The federal parties are betting on the “Belle Province”

July 22, 2019

Once again Quebec is expected to be a key battleground  for the leaders of all federal parties on the eve of a general election. The 78 seats in the province could make the difference on election day, October 21, between a Liberal government or a Conservative government and potentially the difference between a majority and a minority.

The polls put the LPC and the CPC almost on an equal footing in their quest to attain the magic number of 170 seats to get a majority in the House of Commons. This objective seems unattainable three months before the election. But, as the saying goes, three months in politics is an eternity. Anything can happen.

As the next federal election approaches, we see each party refining its strategy for Quebec. The LPC, the CPC, and the Bloc all believe they can make gains in one way or another. The LPC seems to be in a position of strength. The 338canada.com site places the Liberals ahead in the "Belle Province" with 33.2% of support ahead of the Conservatives who get 23.4%. The Bloc Québécois, which everyone thought was dead and buried less than a year ago, comes third with 19.3%. The Green Party is a mere point ahead of the NDP. Elizabeth May's party gets 11% against 10% for Jagmeet Singh's party.  The People's Party of Canada of Maxime Bernier trails badly with 2,5% of support.

According to these survey data, the seat projection for Quebec would be as follows: approximately 45 elected for the LPC, 16 for the CPC, 15 for the BQ, 2 for the NDP. The Liberals are hoping to take 50 ridings in Quebec. But the division of the vote between the LPC and the CPC in some areas could favour the BQ. We can see that the Liberals are very strong on the island of Montreal and in the Outaouais. Elsewhere, the struggle between LPC, CPC and BQ is fierce.

Justin Trudeau has made announcements in Montreal in recent weeks, including the extension of the blue metro line, but if he wants to win 50 seats in Quebec, he will have to campaign in regions where his support is not yet very strong. We expect a similar announcement related to transit in Quebec City in the coming weeks.  Without a sizeable increase in Quebec, the LPC will have to rely on Ontario to retain power on October 21. That would of course be a risky move for Justin Trudeau, although his prospects in Ontario have increased substantially in the last few months. Let us bet that the Prime Minister will opt for the fine risk of betting on the Belle Province to hope to win the election battle that promises to be fertile in twists and turns.

It is no coincidence that Andrew Scheer chose the Quebec City area to celebrate Quebecers' national holiday on June 24. The Conservatives hope to make gains in the Quebec City area, particularly in the ridings of Quebec City and Louis-Hébert, where they are trying to take the seats of Liberals MP’s Jean-Yves Duclos and Joël Lightbound.

Historically, the Conservatives have won over francophones by playing the Quebec nationalism card. Andrew Scheer echoed Stephen Harper's approach in this regard, insisting on respect for provincial jurisdictions. This speech could be of benefit to him, especially in the Quebec City area, in central Quebec, in the north and in the east.

Experts believe that the BQ may surprise especially in areas like Montérégie, Laurentians and the northern suburbs. Its Leader, Yves-François Blanchet, plays his cards well. He rebuilt unity in his party after the long period of turmoil marked in particular by former leader Martine Ouellet. Blanchet leaves room for the young. He campaigns on the environment and climate change. He is opposed to the Energy East pipeline project that would pass through Quebec. Although he is a former PQ minister, Blanchet sticks to many of François Legault's CAQ positions, whose party is still in an excellent position in Quebec.

The nationalist upsurge surrounding the debate on secularism or “laïcité” could serve the Bloc, especially if English Canada begins to do Quebec bashing on this delicate issue, which neither Justin Trudeau nor Andrew Scheer seem to want to get involved in. The separation of religion from government, has preoccupied politicians in the province for more than a decade, while elsewhere in the country, you aren’t likely to encounter it in the mainstream conversation at all.

François Legault's popularity in Quebec is based in part on his positions on secularism. With the Quiet Revolution, Quebecers drove religious interests out of state affairs, particularly in health and education. This explains why most Quebeckers are in favour of prohibiting the wearing of visible religious symbols by police officers, judges, Crown prosecutors, prison guards, police officers and teachers.  

In the case of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh's party seems to be out of the game in Quebec. The old love story with Jack Layton seems to be a thing of the past. But NDP Leader Singh, lives in hope. He spent the last week in Quebec, where he's on a weeklong tour of the province. He cycled in Sherbrooke with local supporters. Singh will have to pedal hard if he wants to save his 15 seats in Quebec. It is estimated that the NDP could keep only one seat. Potentially that of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie by MP Alexandre Boulerice. We expect a complete collapse of the NDP which should favour both the LPC and the Bloc as they seek gains.

It would be surprising if the Green Party won a seat in Quebec. In the case of the People's Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier will likely keep his seat in Beauce, but he will have to fight a fierce battle with Conservative candidate Richard Lehoux. Elsewhere in Quebec, the People's Party of Canada is not on the political radar.

The BBQ season is well underway. Propane companies in Quebec will make a lot of money this summer and Quebec stands to once again play a deciding role in electing our next government.