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Quebec Liberal supporters consoled by likely opposition status

The announcement of a projection that the Liberals won the main race of this election — to decide who would make up the official opposition — buoyed a sparse crowd of roughly 40 supporters and party workers.

Collette Chartrand watches election results at Quebec Liberal Party headquarters at the Corona Theatre in Montreal, Monday October 3, 2022.
Collette Chartrand watches election results at Quebec Liberal Party headquarters at the Corona Theatre in Montreal, Monday October 3, 2022. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

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Liberal supporters who gathered at the Corona Theatre Monday night in St-Henri took solace in the fact their party would become the official opposition, even if they were far from coming into power.

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Ten minutes after the polls closed, the major networks pronounced it would once again be a Coalition Avenir Québec majority government. A few minutes after that, it was announced the Liberals had won the main race of this campaign — to decide who would make up the official opposition — buoying the sparse crowd of roughly 40 supporters and party workers.

“Dominique, Dominique, Dominique,” they chanted.

“It wasn’t a surprise,” said former finance minister Carlos Leitão, who chose not to run in this election but served as president of the Liberals’ campaign.

“Still, it appears we will be able to retain the official opposition status, which is important because that will allow us to then fully take the next four years to rebuild and refocus the Liberal Party. So we are still strong in our strongholds, our base in Montreal.

“Now we need to make the bridge with the rest of Quebec, and we have four years to do that.”

The Liberals’ message that they would be the party of the 21st-century economy, bringing together economic projects focused on environmental issues, failed to resonate with the populace, Leitão said. He also conceded that the first weeks of the Liberal campaign, during which the party was unable to find a full slate of 125 candidates, were “catastrophic” and hurt the party’s ability to get its message across.

Supporters were few and far between at the beginning of the night at the Corona Theatre, in Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade’s riding of Saint-Henri—Sainte-Anne. The Liberals rented a very small space for their official campaign evening.

“Her vision of society reflects my values, in that she wants a society that is open, inclusive, that sees all citizens as equal — be they Muslims, new immigrants or French-Canadians,” said Michel Fontaine, who came in from Sorel-Tracy to support Anglade. “That’s what I like about the Liberal Party.”

A Parti Québécois supporter in the past, Fontaine said he shifted to the Liberals about 10 years ago because he didn’t like the form of nationalistic identity politics that was emerging in the PQ. Founder René Lévesque would not have appreciated it either, he said, as Lévesque espoused a civic nationalism open to all peoples. CAQ Leader François Legault is pushing a quieter form of identity politics, Fontaine said, but one that has become more outspoken in recent weeks.

Yseult Jean-Marie, a teacher and longtime supporter of the Liberal Party who is of colour and came out to support Anglade last night, said Legault’s message was clear to citizens like her: “It makes us feel like we don’t belong,” she said. “It hurts.”

Standing because no chairs were available, Jean-Marie said she came from her home in Rosemont “because Mme Anglade shares the same values as I do, of including people.”

Polls indicated support for the Liberals barely budged since the start of the campaign, with the CAQ slipping five points to 38 per cent support versus 16 per cent for the Liberals in the most recent polls. Liberal party members were hoping negative publicity surrounding CAQ statements demonizing immigrants in the last week of the campaign would bring some voters back to their fold.

Anglade shifted the theme of her campaign from the economy to the promise the Liberals were the only party that would speak for all Quebecers and bring unity, as compared to what she called the divisiveness of Legault’s rhetoric.

With the election results showing the Liberal campaign has lost much of its historic dominance, the question now becomes how the party can regain support, particularly among francophone voters, only seven per cent of whom said they planned to vote for the Liberals in this election.

The party was spared annihilation in part because it retains enough of a bulwark of ridings, mostly in western Montreal thanks to anglophone and allophone supporters, to guarantee enough seats to maintain official party status. The PQ, which has been decimated by the loss of support for sovereignty, was not as fortunate, with early projections forecasting three seats for the party. The 2018 election, in which the PQ won only 10 seats, marked the first time since 1973 the party neither formed the government nor served as the official opposition. Monday night’s results were poised to be even worse.

“It’s a crisis for the Liberals,” said Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, in the days leading up to the election. “It’s maybe not as dire as for the PQ, but it’s a long-term crisis.”

In the final weeks of the campaign, the Liberals had a blitz of radio and TV interviews and visits to sure-bet, not-so-sure-bet and no-chance-in-heck ridings in Montreal, Quebec City, the Eastern Townships and the South Shore. Many of those places had a very similar history: they had been Liberal strongholds for years, if not decades, then went to the CAQ by slight or wide margins in 2018, and for the most part looked like they would do so again this time around.

Even a onetime sure bet like La Pinière — the former South Shore riding of Gaétan Barrette, won handily by the Liberals in 2018 — was not certain, despite the fact the area is home to multicultural communities such as Brossard.

  1. Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault greets a supporter during an election campaign stop in St-Jerome on Sept. 10, 2022.

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