It was a historic election night as the newest party on Québec’s political scene, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), won a majority government, ending more than 40 years of two-party rule, while the historically two major parties, Québec Liberal Party (QLP) and the Parti Québécois (PQ), suffered the worst results in their histories.
The CAQ garnered 38% of the vote and won 74 seats in the 125-seat National Assembly of Québec. The outgoing governing Liberal Party, came a distant second, winning 32 seats and taking 25% of the vote, their lowest popular vote score since the beginning of Confederation, surpassing their previous low of 31% in 2012. The Parti Québécois suffered its worst result since its creation in 1968, gathering only 17% of the vote and winning 9 seats. And finally, Québec Solidaire, the smallest party represented in the National Assembly at dissolution, made impressive gains as it won 10 seats and 16% of the popular vote.
While election night brought with it several surprises, a CAQ victory had been anticipated for nearly a year leading up to the election. The CAQ had led almost every opinion poll for a year leading up to the beginning of the 39-day election campaign which began on the 23rd of August. On the campaign trail, François Legault, the leader of the CAQ, made several missteps which saw his lead over the Liberals crumble. His biggest mistakes were notably his inability to clearly explain his immigration policy which took a toll on his poll numbers. The final polls of the campaign showed a dead heat between the CAQ and QLP, both hovering at 30%, with the CAQ maintaining a lead in seat numbers, but Legault’s ability to form a majority government were put to doubts. However, the CAQ defied the polls, and pulled off a majority victory and win with a large margin, while the Liberals were relegated to the opposition benches greatly underperforming what the polls had given them.
The Liberals had governed Québec for all but 18 months since 2003. First under the leadership of Jean Charest until 2012, then under Phillipe Couillard since 2014, who became Premier after defeating the short-lived PQ government of Pauline Marois. The Liberals had to defend their mandate in front a very tired electorate and a strong desire for change. Despite a booming economy, Philippe Couillard was unable to convince Québec to give him a second mandate as Premier.
In the other hand, the Parti Québécois, the historical alternative to the Liberals, has stagnated at 3rd place and near the 20% mark for most of the year. The campaign did see the PQ starting to make modest gains by mid-campaign, and potentially become a kingmaker in the next parliament by holding the balance of power in a minority government situation. The PQ’s leader, Jean-Francois Lisée, performed well in the first French-language debate and even the English language debate, which seemed to have had some impact on his poll showing. However, a major gaffe by Lisée at the second French-language debate saw the party’s fortune to downfall again. During the debate, Lisée made an uncalled for attack on Manon Massé, Québec Solidaire’s Co-Spokesperson, on her party’s internal leadership structure and question her own leadership during a segment on health care. For many observers, the line of attack seemed unusual and unnecessary. The PQ dipped in the polls right after the debate and entered election night on a very weakened position. Lisée brought the party to its worst showing since it was created in 1968.
And finally, Québec Solidaire’s Co-Spokespersons and de-facto leader Manon Massé ran a very populist campaign focused on attacks on the “old establishment” which for her had let down the population for years. The party ran a very impressive and probably the best campaign since its creation in 2006. Their quickly rising poll numbers showed it to be no longer a marginal force on the political scene. On election night, Québec Solidaire made historic breakthroughs and its first ones outside of Montréal.
This historic election saw a major realignment of Québec’s political scene, the first major one since the PQ first swept to power in 1976. The historical governing parties saw their fortunes decline. The question of sovereignty was to put to side-bar for the first time in decades. It was the first election in ages where parties were not distinguished by their stances on independence but on a typical left-right spectrum. The CAQ focused its campaign on the economy and lowering taxes, a typical right-wing stance. The QLP, after years of governing on the center-right, softened its stance and positioned itself on the center of the spectrum. The PQ, promising not to hold a referendum on independence, focused more on reversing years of Liberal austerity and expanding spending on social services such as healthcare and education. While Québec Solidaire, an outspokenly and self-labeled left-wing party, focused on expanding the scope of government services and fighting climate change.
The campaign gave way for no clear tendency or “ballot question” on what this election was about, except for a great desire for change. Instead, all parties promised all sort of things and positioned themselves on different issues, and in the end, the citizens had to decide. And the verdict is in. People wanted change, and they got it. The CAQ will form the next government. François Legault will become our next Premier.
Written By: Mohammad-Afaaq Mansoor
Image: Toronto Star