Candidates are being identified, campaign offices rented and buses prepped as Quebec heads toward an election, expected to be called Wednesday.
The life of Jean Charest's nine-year-old government is at stake, but all the parties in the province's crowded political field have big hopes for the coming vote.
The latest polls show the incumbent government neck-and-neck with the Parti Québécois, so Charest's Liberals have the inside track. The premier is already using the opportunity provided by the Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax to pound his chest a little, laying out Quebec's conditions for participation in a national energy strategy and criticizing the federal government for its unilateral changes to health care transfers.
The lines of the Liberal campaign are already being laid out, as Charest juxtaposes what he calls his government's respect for democracy, the economy and individual rights with the PQ's lack of respect for those rights and leader Pauline Marois' determination to hold a referendum on independence.
Marois worked to remove a set schedule from the PQ's platform, and was heavily criticized from within the party for it, but has never ruled out holding of another referendum if "winning conditions" present themselves.
But a spate of announcements of star candidates for the Parti Québécois indicates many believe the party has winning conditions. The candidacies of Pierre Duchesne, former political bureau chief for Radio-Canada in Quebec City, and Bernard Généreux, president of Quebec's federation of municipalities, have already been announced, and Jean-François Lisée, political commentator and former advisor to Premier Jacques Parizeau, is expected to be presented as the party's newest candidate in the coming days.
The news that Léo Bureau-Blouin, one of the three main leaders of the student protests in the province, will be running for the PQ in a Laval riding captured the most attention this week. Bureau-Blouin was one of the more moderate voices in the protests and should help the PQ with the youth vote, but he nevertheless give credence to the Liberals' narrative that the PQ is in bed with the controversial strike.
However, the strength suggested by the PQ's ability to recruit a strong field of candidates contrasts sharply with the difficulties the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) has been having. They have few high-profile names, some of the better known being former ADQ MNAs who were elected for short stints in 2007. Mario Dumont's unexpected breakthrough that year revealed the party was not ready for primetime, and CAQ leader François Legault recently removing a candidate after a Twitter tirade on separatism adds to the impression the CAQ is also lacking a team that is ready to govern.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Québec Solidaire (QS) will be focusing on getting co-leader Françoise David elected alongside Amir Khadir, their only sitting MNA. They do have a (very) outside shot in a few other Montreal ridings, but the party may play a bigger role in getting Jean-Martin Aussant, leader of the adamantly sovereigntist Option Nationale (ON), returned to the National Assembly. They have concluded an agreement with ON not to run a candidate in Aussant's riding, in return for ON not putting up a name against David. Option Nationale was unlikely to pull more than one or two per cent in David's riding, but the lack of a QS candidate puts anywhere from five to 10 per cent of the vote on the table for Aussant.
Add to that the provincial Greens, who have nominated leader Claude Sabourin as their candidate in Notre-Dame-de-Grace, their best riding in 2008, and the nascent Conservatives, who have two former Tory MPs on the ballot in Quebec City, and the upcoming election in Quebec is setting up to be one interesting campaign.
On your marks...
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.
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