Will Quebec have a minority government?

(originally from 23 March, with updates on 26 March)

With polls now open across Quebec, Democratic Space has posted its detailed final pre-election analysis, noting the election is too close to call but that a PLQ minority government now looks more likely than one headed by the PQ. A few days ago, the ADQ was within two percentage points of overtaking the PQ for second place in votes, but the PQ had the narrow edge in projected seats. (I don’t think it has ever happened anywhere that the seat plurality went to a party with the third most votes; it still won’t have happened.) In the interim, the ADQ has lost about a point and a half in votes to the PLQ, but the latter has picked up about 5% in projected seats, mostly at the expense of the PQ (thanks to the vagaries of three-way competition under FPTP). Of course, all of this is well within margins of error, so several scenarios remain in play. But a PLQ minority appears most likely.

The current projection at Democratic Space is for only 51 seats for the incumbent Liberal party (PLQ), 50 for the Parti Québécois (PQ), and 24 for the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ).

The voting intentions of voters have not changed all that much at the aggregate level, but three-party politics under FPTP can be volatile, and as the ADQ grows even slightly, it is cutting more into the potential PLQ seats than to those of the PQ.

For example, compare the DS projection based on polling about a month before election day (and on riding-level analysis) to the current one. Over that time, the PLQ voting intention has fallen by 2.2 percentage points, but their seats having fallen by 11.2 points (from 65, a narrow majority, to the present projection of 51). Meanwhile, the ADQ has gained 3.2 percentage points in the vote and nine seats (7.2%). The PQ is gaining in expected seats, despite no real change in votes. If the trend were to continue and be realized on election day, the PQ could wind up with the most seats, albeit several short of a majority.

I know I have several readers who are in (or follow the politics of) Quebec. I hope they will consider this an open thread on the closing days of the campaign. Thanks to all those who have commented on this campaign thus far!

0 thoughts on “Will Quebec have a minority government?

  1. The success of this “third party” is fascinating. Between two factors, what explains it more? The fact that executive origin and survivability rests with the National Assembly? Or the presence of a viable francophone alternative for opposition francophones who can’t stomach voting Liberal?

  2. In Quebec, the political dynamic is a little different. It’s not so much a “Left vs Right” as a “Federalist vs Seperatist” showdown. Conservative separatists were ready to vote for the PQ, even though it’s a left leaning party, and progressive federalists were ready to support the liberals to block the PQ.

    But recently, it came relatively clear that the PQ will not be able to proceed with a referendum on sovereignty any time soon. Combine with the generally poor performance of the current liberal government and the growing resentment from the conservative electoral against the progressive elite, this constitute an ideal scenario for an ADQ rise.

    If the PQ manages to get minority government, it’s probably not going to stay in office very long. The PQ’s base is uncompromising, so I doubt they would be able to make deals with the Liberals or the ADQ. A liberal minority government would probably stand a better chance. The liberal membership is more disciplined and the liberal leader, a former leader of the federal conservatives, is not so far ideologically from the ADQ leader, so they will probably be able to make deals if they want to.

    Another thing to keep in mind, is that the PQ leader is sitting in an ejection seat right now. If he doesn’t manage to get a minority government Monday, he’s history. I doubt the PQ (and by extension the Bloc Québécois) will want to head into another election leaderless, especially with the Harper government gearing up for a federal election.

    In fact, Stephen Harper is probably the biggest winner of the election in Quebec. All the voters who are going to vote for the ADQ, will most likely give their support to the Tories in the next federal election. Also, in Quebec, a vote for the provincial liberal party and a vote for the federal liberal party are two very different things. The Conservatives have much more credibility than the ADQ when it comes to forming a government, so they can expect a good number of provincial liberals to vote for them. That could potentially give them the lead in Quebec. For a party that, not long ago, didn’t have any MPs in Quebec, this could be all they need to get a majority in Ottawa.

  3. Jack raises an important point when he asks whether “The fact executive origin and survivability rests with the National Assembly” might be a factor in three-party politics.

    A factor, yes. Of course, more important are the underlying cleavages that Maxime has addressed in her remarks. However, it is important to recognize that most parliamentary systems with FPTP electoral systems have a significant third party (and often a fourth, etc.), unlike the USA. Even a party with no hope to form a government can hope to have leverage over the executive in a parliamentary system, and the institutions of parliamentarism encourage voters to think in more partisan terms when deciding how to vote for legislative representative. That makes it much easier for minority viewpoints to coalesce into distinct parties that will have a collective voice in the body that holds the executive to account than in the US presidential system. In the US system, given the separate executive, voters in legislative elections think more about what the individual representative can do for their local interests than is the case under parliamentary institutions.

  4. I’m not sure I see the ADQ’s rise as an indication that something about Quebec makes third parties particularly likely. The ADQ has had a very popular leader since its inception. And soon after the party’s foundation, they adopted a very popular centrist position on sovereignty. Yet it still took them 13 years to become a political force. It’s quite easy to imagine the party having disappeared if Dumont had not won their only seat in the 1994 or 1998 elections, or if there hadn’t been a series of by-elections in 2002. So the ADQ’s rise seems to me just another indication of how difficult it is for a party to gain support in a FPTP system.

    DemocraticSPACE’s current projection is for a PQ minority, despite the PQ getting fewer votes than the Liberals. (Seat/vote ratios in this projection are PQ: 1.38, PLQ: 1.15, ADQ: 0.72) Of course this is just an early projection, but if it came to pass it would be the second consecutive “wrong-winner” win for the PQ. Dumont would be placed in an interesting quandary: He has pledged not to form a coalition government of second- and third-place parties, but in a wrong-winner election both the PQ and the PLQ would have a claim to being the first-place party. Also, a Globe and Mail article mentioned the fact that the previous government is generally given the opportunity to continue after an election, if it thinks it can survive a confidence vote. I seriously doubt that Charest would do this if he was a clear loser, but in a wrong-winner election he’d have a reasonable argument to present to the electorate that he should continue to govern. I’m almost hoping for this to happen, just because I can’t think of a better way to get electoral reform implemented in Quebec.

  5. “the ADQ’s rise seems to me just another indication of how difficult it is for a party to gain support in a FPTP system.”

    No argument here, Vasi. But you are (implicitly) comparing to non-FPTP parliamentary systems, and my previous point was to compare to the one FPTP presidential system among the industrialized countries.

    When we compare the USA to almost any FPTP parliamentary system, what stands out is how persistent third parties are despite being severely under-represented (in most cases) by the electoral system. And even when hung parliaments are rare, and coalitions unexpected.

    (Your discussion of the minority-situation scenarios is really intriguing!)

  6. So we’d say it’s some unmeasurable balance of the two — or that the success of a third party is fed by parliamentarism, while the success of this particular third party is fed by nationalism?

  7. It’s hard to know what Dumont meant back on March 16 when he said he preferred alliances one bill at a time to formal coalitions, and “C’est le peuple qui aura décidé quel parti aura le plus de sièges et toutes les idées de coalition entre le deuxième et le troisième pour supplanter le premier, je ne jouerai jamais, jamais, jamais à ça. Le peuple aura le dernier mot.” (“It’s the people who will have decided which party has the most seats, and all these ideas of a coalition between the second and the third to displace the first, I will never, never, never play with that. The people will have the last word.”)

    First, that statement is “inoperative” in the case of a “wrong winner.”

    Second, the context was Dumont’s rejection of Bosilair’s “dreams of another referendum” on sovereignty or a coalition with the PQ. But he claims he has no preference for Charest either, calling him and Boisclair “much the same.” Of course he can say nothing else, since half his voters are ex-PQ, half are ex-Liberal.

    Third, it reminds me of the statements of Dumont’s New Zealand counterpart, the populist Winston Peters, in 1996. He harshly attacked his former National colleagues during the campaign, and appeared to promise that he would not even consider going into coalition with them. Many voters who cast their electorate ballot for New Zealand First candidates also gave their party vote to Labour. However, to the surprise of the electorate, which had apparently voted for New Zealand First to get rid of National, Peters decided to enter a coalition with National.

    Meanwhile the press, which so often buy into the TV network mentality of the race to declare the “winner” on election night, is actually remembering Politics 101. The Globe and Mail yesterday reported Quebeckers “might not know for some days after election night who will form their next government. One such instance happened in 1985 in Ontario when Frank Miller’s Tories won 52 seats to the Liberals’ 48 and the New Democratic Party’s 25, but eventually found themselves in opposition when the other two parties formed an alliance.”

  8. I must admit that I didn’t see the current success of the ADQ coming, at least outside of the Beauce or the Capitale-Nationale. When the campaign started, I didn’t expect them to get enough seats to force a minority government, but now I think that’s what everyone is expecting to happen. I’m still trying to figure out what this means, and what it suggests will happen in the future. I believe that the ADQ, for many voters, is still kind of a protest vote. Dumont has adopted a populist position that has attracted many voters who don’t want to vote for any of the two main parties. It remains to be seen if these voters will stay loyal to the ADQ if they gain more leverage by being the balance of power in a minority parliament, or if the ADQ will suddenly appear to be only an “old party” just like the two others.

    If the ADQ is able to hold on its current support, I believe it could signal a shift in Quebec’s party system. Since 1976, Quebec’s politics have been marked by the dominance of the PLQ and the PQ, or basically, the federalist and sovereigntist positions. But the PQ was supposed to deliver the promise of independence, and they didn’t. Now they’ve been around a lot longer than they were supposed to, and many sovereigntist voters are tired of them, and don’t even believe that the independence of Quebec will ever happen anymore. I believe these voters are likely to shift to the ADQ, whose “autonomist” position might become an important part of the political landscape. (It does depend on how the federal government will react to the autonomists though.)

    I saw former PQ minister and President of the National Assembly Jean-Pierre Charbonneau on TV yesterday, and he said that if our party system moves to a state where the FPTP system only produces unstable minority governments, maybe it would be worth moving to a MMP system and introduce coalition governments as a part of our political culture. I’m inclined to think he’s right, but I’m not entirely sure that what we’re seeing is the end of bipartism. It could be, but we’ll need a few months to be sure. And if he wants to introduce a MMP system, he’ll have to convince the members of his party first. A large number of Péquistes support voting system reform, but they believe that Quebec has to become independent before. I can’t blame them: as former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau recently said, the PQ’s whole referendum strategy is based on having a majority government, and FPTP is the best system to ensure this outcome. (There’s also a lot of skepticism about voting system reform among the Liberals, which is why Benoît Pelletier’s proposed reform fell through.)

  9. Pingback: PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts

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