Thursday, February 22, 2007

L'élection québécoise. On commence...

And they're off to the races! Jean Charest visited the lieutenant-governor of Quebec yesterday morning, and the election campaign is on. Things will be very interesting between now and March 26th. Here's my capsule version of what I think the most important dynamics will be - subject to change over the campaign:

1) Three-way races and vote splitting. The ADQ, as it often does, is riding well in the polls at the moment, and much of that support is concentrated in small-town Quebec, the traditional stomping ground of the Creditistes and the Union Nationale. If this holds, it could bleed significant support from the PQ, creating some tight three-way races. While I don't expect them to win any significant percentage of the provincial vote, the left-wing Quebec Solidaire might bleed away support from the left flank of the PQ, particularly in Montreal, which would also help Charest's Liberals.

2) Leadership. Charest goes into this election not as a loved premier, but as an experienced one, and also as a reasonably competent one. I thought it would take longer for him to start sniping at Andre Boisclair's "immaturity", but that particular card is already in play. We'll see over the next few weeks just how Quebeckers actually feel about his past cocaine use (and approach to unions, and to the United States, and to the referendum issue). I want to believe that his homosexuality will not be an issue, but I could very easily see it playing a role, particularly among more right-wing sovereignists.

3) Federalism. Jean Charest (also known as the junior Mulroney minister who tried to salvage the Meech Lake Accord) and Stephen Harper have been trying very hard to improve the Ottawa-Quebec City relationship. Expect to see a very Quebec-favorable budget come down on March 19th. I don't think we'll see direct federal intervention on the hustings, but federal policies will play a very important role. It'll be interesting to see how Dion approaches the federal budget, with a potential federal election looming as well.

4) "Reasonable Accomodation". The issue of multiculturalism is getting a lot of press in Quebec, even after Charest created the Bouchard-Taylor commission. I think this will be a hot-button issue outside of Montreal, and that it will be the ADQ that gains support from those who think it is an important topic because they are uncomfortable with it. Mario Dumont called yesterday for a Quebec constitution and citizenship (to complement the Canadian ones) which would lay out a statement of principles about what it means to be a Quebecker. He's certainly not looking like someone who will wait for a commission report.

5) Provincial policy issues. Taxes, tuition increases, regional development. I'm sure that we will see them all in the parties' campaign literature, but I don't think these are going to be the major issues of the campaign. With Boisclair and Dumont both posititoning themselves on the right, Charest doesn't have as much to defend against in terms of starkly different economic visions for the province. We'll see colourful coverage of student protests, but Charest's proposed $100/year tuition increase, coupled with major investment in post-secondary education, is probably not enough to really stoke the ire of most voters.

Who will win? It's far too early to say, and we may yet see a minority government. But Charest is in a good position with the PQ fighting internally, and support for sovereignty at a lower point than it was two years ago. This may come down to individual riding battles, and close three-way races, and it'll be really interesting to watch. I wouldn't rule out some major electoral gaffe by one leader or another (or a past leader, for that matter) which could change the dynamics completely!

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At 1:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reasonable accomodation can be a bomb for all leaders.



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