The 2022 Quebec election will officially kick off on Sunday. The vote will take place on October 3 and if pundits and pollsters are correct, this will hardly be a race. Every projection in recent months has predicted a landslide victory for François Legault, the incumbent Premier and leader of the ruling Coalition avenir Québec.
Indeed, polls throughout the mandate have shown consistent support for the Premier, who was praised for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The opposition vote is split between four parties – the Parti libéral du Québec, Québec solidaire, the Parti conservateur du Québec and the Parti Québécois. None has been able to emerge as a clear challenger to Mr. Legault’s party.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent years, it’s that elections can produce surprising results in Québec. In the 2011 federal election, the New Democratic Party swept the province by winning 75 seats. It had never won more than one seat in the province before. In 2014, polls were predicting an easy win for pro-independence Premier Pauline Marois, but her ambiguity on a possible referendum derailed her campaign and she lost to liberal Philippe Couillard. In 2018, the same Mr. Couillard was ousted after just one mandate as Quebeckers gave power to Mr. Legault’s CAQ, a party that was only 7 years old.
Mr. Legault’s strong polling numbers are only showing part of the picture. Indeed, the political landscape is shifting in Quebec. The parties who have governed the province for the past half-century are struggling, and new parties are on the ascent.
This movement is fuelled by two long-term trends: an erosion of support for Quebec independence, and shortcomings of the province’s unique government model.
The “Quebec Model”
Since the 1960s, the Quebec government has developed a unique model in North America. It actively seeks to stimulate the economy and to provide the population with strong social programs. However, what is known as the “Modèle Québécois” (the “Québec Model”) is showing signs of fatigue.
The public healthcare system is stretched to its limits by the pandemic, an ageing population, and an ongoing labor shortage. Almost one million Quebeckers are waiting to be assigned a family practician and emergency rooms are overflowing. There are frequent media reports on the poor state of schools, scarce spaces in public daycares, as well as high housing costs.
Many younger Quebeckers feel the model simply does not work for them and this is showing in the polls. In recent years, 18–34-year-olds have deserted the two parties who have governed Québec over the past half-century: the Parti libéral du Québec and the Parti québécois.
Some have gone to Mr. Legault’s Coalition avenir Québec, but more and more are turning to other options. Enter the left-of-center Québec solidaire and the right-of-center Parti conservateur du Québec, who are – again – posing a challenge to the status quo. Québec solidaire is in favor of independence, it promises stronger social programs, a reinforced state intervention in the economy, and sweeping reforms to protect the environment. The Parti conservateur is in favor of opening the healthcare system to private companies, trimming the bureaucracy and launching new resource projects to stimulate the economy.
Mr. Legault is currently enjoying a comfortable lead in the polls as voters over 55 years old are massively backing his party. None of the four opposition parties are polling above 20%. But if one can rally opponents to Mr. Legault’s government, the campaign could become interesting.
Here are some of the issues we will be watching for our clients.
A former businessman, Mr. Legault has always made economic development a priority. Quebec’s economy has done well under his first mandate. Unemployment is low, but inflation and the ongoing labor shortage are affecting households and businesses. Opposition parties are already challenging Mr. Legault on this issue.
The environment is generally perceived as a weak spot for the CAQ because of its pro-business stance. Now many industrial projects throughout the province are coming under scrutiny. The case of the Horne Foundry’s arsenic emissions in Rouyn-Noranda has snowballed into a province-wide controversy in recent weeks. There is increasing pushback from local communities against mining projects. Québec solidaire has made no secret that it plans to make environmental protection a key aspect of its campaign.
This is a key issue in the Québec City area, a region known to change political allegiances frequently. The CAQ government plans to build both a tramway system and a new automobile tunnel across the St. Lawrence River. This has earned it criticism from environmentalists, but also from the Parti conservateur du Québec. Its leader, Éric Duhaime, opposes the tramway project and advocates road development.
The CAQ government passed Bill 96, which reinforces the status of French in all spheres of Quebec society. The bill was strongly opposed by Anglophones. But the Parti libéral du Québec, which has historically been close to English-speakers, adopted an ambiguous position on the bill. This has led the party to lose support in its traditional ridings. Mr. Legault is expected to tout his record on French-language protection during the campaign and challenge his liberal opponent on the issue. The pro-independence Parti Québécois is expected to press for stronger identity measures.
Crime is generally low in Quebec, but a series of shootings in Montreal these past months has rattled residents of the province’s largest city. Opposition parties have unanimously denounced the Premier’s handling of the issue. Mr. Legault promised he won’t let Montreal turn into a “Far West.”
The campaign coincides with the return to school for thousands of children. Health experts anticipate another COVID surge in the coming weeks, as classrooms are fertile grounds for contagion. This could highlight once again the vulnerability of Quebec’s healthcare system, with a contingent of workers exhausted by the pandemic. It could also rekindle the debate on sanitary restrictions.
Even though current polls predict an easy win for Mr. Legault’s CAQ, many things can happen between now and October 3. Our clients can count on PAA to follow the campaign closely and keep them informed at every turn.