Éric Duhaime’s Conservative Party – New Political Force or Pandemic Fatigue Trend?
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left many irreversible changes throughout society. New trends have immerged as this virus evolves daily. A new political party has risen to prominence in Quebec politics and may potentially become the fourth largest provincial party in support. Although the Conservative Party of Quebec (CPQ), led by Éric Duhaime, has received media coverage over the last year, the question remains; is the CPQ a new long-term major political establishment or a result of pandemic fatigue?
The current and modern Conservative Party of Quebec was founded in 2009. Originally conceived to serve as a voice for pro-family values social conservative voters in Quebec, the CPQ oriented towards a social liberal, fiscally conservative party that preaches on individual and economic liberty, under the leadership of Adrien D. Pouliot. Pouliot would lead the Conservatives from 2013 to 2020 with minimal success. The party has never successfully elected any of its candidates. In the 2018 election, Pouliot himself came in fifth place in the riding of Chauveau, in Quebec City, with more than 8% of the votes.
Following Pouliot’s resignation, popular right-wing radio talk show host Éric Duhaime became its next leader in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Duhaime’s leadership, the party would gain unprecedented visibility due to their opposition to sanitary measures, such as the COVID-19 curfew, vaccine mandates, and the vaccine passport. With oppositions parties more or less endorsing most of these public health restrictions, Duhaime has directed the CPQ as the main anti-lockdown political formation in Quebec.
In June 2021, the CPQ gained their first-ever MNA when Claire Samson defected from the ruling CAQ, bringing the total of political parties represented at the National Assembly to five.
Third most popular party in Quebec?
As a result of Éric Duhaime’s popularity and his party’s anti-lockdown stances, the CPQ has caught the attention of voters and politicians across the province. According to the latest provincial poll from Léger, the CPQ has 14% of support. It may not seem that much, but compared to all the other parties, the CPQ has more support than Québec solidaire (12%) and Parti Québécois (11%), making it the third most popular party in Quebec.
From another point of view, the CPQ’s popularity has also been demonstrated through its party membership. As of October 2021, according to Duhaime, the Conservatives went from 500 members to 37,000 members. In comparison, in 2020, the Parti Québécois and Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) had a peak of 35,000 and 20,000 active members, respectively. According to their latest count, Québec solidaire also shares 20,000 members. While the current party members of the CAQ are currently unknown, the party had around 12,000 members one year ahead of the 2018 election.
The Conservative Party’s surge in popular support and party membership demonstrates how a once minor party can rival its “traditional” counterparts.
An ever-divided opposition
Despite its growth, the Conservative Party’s emergence could be fueling the CAQ’s recipe for victory. As the pandemic dragged on for almost two years, the CAQ took a dip in popularity. However, apart from the Conservatives, no other opposition party gained an advantage over the government. The Liberals sits around 20% of support, Québec solidaire dropped to 12%, and the Parti Québécois also dipped to 11%. Meanwhile, the CAQ still has a commanding lead with 41% of support.
Quebec is not the only province dealing with a case of a divided opposition. In Ontario, despite a similar dip in popularity, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is currently enjoying a slight lead in polls, as the New Democratic Party and the Liberals are battling out on convincing voters which party is the best alternative. With only three months before the provincial election, experts believe Ford might win a second mandate due to this opposition infighting.
Pandemic fatigue impulse?
As the Conservative Party continues to gain support, the question remains of what would become of the party who became famous for advocating an end to all public health restrictions? Another way to phrase this question would be what is the CPQ’s place in Quebec politics after the pandemic?
Nearly half of Francophones across Quebec support François Legault and the CAQ. Most of the Liberals’ support comes from Quebec’s anglophone and allophone population. Québec solidaire is still the number one choice for students, young adults, and environmentalists. The PQ remains a popular choice for pro-independence hardliners and voters who deem the CAQ’s nationalist agenda too soft. With such a vast diaspora of voting blocs, it will be hard for the CPQ to find a home in Quebec politics. Political scientists have theorized that the CPQ may become a right-wing alternative to the CAQ.
However, with the current popularity of the CAQ, camping the CPQ as a right-wing alternative would be fishing in a small pond. Going that route may result in them achieving the same level of success as they did in the 2010s.
The answer to the future of the Conservative Party will still largely depends on what will happen next in the pandemic. It is no wonder that the population is getting wearier as the pandemic progresses. Although public health officials have pleaded to the population that vaccination remains the most effective way to end the pandemic, the fear over the erosion of civil liberties over vaccine mandates and passports will support the Conservatives. For those who have been adequately vaccinated and followed public health measures since the beginning, the broken promises of a return to normal life will continue to erode trust from the government and public health officials and drive more votes to the Conservatives.
What is next?
The Conservatives’ first electoral test will be in the upcoming Marie-Victorin by-election. Duhaime has announced that actress and comedian Anne Casabonne will run as their candidate. Casabonne was previously under fire for anti-vaccine statements, leading to her retirement from acting. The Marie-Victorin by-election will be the first provincial contest since the pandemic. It will serve as an opportunity for the CPQ to prove whether support for their platform can translate into votes.
According to 338canada, despite achieving more than 14% support, the CPQ has yet to be projected to gain a single seat. However, the Conservatives are coming at a close second in several ridings in the Capitale-Nationale and Chaudière-Appalaches region. Éric Duhaime himself stated that he would run in an electoral district around the Greater Quebec City area.
With less than eight months from the general election, this spring will be crucial to all politicians across the province, as each party will be gearing for what could be a challenging election year.
By Jacques Wang