri, Pointe-Saint-Charles and Verdun) which have all seen major gentrification in recent years, and affluent areas (especially Nun’s Island, high-end condos and mansions, in the riding of Verdun); the Liberals usually have the edge, thanks to solid margins in the affluent polls of Nun’s Islands or the allophone/Anglo areas of Griffintown and Little Burgundy. In 2012, the PQ had fallen short by 1.6% and 6.4% respectively. This year, the Liberals won both seats with huge majorities: 26.2% and 30.6% respectively, polling over 50% in both ridings. In Verdun, Liberal star candidate Jacques Daoust, the former president of Investissement Québec, won 50.6% against only 24.4% for PQ star candidate Lorraine Pintal, a former theater director. In 2012, Liberal MNA Henri-François Gautrin (a former provincial NDP leader, who was forced to retire by Couillard) won 35.4% against 33.8% for former Bloc MP Thierry St-Cyr. In Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, the PQ won only 21.9%. The Liberals also expanded their majority in Anjou-Louis-Riel, a middle-class suburban riding in eastern Montreal: what was a 9-point lead for the PLQ in 2012 turned into a hefty 28% majority this year.
The Liberals had no trouble holding their other Montreal seats; which are predominantly affluent Anglophone ridings, allophone immigrant areas or ethnic suburbs – in other words, the safest Liberal ridings possible. In Outremont, a riding which includes the affluent town of Outremont (a rather mixed area; with bobo areas in the Mile End giving strong results to QS, some Hassidic Jewish areas and upper middle-class Francophones), the Francophone Université de Montréal and parts of the immigrant-heavy neighborhood of Côte-des-Neiges, the Liberal candidate, Hélène David (a former deputy minister and academic, who is the sister of QS MNA Françoise David), won 56.3% against 16.9% for QS and 14.6% for the PQ. In Robert-Baldwin, which mostly covers the affluent and predominantly Anglophone/allophone suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, PLQ star candidate Carlos Leitao, a renowned economist from the Laurentian Bank who is groomed to become finance minister, won 87.3%. In D’Arcy-McGee, a 43% Jewish riding centered around the affluent and majority-Jewish municipalities of Hampstead and Côte-Saint-Luc, the PLQ won 92.1% of the vote – the strongest Liberal result in years in what is the safest Liberal seat in the province (and probably one of the safest seats for any party in a Western democracy).
The CAQ remained weak on the Island, with sharp loses to the Liberals in the West Island but a stronger resistance in the péquiste-leaning areas in the east. The CAQ’s best result, 24%, came from Pointe-aux-Trembles, a heavily Francophone residential suburban area (it is also the only seat which we can still say is safe for the PQ) at the eastern extremity of the island which is demographically closer to off-island suburbs in the 450 than to other parts of Montreal.
The Liberals swept all six seats in Laval, holding four seats and gaining two from the PQ. In Laval-des-Rapides, a middle-class suburban area, PQ MNA Léo Bureau-Blouin, one of the main student leaders in the 2012 protests, was defeated after only one term in office. The Liberals won 44.2% against 31.2% for the PQ. In Sainte-Rose, a growing mishmash of older suburbs and new cookie-cutter subdivisions, the Liberals increased their support from 28.5% to 42.2%, going from third to first place. The PQ won 27.3% and the CAQ, which had placed second with 29.6% in 2012, won 24.1%. The Liberals held their four other seats, winning over 50% in all of them and peaking at 73% in Chomedey, a plurality allophone riding. In Mille-Îles, a seat at the eastern extremity of the island, PQ star candidate Djemila Benhabib, a writer known for her opposition to Muslim fundamentalism, was defeated by the PLQ incumbent, losing by about 25 points (25.5% to 50.5%). She has already been defeated in 2012, standing in Trois-Rivières.
On the South Shore suburbs of Montreal, the PQ faced serious challenges from both the CAQ and the Liberals. The PQ lost Chambly and Borduas, two upper middle-class Francophone outer suburbs/exurbs of Montreal. The CAQ won 34.2% and 33.5% respectively, their vote holding up compared to 2012; it was the collapse of the PQ, which lost 7% and 6% respectively, which allowed the CAQ to gain those seats. The CAQ held Montarville, the wealthiest riding in the province, surviving a close challenge from the PLQ, winning 35% to 31.3%. However, the CAQ lost La Prairie, another very affluent suburban riding; the riding is something of a three-way tossup, with the Liberals and CAQ holding a strong base in the new McMansion-type subdivisions in Candiac and La Prairie while older and slightly less affluent neighborhoods lean to the PQ. The CAQ, which had won the new riding by 0.2% over the PQ in 2012, lost by 1.4% although their vote remained stable. The PQ held the ridings of Vachon (Saint-Hubert), Taillon, Marie-Victorin (Longueuil) and Sanguinet (Sainte-Catherine, Saint-Constant). In Marie-Victorin, a low-income riding which covers the poorest parts of the older suburban city of Longueuil, Bernard Drainville, the PQ minister behind the Charter, was handily reelected with 38.2% against 26.1% for the PLQ. However, in Vachon, which covers the middle-class suburb of Saint-Hubert, PQ MNA Martine Ouellet held on by barely half a percentage point against the PLQ, winning 33.1% to 32.6%. In Taillon, which mixes poorer parts of Longueuil (leaning towards the the PQ) with some affluent subdivisions (closely divided, especially between PLQ and CAQ), the PQ won by only 3.8% over the Liberals – after having won it by 12 points in 2012, over the CAQ. In Sanguinet, the PQ won by a small margin of 3.3% over the CAQ. The Liberals faced no trouble in their ridings. Former cabinet minister and unsuccessful leadership contender Pierre Moreau was easily reelected in Châteauguay (a middle-class suburban riding with a significant Anglo population, at 22%), taking 49.6%. In Laporte, a riding which includes the affluent leafy Francophone suburb of Saint-Lambert and the historically Anglophone suburb of Greenfield Park, the PLQ won 47.7%. In La Pinière (Brossard), the safest Liberal seat on the South Shore (with over 50% of Anglophones and allophones and 38% of visible minorities, with a large middle-class Chinese immigrant community), PLQ star candidate Gaétan Barrette (who had ran for the CAQ in 2012), who will likely become health minister under Couillard, won 58.3%, soundly defeating PLQ-turned-independent incumbent Fatima Houda-Pépin, who won only 23.5%. The PQ, which had won 17.9% in the riding two years ago, likely provided the bulk of her support. With PLQ support increasing by nearly 10 points, she seemingly won a totally different electorate than the one which had backed her in 2012.
The PQ held the exurban ridings of Beauharnois (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Beauharnois) and Verchères (Varennes, Sainte-Julie), with 38.8% and 42.6% respectively. The latter is a heavily Francophone affluent exurban area, extending into more rural areas outside Montreal’s CMA (metro area as defined by the census), while the former mostly lies outside the CMA and is a poorer, historically working-class area.
In the rest of Montérégie, the PQ lost two other seats to the CAQ – Iberville and Saint-Hyacinthe, both homogeneously Francophone ridings centered around small or medium-sized towns, historically nationalist and divided between the PQ and CAQ. The PQ held on against a tough challenge from the CAQ in Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), holding the seat by only 1%. The CAQ easily held Granby, with incumbent MNA François Bonnardel, first elected for the ADQ in 2007, winning 53% – the CAQ’s best result in any riding. The PQ held Richelieu, a riding centered around the old industrial steel town of Sorel-Tracy, with a 12 point majority. The Liberals easily held their own seats – Brome-Missisquoi (16.6% majority over the CAQ) and Huntingdon (24.9% majority over the CAQ) along the American border (both still have small but significant Anglophone minorities); Soulanges (23% majority over the PQ, with no CAQ candidate) and Vaudreuil (45% majority over the PQ) in suburban Montreal (Vaudreuil has a large Anglo minority, making up over a quarter of the population and a majority in Hudson, it also includes many new affluent subdivisions, Soulanges has a smaller Anglo minority, especially in Saint-Lazare).
In the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, the CAQ gained four seats from the PQ. Quasi-homogeneously Francophone and rather affluent middle-class suburbia, the North Shore has tended to be a strongly péquiste sovereigntist stronghold which gave very strong results to the oui in the 1995. However, in recent years, the North Shore has become a perfect example of a Francophone and historically nationalist region which has lost interest in the ‘national question’ and adopted apathetic attitudes towards the issue. In 2007, the ADQ swept the entire North Shore suburbs, taking out all PQ incumbents (as well as the sole PLQ incumbent, in Groulx), but the PQ regained the whole region one year later in the 2008 election. In the 2011 federal election, the NDP swept the region with some of its best results in the province – hovering around 50%. In 2012, the CAQ performed very well in the North Shore, with many gains at the expense of the Liberals (especially in the most affluent communities, such as Rosemère and Lorraine, which had voted PLQ in 2008 but shifted to the CAQ in 2012), but the PQ nevertheless held most of its seats – the CAQ only won Groulx, Blainville and L’Assomption (with François Legault), as well as Saint-Jérôme (with anti-corruption star candidate Jacques Duchesneau), which comes closer to being a regional town in its own right rather than just a suburb. This year, with the PQ’s collapse, the CAQ – with results very similar to 2012 (except in Blainville and Groulx, where the CAQ suffered major loses with retiring incumbents), was able to gain four seats. It only lost Saint-Jérôme, won by PKP for the PQ. In Groulx, the one-term CAQ incumbent was retiring, resulting in a real three-way race, which switched back-and-forth throughout the night. The CAQ won 30.9%, losing nearly 8 points from 2012, while the Liberals gained 10 points, surging from barely 20% to 30.2%. PQ star candidate Martine Desjardins, a former student leader (FÉUQ), placed third with 30%. In Blainville, which the CAQ had won by nearly 6 points in 2012 (with PQ-turned-CAQ incumbent Daniel Ratthé), the seat was left open by the retirement of Ratthé, who was expelled from the CAQ caucus in 2013 after allegations surrounding corruption and illegal financing of a mayoral campaign back in 2005. Former Bloc MP Mario Laframboise, who had previously run, unsuccesfully, for the CAQ in 2012 in Argenteuil, was elected with 33.9% against 29.5% for the Liberals and 29.4% for the PQ – compared to 2012, the CAQ lost over 7 points while the PLQ gained nearly 14 points. In L’Assomption, which Legault had won with a narrow 2.6% majority over the PQ in 2012, he was reelected with 49.4% and a 19% majority over the PQ, despite a very strong PQ candidate – former Bloc MP Pierre Paquette. The CAQ gained neighboring Repentigny, with a 3-point majority; Masson (Mascouche) with a 1.6% majority; Deux-Montagnes, with former MNA Benoit Charette (a PQ-turned-CAQ defector, defeated in 2012 by the PQ) regaining his old seat with a 2% majority and Mirabel, with a majority of nearly 5% over the PQ. The only seat which the PQ retained was Terrebonne, where young PQ MNA Mathieu Traversy narrowly survived, with a 1.8% majority.
The only seat in the province gained by the PQ was Saint-Jérôme, where Péladeau took 36.8% (a result slightly lower than that won by the PQ in 2012) against 31.5% for the CAQ.
In the rest of the Laurentians, the PQ held their strongholds of Labelle and Bertrand handily, with majorities over 10% in both and no less than 45% of the vote in Labelle. The Liberals regained Argenteuil, a traditionally Liberal seat (with a small Anglo minority) which the PQ gained in a 2012 by-election and held in the general elections. The PLQ regained the seat with a 6.5% majority. In the rest of Lanaudière, a traditional péquiste stronghold, the PQ held their three seats, but in Rousseau, finance minister Nicolas Marceau, who had narrowly won his seat against a surprisingly strong CAQ performance in 2012, was reelected with a bare 2 point majority. Similarly, major loses for the PQ in Berthier significantly reduced the PQ’s majority over the CAQ. Only in Joliette did the PQ retain a comfortable majority, with social services minister Véronique Hivon, who had become quite popular for piloting the consensual euthanasia bill, holding a 17 point majority and winning 44.3% of the vote.
Once again, the PLQ swept the Outaouais‘ five seats by large margins. In addition to a significant Anglophone minority (making up 35% of the population in the riding of Pontiac, concentrated in small towns along the Ottawa River), the Francophone population of the region is the least nationalist/péquiste of any region of Quebec (with an estimated Francophone yes vote of only 34% in 1995) because a lot of them are public servants employed by the federal government in Ottawa or Gatineau (and, for obvious reasons, strongly oppose Quebec independence). The provincial Liberals have swept every seat in the region since 1981, and they increased their majorities in all seats in 2014. The majorities in Papineau and Hull had been within 10 points in 2012 (in fact, the PLQ had held Papineau by only 167 votes against the PQ); this year, the PLQ won over 50% of the vote in every riding – from 50.4% in Papineau (with a 26% majority) to nearly 76% in Pontiac.
The Liberals gained two seats from the PQ in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The PLQ won Abitibi-Est and Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue, two seats which it had lost to the PQ in 2012. It now holds majorities of 10.5% and 5.7% respectively. The PQ only held Abitibi-Ouest, where François Gendron, who has held the seat since 1976, was reelected with a 7.5% majority. He is now the longest-serving MNA in Quebec’s history.
In the Eastern Townships, it was a clean sweep for the Liberals, who gained two seats from the PQ and easily held their other seats. In Sherbrooke, Premier Charest’s old seat until his defeat by former Bloc MP Serge Cardin in 2012, the PLQ gained the seat with a 5.6% majority over the PQ. In 2012, there had been a lot of anti-Charest strategic voting for the PQ, which seriously dragged down the CAQ and QS, both of which made substantial gains this year at the PQ’s expense. In Saint-François, a riding which takes in some of Sherbrooke’s suburbs (Fleurimont, which was the PQ’s main base in 2012), the Anglophone borough of Lennoxville, the towns of Compton and Coaticook and some Anglo villages, PQ health minister Réjean Hébert, who had narrowly gained the seat from the PLQ in 2012, was defeated, taking 33% to the PLQ’s 38.5%. In the other PLQ-held ridings, all incumbents held on handily, despite PQ hopes in Mégantic and Richmond. In Mégantic, which includes Lac-Mégantic, the site of the train tragedy last year, the PQ ran Isabelle Hallé, the president of the regional chamber of commerce and a key player in reconstruction efforts. She won only 29.7% against 40.8% for the PLQ incumbent; although the PQ’s losses in the riding were significantly lesser than those in the rest of the province, perhaps signaling some positive impact for the PQ of the recovery efforts. In Richmond, Liberal MNA Karine Vallière (the daughter of former long-time PLQ MNA Yvon Vallières), who had won the seat by less than 300 votes over the PQ in 2012 (her victory owed a lot to strong margins in the asbestos mining town of Asbestos, where she is from and where the future of asbestos mining is a huge issue, which usually benefits the local PLQ), was reelected with a 13.6% majority in a rematch with the PQ. In Orford, finally, the Liberals won 44.1% against 26.2% for the PQ.
The CAQ had strong results in the Centre-du-Québec, with the party’s three incumbents winning reelection with expanded majorities and larger shares of the vote, and the CAQ gaining Johnson from the PQ. The CAQ held Nicolet-Bécancour (gained over ON leader Jean-Martin Aussant in 2012, his absence explains the PQ’s gains, although it only finished third with some 22%, miles away from the combined ON+PQ vote in 2012; the Marois government’s unpopular decision to close the Gentilly nuclear power plant likely hurt the PQ and helped the local CAQ MNA), Drummond-Bois-Francs and Arthabaska (popular CAQ, ex-ADQ, incumbent Sylvie Roy was reelected with 45.5% and the PLQ vote actually fell from 2012, because Roy had faced a PLQ MNA because of redistribution in 2012). The CAQ gained Johnson from the PQ, with a majority of nearly 5 points.
The Liberals swept Mauricie, taking all five seats – gaining two from the PQ and easily holding their own three seats. In Saint-Maurice (Shawinigan), the PLQ gained the seat with a 2.7% majority over the PQ while in Champlain (Cap-de-la-Madeleine, in suburban Trois-Rivières), former ADQ MNA Pierre-Michel Auger, running for the PLQ, won a three-way contest with 33.4% against 30.4% for the CAQ and 30.2% for the incumbent PQ MNA. The PLQ held Maskinongé and Trois-Rivières with expanded majorities despite retiring incumbents, while in Laviolette, popular Liberal MNA Julie Boulet, who has built a remarkable popular vote in a historically nationalist riding, was reelected with 52.6% against only 23% for the PQ.
In the Quebec City capital region, the Liberals gained four seats from the CAQ and one from the PQ. In 2012, the CAQ had gained four seats from the PLQ, in suburban and exurban areas of Quebec City. Although a very heavily Francophone city, Quebec City is not a nationalist stronghold – it gave only weak support to independence in the 1995 referendum, and the PQ/Bloc have struggled in the provincial capital for a number of years. In recent provincial elections, the main battles in most Quebec City ridings have been fought between the PLQ and the centre-right (ADQ, in 2007 and 2008, and now the CAQ) with limited support for the PQ. In Quebe City, the PLQ regained Vanier-Les Rivières, Charlesbourg and Montmorency – three suburban constituencies, which, while middle-class, are not extremely affluent or white-collar professional in nature. The CAQ had held the three of them with relatively thin majorities over the PLQ in 2012, and it stood no chance against a resurgent PLQ which ate into a good chunk of the CAQ’s 2012 vote. The Liberals won the three seats by margins slightly under 10% (with the former PLQ MNAs in Vanier-Les Rivières and Montmorency regaining their seats). The CAQ easily held Chauveau and La Peltrie, two large exurban ridings to the north of the city, held by the ADQ since 2007, with their incumbents (two ex-ADQ MNAs, Éric Caire and Gérard Deltell) winning over 50% of the vote. The Liberals also picked up Portneuf, a large and predominantly exurban/rural ridings on the western outskirts of Quebec City, with a 3.4% majority over the CAQ.
The Liberals had no trouble holding their three seats in Quebec City: Louis-Hébert (which covers the city’s most affluent suburbs, making it the third wealthiest riding in Quebec), Jean-Talon (which includes the traditionally bourgeois and affluent neighborhood of Sillery) and Jean-Lesage (a poorer riding, including the old working-class neighborhoods of Limoilou and some older suburbs).
The PQ held only one seat: Taschereau, which covers downtown Quebec City (the Vieux-Québec, among others); it stands out from the rest of the generally conservative city, as a rather poor but also well-educated downtown riding. The PQ’s Agnès Maltais was reelected with 31.7% against 30.4% for the PLQ; QS placed a strong fourth with 15.3%, QS (and, in 2012, ON) perform very well in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a young artsy/bobo neighborhood in central Quebec City.
However, Premier Pauline Marois lost reelection in her own seat of Charlevoix–Côte-de-Beaupré, a large riding which extends from the Quebec City exurbs (Ile d’Orléans) to the Charlevoix region. Marois, who won the seat in a 2007 by-election, was reelected with 40.7% in 2012, with a hefty majority over the PLQ (27.1%) and CAQ (26.8%). The map had shown a clear-cut division between areas closer to Quebec City, where the PLQ and CAQ placed first, and the more rural Charlevoix region up to the Saguenay estuary, which was solidly PQ. This year, Marois won 32.9% against 35% for the PLQ candidate.
In the Chaudière-Appalaches and Bas-Saint-Laurent, all parties held their seats. The CAQ held the South Shore suburban riding of Lévis, a 2012 gain from the PLQ, with 40.5% (a gain from 2012) for CAQ MNA Christian Dubé, the party’s finance critic. It held Chutes-de-la-Chaudière and Beauce-Nord, two seats held by the ADQ since 2003, with large majorities, albeit reduced quite significantly from 2012. The Liberals held Lotbinière-Frontenac, Beauce-Sud, Bellechasse, Côte-du-Sud and Rivière-du-Loup-Témiscouata. These two regions stand out from the rest of Quebec in that while they are quasi-homogeneously white, Francophone and Catholic (and also predominantly rural or small-town), the PQ and sovereigntism in general has been very weak in the region (in 1995, the yes vote was significantly lower and the no won a number of ridings). Conservative parties of various shades, including the old Social Credit and Union Nationale, the ADQ in its heydays and the federal Conservatives after 2006, have been strong in the region, while the provincial Liberals remain powerful as well. Pierre Drouilly called this region, back in 2003, le Québec tranquille and described it as a largely poor, blue-collar (notably in primary and secondary sectors) region with an old and declining population, low levels of education, low incomes but also fairly low unemployment levels (which distinguishes it from poorer regions, with high unemployment, such as the Gaspé Peninsula). Voters exhibit a high degree of alienation from Montreal, and it is an ideologically conservative region (but with marked populist tendencies) with clear right-wing positions on issues such as taxes or government intervention, part of which comes from a strong entrepreneurial tradition, especially in Beauce (which is often noted for its entrepreneurial culture and its small businesses). Because of low levels of education and the fragility of the local economy, there has been little appetite for the uncertainty of independence.
The Québec tranquille region extends into the Centre-du-Québec, the more remote parts of the Eastern Townships, the Quebec City metro and parts of Mauricie – regions which have traditionally given low support to the nationalist option in referendums, and where the PQ performs poorly (with strong results for the PLQ and CAQ). But the Chaudière-Appalaches region, south of the St. Lawrence across from Quebec City, stands out as the archetype: the PQ is extremely weak, with third place showings in all ridings and single-digit results in the Beauce; it also appears to be more ideologically conservative than the rest of the region, whose ideological preferences are vaguer and eclectic. For example, in 2012, the federal Tories held their seats in the Chaudière-Appalaches, but the NDP swept Quebec City (which had swung to the Tories in 2006).
The PQ held Rimouski, with 40.6% against 30% for the PLQ. There had been some local controversy with the retirement of the PQ MNA and the choice of a PQ candidate imposed by the national leadership over a local candidate; the local candidate was excluded from the party, and former Bloc MP Suzanne Tremblay endorsed the QS candidate, who took a very strong third with 16.4%.
The Liberals gained two seats in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, traditionally the most nationalist region of Quebec. In Roberval, Philippe Couillard was easily elected, with 55.2% against 33.3% for the PQ incumbent. The seat had been held by the PQ since 2007, and the PQ had held the seat with an 18% majority in the last election. There was likely a strong personal vote for Couillard (drawn by the advantages of being represented by the Premier, given the likelihood of a PLQ victory by election day), in a region which has tended to vote for personality over party in both federal and provincial election. The PLQ also regained Dubuc, which it had gained in 2008 but lost to the PQ in 2012. Former Liberal MNA Serge Simard, who has a strong base in the arrondissement of La Baie (he was president of the arrondissement between 2002 and 2008), won the seat with a 9% majority over the PQ. The PQ held the three remaining seats by fairly comfortable margins.
One of the few regions where the PQ performed well was Gaspésie, where the party held the three seats on the Gaspé Peninsula – by solid margins. In Matane-Matapédia, popular local PQ MNA Pascal Bérubé actually increased his share of the vote from 59% to 61.2% (it may be the result of ‘normalization’ after 2012, when he was reelected in a larger redistributed riding with one part of the riding where he was not as well known). In Gaspé, gained from the PLQ on a huge swing in 2012, the PQ’s vote fell from 56.8% to 52% but it held the seat by a large majority. The most surprising result was perhaps Bonaventure, the Gaspé’s traditionally Liberal riding, which the PQ gained from the PLQ in 2012. The PQ held the seat with a 3.5% majority.
The PLQ regained the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, a predominantly Acadian archipelago in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. The PQ had gained the seat from the Liberals, who had won it in 2008. Former Liberal MNA Germain Chevarie won 50.1% against 40.2% for the PQ incumbent.
On the Côte-Nord, the PQ held both seats but the margin in Duplessis, a geographically huge but sparsely populated riding, was surprisingly tight (a 1.6% majority for the PQ). In Duplessis, the PQ dominates the three main population centres, the northern industrial towns of Port-Cartier, Sept-Îles and Havre-Saint-Pierre, by wide margins, but there is a strong PLQ presence in small, extremely remote Anglophone fishing villages on the coast up to the Labrador border. In the far north of the province, the PLQ gained the seat of Ungava, Quebec’s largest riding (in terms of area). The seat had been held by the PQ since its creation in 1981, although by its demographics that may seem odd. Indeed, Ungava is 64% Native, split fairly equally between Cree and Inuit. However, turnout in the Inuit and Cree villages is extremely low (often below 20%) and while those who do vote generally vote Liberal, these Native villages net them relatively few vote; while the PQ usually dominates the white areas, notably the resource-based industrial town of Chibougamau, by huge margins (and turnout is much higher). In 2012, the PQ won 45.5% to 34.7% for the PLQ; this year, the PLQ won 42.4% to the PQ’s 33%.
The Quebec Liberals are back in power for four years, with Premier-elect Philippe Couillard leading a government with a strong majority in the National Assembly. He will likely enjoy a fairly easy first few months, given that attention will largely be on the PQ’s upcoming leadership contest. Defeated in her own riding, Pauline Marois announced her resignation as PQ leader on election night. What preceded her concession speech was fairly unusual (and, for some, rather unceremonious) and sets the scene for a leadership battle: before the defeated leader took to the stage, the three leading PQ politicians – Bernard Drainville (the minister of democratic institutions, who spearheaded the Charter), Jean-François Lisée (the minister of international relations) and Pierre-Karl Péladeau – each gave speeches, which largely consisted of traditional nationalist rhetoric to feed the crowd (who responded with slogans of on veut un pays – we want a country) and to prove their nationalist credentials. These three men also happen to be the three who come up most often in leadership speculation. Péladeau’s intentions are unclear, but I doubt his motivation to join politics was to sit as an opposition MNA (his intention was likely to serve as cabinet minister, perhaps later as Premier; in the absence of that, opposition leader might be the next best thing). The interim leader selected by the PQ, Stéphane Bédard, is seen as somebody close to PKP. It is unclear to what degree the PQ’s defeat can be attributed to PKP’s fist-pump, and whether, in the absence of that, he could have had a positive impact on the PQ or if he was going to be a net liability regardless. A PQ led by PKP would likely focus heavily on the core cause of sovereignty, while also signaling a shift to the right with the aim of appealing to CAQ supporters. Lisée would be a safe choice, close to the PQ’s social democratic roots, and may focus less heavily on sovereignty and nationalism but rather on progressive unity, aiming to reconquer votes lost on the left to QS. Drainville may be blamed for the Charter, but it is unclear to what extent the Charter hurt the PQ during the campaign; it would seem that the PQ’s desperate use of the Charter as a wedge issue hurt it, but the ideas of the Charter may remain popular with the Francophone electorate which the PQ needs to reconquer. Some other names have also come up: Véronique Hivon, the popular Joliette MNA who gained a province-wide profile and popularity with her handling of the euthanasia bill, a matter of consensus between all parties (which the new PLQ government will likely pass itself) or Alexandre Cloutier, a young MNA from the Saguenay.
Once again, the PQ faces the issue of how to reconcile its fundamental raison d’être (the independence of Quebec) with the political reality, which makes a referendum (let alone independence) very unlikely. The party is held together by the cause, and it has a militant base which remains strongly committed to independence; as such, the PQ often has a problem at responding to shifts in public opinion, at times appearing deaf to it. It has a tendency to double-down on rhetoric and preach to the converted; and it did so again on election night, when the PQ’s election night event showed no signs of abandoning the party’s core values and the cause.
In the meantime, the CAQ, with a surprisingly strong performance, comes out strengthened. The party is in a good position to benefit from the PQ’s troubles at reinventing itself, navigating a divisive leadership battle and re-adapting itself to being an opposition party; it is also in a good position to benefit from the gradual decline in the government’s popularity and the PLQ’s support. Many wonder if the CAQ could replace the PQ, and some even ask if the PQ may disappear entirely. Parties, even those which have held power, often disappear in Canadian federal and provincial politics – in Quebec, the most recent example is the slow death of the Union Nationale, which disappeared from provincial politics after 1976. The PQ still has a clear niche to fill (unlike the UN when it died), because there remains a significant minority of voters who still are dedicated nationalists; but even that niche is no longer the PQ’s sole preserve – it faces strong competition from QS (whose electorate is less homogeneously nationalist) and, to a much lesser extent, ON. Similarly, while the CAQ has the potential support to overtake the PQ to form the official opposition (as the ADQ had done in 2007, after all), it still has clear troubles breaking through on Montreal Island, which holds a large number of seats, and in regions such as the Gaspé, the Saguenay, Abitibi and Outaouais. The CAQ also has a fickle electorate, as it almost learned this year. A lot of their vote is a ‘NOTA’ vote, which does not necessarily express agreement with the CAQ’s policies but rather rejection of the other parties and the old nationalist/federalist divide.
Only time will tell if this election was an unremarkable anti-incumbent election or if it was the beginning of a realignment in provincial politics.