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Quebec Election 2012: Contest Becoming A Three-Way Race

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Polls show the PQ leading Jean Charest's Liberals in the 2012 Quebec election campaign. (CP)
Polls show the PQ leading Jean Charest's Liberals in the 2012 Quebec election campaign. (CP)

The second week of the Quebec election campaign put up more road blocks to Jean Charest's re-election, in what is becoming a three-way race.

The issue of corruption did not go away, dominating the news cycle for the first half of the week. At first things appeared to be turning against the CAQ, as star candidate Jacques Duchesneau claimed he would have a role in choosing the government's ministers (quickly corrected by party leader François Legault) and criticisms of him by the Liberals and Parti Québécois were made. But Duchesneau remains an important part of the CAQ campaign, as he was given almost as much air time as Legault in the party's first television ad.

Then a report by Radio-Canada, claiming a tailing operation was halted after the subject of the police's attention met with Charest at a public event, sent a jolt through the campaign. Though the report contained no proof of a direct link between the two incidents, it did little to help Charest shake off the public's perception the government is corrupt.

Further complicating matters for the Liberals is that the student protests over tuition fee hikes have failed to become an important issue. The resignation of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, one of the main figures of the more radical CLASSE student group, removed an easy target from the equation. With some schools starting classes this week, there so far appears to be little of the turmoil the province witnessed in the spring. For the Liberals, who planned to campaign on law and order, this throws a wrench into their electoral strategy.

The strategy they have adopted mimics the one used with success by the federal Conservatives, as detailed in a report by Le Devoir over the weekend. Both the Liberals and CAQ have focused on simple, easy-to-grasp promises made early in the day. For the Liberals, these include $100 for parents with children in elementary school, a renovation tax credit and help with dental costs. The CAQ has promised tax cuts, paid holidays for parents and longer school hours.

This strategy has caught the Parti Québécois somewhat flat-footed. Pauline Marois spent some of last week in eastern Quebec, shoring up support in a region that is more difficult to fit into a late campaign schedule. She did not make as many pointed announcements as her adversaries.

But two polls released at the end of the week changed the conversation, as they both put the PQ ahead by a narrow margin. The CAQ appeared to be making gains, meaning Charest and Marois turned their attacks towards Legault. This may have the effect of slowing his momentum, but it also increases the perception Legault is a serious player in the election.

However, the Liberals appear vulnerable. Charest was even pegged to be trailing by 15 points in his own riding. As a result, focus has been turning more to the fight between the PQ and the CAQ among the francophone electorate, a battle that could decide the election.

If the CAQ continues to make gains in the polls there is no telling which party might sink. The PQ risks losing support to the CAQ if it looks like Legault has better chances of defeating Charest, while the Liberals could lose votes to the CAQ if the party is seen as the best anti-PQ option. Nevertheless, after two weeks the Parti Québécois still holds the advantage.

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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