Quebec election campaign 2012

Quebec’s National Assembly (i.e. provincial) election is 4 September. It is a three-way race, which is always interesting–and potentially anomaly-generating–under plurality (first-past-the-post) rules.

The incumbent is a majority government of the Liberal Party, re-elected most recently in 2008, with the Parti Quebecois (PQ) as its main opponent. The newly created party in the mix is the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), and there are other smaller parties as well.

The CAQ is trying to make a splash by bringing Jacques Duchesneau, a “celebrity whistleblower” (as the Ottawa Citizen described him) into the contest as one of its candidates. This personnel strategy by an upstart party is an excellent example of attempting to use a high-profile individual to signal something about the party as a whole.

The PQ is attempting as well to use a newly recruited candidate to help re-brand the party. The “sovereigntist” message of the party is in danger of not resonating with younger voters who have grown up under policies implemented by past PQ governments, and continued by Liberal ones. So to try to counter this lack of appeal, it has nominated Léo Bureau-Blouin, a 20-year-old leader of the recent Quebec student strike. As Konrad Yakabuski comment in the Globe and Mail: “Mr. Bureau-Blouin’s candidacy brings much more to the PQ than a chance at picking up a seat. It sends a message to Quebeckers that the party and its mission will live on.”

As for the three-way race, Eric Grenier notes in the Globe and Mail, even before Duchesneau’ entry, “the CAQ, even at these low levels of support in the polls, could still win as many as 11 seats, Québec Solidaire as many as two, and Option Nationale one, making it possible for either of the two main parties to form some sort of working arrangement or formal coalition in order to govern if they do not win a majority on their own.”

Quebec had a real three-way race in March, 2007, when the largest party was the Liberals, but with only 38% of the seats on just under a third of the vote. The Assembly elected then lasted only about a year and a half, and new elections were held in December, 2008, producing the majority that is attempting to defend its position now.

A leader of a past (Equality Party, 1989) attempt at third-party politics, Robert Libman, has made an appeal for strategic voting:

“Anglophones… should perhaps, in order to send a message to the Liberals, consider voting for the CAQ,” said Mr. Libman, “(but) only in areas where there is no danger of splitting the vote and electing the PQ.”

The ridings Mr. Libman has in mind are largely located in Montreal’s west end, with a few more in western Quebec. There are also a handful of ridings where any wavering by Anglo voters could spark big swings in close local races.

With so many outcomes being plausible–including a majority government by either major party–and dependent on results of key districts (ridings), this will be a contest to watch.

17 thoughts on “Quebec election campaign 2012

  1. We’ll see soon enough, but I have pretty severe doubts about anglo ridings going for the CAQ. Then anglo- and allophone areas of Quebec tend to frown upon anti-immigration proposals such as those of Legault.

  2. This is minor, but the phrase near the beginning “the Liberal Party, elected in 2008”, while technically correct, is misleading. The PLQ government has been in power in Quebec continuously since 2003.

    Judging from the Wikipedia profile, the CAQ seems to be a resurrection of the ADQ that turned the 2007 election into a three-way contest, and then imploded.

  3. The obvious element missing here is the impact of the student movement and the debates on education. People are voting not so much for one party or another, but to express their views on the last few months of the student strike, the governement’s rigid stance, anti-democratic special laws, etc.

    Also, Option nationale (ON) was formed by people who left the Parti québécois (PQ). ON, PQ and Québec solidaire (QS) are all separatists/sovereigntists. Many people who would be inclined to vote for one of the two fringe parties (ON and QS) will vote for PQ only so that the Liberals do not get re-elected.

    …and no one cares about what Libman has to say…

  4. More on the CAQ’s use of celebrity outsider candidates:

    a new player has been added to the mix: radiologist Gaétan Barrette, running for the upstart Coalition Avenir Québec. For a party that promised a raft of “star” candidates, Dr. Barrette’s nomination, along with former anti-corruption leader Jacques Duchesneau, gives the CAQ impressive public recognition.

    Dr. Barrette is already a well-known figure. As head of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec, he is the spokesperson for close to 9,000 specialist physicians.


    Has a decent analysis (in French however). Right now, the projection is a PQ minority. It should be noted that Quebec Solidaire is thought to be in play in two ridings. The caquistes are mostly in play in Quebec city where they’re running neck and neck with the PQ, as well a Francophone Montreal suburbs.

  6. Out of curiosity, is Quebec the only (or only sizeable) Francophone society that still uses single-member FPTP?

    An ironic capitulation to les Angles-Saxens, for a society that otherwise is so thoroughly determined not to be assimilated into English Canada.

  7. Tom,

    Quebec has looked into an MMP system. Generally, the use of FPTP is retained due to the standard catch 22 that parties support proportional systems until they’re elected to a majority with a minority of votes.

    A few interesting links: Election Quebec on reform of the voting system; Massicotte (PDF).

    Vis-a-vis la francophonie, these are the ones I got:

    Cote d’Ivoire is FPTP though not that democratic.

    Senegal is elected by bloc voting.

  8. Tom, I take it you consider single-member two-round FPTP to somehow be radically different. (I guess it is First-Past-The-Second-Post.)

    In any event, Côte d’Ivoire, whose population is much larger than Québec’s, uses single-member FPTP. Djibouti (value judgement whether it’s sizable, but it’s got more people than New Brunswick [1]) has multi-member constituencies, but voters cast only a single vote for a party, which wins the entire constituency, so I don’t think it’s radically different either [2]. There are probably more but those are the ones which sprung to mind when I quickly scanned the list of members of the Francophonie.

    fn1. New Brunswick, which also uses FPTP in single-member constituencies, is almost certainly more francophone than Djibouti, but French is an official language of both.

    fn2. Although Djibouti is essentially a one-party state. (“Mr Guelleh, who won 100% of the ballots cast, told France’s Le Figaro newspaper he regretted ‘having no opponent’.” — BBC)

  9. Thanks, Rici. Yes, I was wondering specifically about single-member, single-ballot, single-“tick”* winner-take-all since that is the “Anglo-Saxon”** system but rarely used outside the former British Empire.

    * I’m using “tick” as convenient shorthand for a single vote, or multiple votes with undifferentiated (simultaneous and equally-weighted) effect, although of course many FPTP voters actually use crosses, or darken a circle, or punch a card. One can have numbers that function as ticks (MNTV in Queensland local elections) or “ticks” that function as numbers (punching the first-, second-, third-, etc, choice column in many US IRO-AV elections).

    * Notably, the main two “Anglosphere” departures still retain the single-member aspect even though Australia adds preferential voting and NZ adds party lists.

  10. Begorrah and it does that. Abandoned both “single seat per district” and “single tick per voter”. However I do recall one observer noting (in one of the Penniman & Ranney books, IIRC) that Continental European writers – curiously – tended not to consider STV a form of :”proportional representation” proper, since it didn’t use party lists and had such low district magnitudes. One French publication, from memory, described it as “closely related to the majority system.” (On the other hand you had Enid Lakeman insisting that “Proportional Representation” meant STV first and foremost, and various British MPs supporting either MMP or regional list “as alternatives to Proportional Representation [sic]”.

  11. Why not let the voters in a single-winner election vote for more than one candidate in the first round?

  12. @Tom

    Australia and Ireland are obviously part of the Celtosphere, a happy region of the planet where FPTP rules only in Cornwall.

  13. [Marginally relevant comment, before we return to Québec, which is at least mentioned here.]

    Tom, that’s a common characterization of electoral systems by nationality but it fails to stand up to history.

    Up until 1885, the British House of Commons was dominated by multi-member ridings (mostly dual-member) elected by block vote (each voter has as many votes as there are seats), and it was that model which was transmitted to Canada (at least, I don’t know about the history of Australia). So the first legislatures in the Canadian colonies, including Lower Canada (now Québec) were elected in dual-member ridings.

    While I never had the opportunity to vote in a multi-member constituency in Canada, there were still several around when I reached voting age. Indeed, PEI continued to use dual-member ridings into the 1990s. (Dual-member districts were also used in various US states, and for all I know may still be.)

    France was also going through a period of constitutional change, so it’s not easy to talk about a “French tradition”. Both uninominal and multinominal majoritarian (i.e. whole list) ridings were used in the 19th century, and there was a couple of PR experiments, but it was mostly uninominal and they eventually settled on two-round majoritarian uninominal elections. (I think two-round was introduced in the 1870s, which was way too late to influeence its Western Hemisphere colonies, but it is still used in some French ex-colonies in Africa.)

    Since I think that two-round is basically a minor variant on majoritarian elections, I’d say that France had a stronger claim to “single tick” voting than Great Britain, and I don’t see any particular reason to paint the modern French two-round majoritarian system as anything other than majoritarian.

  14. The NSW legislative assembly inherited the same model. The first assembly had 54 MLAs elected from 34 districts. Multimember districts were not abolished until 1894. I am not sure of the situation in other states but I’d be surprised if they did not follow the same trajectory.

  15. There is one way for smaller parties to be able to attract attention from MSM voters. If they could attract famous athletes, movie stars, etc. to file in their ranks and participate in building up the party or even runninf under the party’s banner in an election, that party would become well-known!

  16. So two polls, very different results:

    Leger has the PLQ in third. Forum has them in first.

    Additionally, another poll by Le Soleil has the CAQ sweeping Quebec metro. Based on current polls, that is unlikely to be overcome and likely give CAQ 12 seats in Quebec metro.

    Given that Quebec and Laval are basically the swing seats in Quebec, a strong showing by the CAQ will likely turn this into a hung parliament.

    The PLQ may well become an anglophone rump at their current pace, as they are polling in the low 20s among francophones.

    It would be nice to see a minority government as it may lead to a greater push for electoral reform in Quebec.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.