Battleground Quebec: Parties clash over province’s key ridings

Click to play video: 'Battleground Quebec: Parties clash over province’s dozens of key ridings'
Battleground Quebec: Parties clash over province’s dozens of key ridings
WATCH: The fight for Quebec is heating up, as dozens of key ridings are seeing close races, with just days left in the election campaign. Mike Armstrong looks at what's at stake, and how Premier François Legault is trying to sway the vote – Sep 14, 2021

Tucked away on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, across from the island of Montreal, the suburban riding of La Prairie may be Quebec’s best election bellwether.

Over the last three elections, the towns that make up the riding have elected MPs from three different parties: the NDP in 2011, the Liberals in 2015, and the Bloc Québécois in 2019.

It is a bit of a microcosm of Quebec as a whole — arguably the most volatile electorate of any province.

“When it comes to federal elections, Quebecers are very much the kings and queens of strategic voting,” says Christian Bourque from the polling company Léger.

According to a Léger poll of Quebec voters released Tuesday, the Liberals hold onto about 34 per cent of the vote, while the Bloc Québécois trails at 30, the Conservatives at 19 and the NDP at 10.

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While there has been a Conservative revival in the polls nationally, that hasn’t happened in Quebec, where the polls have stayed relatively flat — but that might be changing.

After spending the first couple of weeks of the federal election campaign as a spectator, Quebec Premier François Legault jumped in last week and is hoping to make a splash.

Legault is telling supporters to avoid the NDP, the Green Party and the Liberals, saying their talk of treading on provincial jurisdictions is dangerous.

“We have three leaders now that are proposing to get into Quebec’s jurisdiction. We have three leaders saying that they may oppose, in court, Bill 21, three leaders that are not ready to give us more responsibility to choose new immigrants,” Legault said last week.

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Legault is pushing Quebec nationalists to vote for the Conservative Party. The Bloc Québécois, he says, can’t form a government.

Political scientist Daniel Béland says the support from the premier may be a morale boost for Erin O’Toole’s troops, but says it may not translate into seats. They may have started the campaign too far back.

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“The question now is whether CAQ (Coalition Avenir Quebec) voters will actually align themselves with what the premier said, or will follow their own minds,” Béland says.

“I think we will have to watch the polls very closely in the last days before the vote to see whether this is having an effect.”

Even after criticism from Legault, the party leaders he went after have avoiding responding in kind, not for fear of angering the premier, but in case it turns off his supporters. Legault isn’t just one of the most popular premiers in the country. He’s one of the most popular ever.

“For the last 15 months, he’s had an approval rating close to 80 per cent, which we’ve never seen,” Bourque says.

The other wild card over the last week was the English language leaders’ debate and a controversial question from moderator Shachi Kurl, president of Angus Reid.

“You denied that Quebec has problems with racism, yet you defend legislation such as Bills 96 and 21 which marginalize religious minorities, Anglophones and Allophones. Quebec is recognized as a distinct society but for those outside the province, please help them understand why your party also supports these discriminatory laws,” Kurl asked Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet.

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Legault called the question an attack on the Quebec nation, while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it wasn’t acceptable or appropriate for a debate.

“As a Quebecer, I found that question really offensive,” Trudeau said Friday while campaigning in Hamilton.

Click to play video: 'The controversial Quebec question at the federal leaders’ English debate'
The controversial Quebec question at the federal leaders’ English debate

The emotional backlash appears to have given the Bloc Québécois a bump in the polls. It’s up just over three per cent since the debate.

The issue may not be going away either. On Tuesday, Quebec’s National Assembly adopted a unanimous motion asking for a formal apology from the Debate Broadcast Group that organized the debate.

“We call for an end to the Quebec bashing, a phenomena which hinders the good functioning of the Canadian federation and which seeks to negatively generalize sensitive issues,” the motion reads.

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A copy of the motion is to be sent to the members of the broadcasters’ consortium, including Global News.

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