It’s getting down to the wire. With election day in Quebec less than a week away, this is the moment many voters will finally tune in, pay attention and make up their minds about how to cast their ballots.
The campaigns are shifting into high gear. Party leaders crisscrossing the province, blitzing ridings they hope to hang on to or swing in their favour. It’s their last chance to get their message out to an electorate that was keeping an open mind early on.
At the mid-point of this long, slow-burning campaign, 38 per cent of voters told pollsters they hadn’t finalized their choice and 44 per cent said they would be making a decision based on the leaders’ debates. The last of those three face-offs was last Thursday. Now the needle is starting to move.
The Coalition Avenir Québec’s early lead has evaporated, with polls showing the party neck and neck with the LIberals and trending downward. CAQ Leader François Legault even mused about a minority government on Monday.
After a series of gaffes and growing concern about the impact of his plan to slash immigration by 20 per cent, Legault seems to be locked in a battle with himself, rather than the incumbent Liberals. As a result, his number of campaign stops and media availabilities has dwindled over the past week in an apparent bid to keep a lid on things. Legault is the only party leader who still hasn’t given a firm response to an invitation from the Montreal Gazette editorial board.
Meanwhile, Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée has redirected his attacks from the Liberals and the CAQ to Québec solidaire. He says they’ve been getting a free ride, but it sounds more like he’s trying to “save the furniture” from a mass migration of the leftist, sovereignist vote to Québec solidaire, a spectre that could prove devastating for the PQ.
In a meeting last week with the Gazette editorial board, Lisée appealed to anglophones for support.
“We can disagree on some things, but the Parti Québécois has a track record for being a good, clean, green government,” he said. “And listen, if you’re not for independence, it won’t happen the first four years. Give us a try. We will try to convince you to come along with us in 2022, but it will be your choice.”
Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard is fighting a battle with irony. His government has presided over a transformation that has put Quebec in a position of historic prosperity. The economy is thriving, public finances are in order. But the tough choices and painful cuts it took to get there have alienated some voters.
Couillard, who met the Gazette editorial board Monday, said he takes full ownership of his government’s record. He said the efforts of the last four years weren’t easy, but they have given all the parties the means to promise massive reinvestments in public services in their platforms.
“I think for years to come these years will be seen as years of turning Quebec around and putting it in a different and better direction,” he said. “I never saw returning to a balanced budget as an accounting exercise; it was an exercise to give us back our freedom to decide and to do what we always dreamt we could do.”
Couillard also took aim at Legault’s stance on immigration. Not only would a cut in immigration levels hurt Quebec’s economy by exacerbating the labour shortage, the CAQ’s pledge of a French exam and a values test for newcomers sends a very unwelcoming message.
“It’s actually worse than the Charter of Values. So I tell Quebecers day after day: Let’s reject that. Let’s not be seen outside Quebec as a place where these kinds of policies are accepted,” he said, drawing a comparison to the PQ’s proposed dress code for civil servants, which in part dominated the 2014 campaign. “To say that if you don’t pass the test, you could be expelled — it’s horrible. How can you talk about people that way?”
Québec solidaire has been getting a lot of attention with promises of free education from daycare to a doctorate and nationalizing certain industries. Co-leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois is due to speak to the Gazette Tuesday about these pledges as well as paying down Quebec’s environmental debt.
It’s still anyone’s guess how things are going to shake out in Monday’s vote. Fortunes have risen and fallen during the past four weeks. But that’s what makes electoral campaigns so important: There are no pre-determined outcomes.
So it’s up to Quebecers now. This is the moment when voters need to get real. It’s time to forget about the leaders’ answers to quiz questions, separate the missteps from the moments of truth, and set aside personal grievances in order to focus on the big picture.
For the first time in 50 years, independence is not a ballot box question. But that doesn’t mean there are no existential matters at stake. Quebecers are being called upon to decide on the kind of society it will be going forward.
It’s time for the electorate to do its homework and prepare to make a choice that will shape Quebec’s future.