A new poll shows Quebec Liberals running neck-and-neck with the governing Parti Québécois as they gather to pick a new leader this weekend in Montreal. However, who they select may determine if things stay that way.

The online poll by Léger Marketing for the QMI Agency has the PQ narrowly ahead with 31 per cent support, followed by the Liberals at 30 per cent and the Coalition Avenir Québec at 20 per cent. Québec Solidaire sits at nine per cent support. Those numbers have hardly budged since Léger’s last poll in February, which put the PQ lead at 33 to 31 per cent over the Liberals.

But a new leader of the Quebec Liberals has the potential to shake things up. Philippe Couillard, Raymond Bachand, and Pierre Moreau have split the caucus almost evenly between them, though Couillard is the only one of the three not already sitting in the National Assembly.

Nevertheless, Couillard is the favourite going into this weekend’s leadership vote, which the party’s organization was relieved to find out would not be overshadowed by the election of a Canadian pope. He also has the best chance of keeping the Liberals competitive with the PQ.

The poll by Léger found that a Couillard-led Liberal Party would move into a tie with the Parti Québécois at 30 per cent apiece. By comparison, Bachand would reduce the Liberals to 25 per cent and increase the margin to eight points. The lesser-known Moreau would push the Liberals further down into a tie with François Legault’s CAQ at 23 per cent.

If Quebecers have their way, Couillard will take over the party. He is the favourite option of 30 per cent of the population, while Bachand manages 15 per cent and Moreau only seven per cent. Among Liberal supporters, Couillard’s tally increases to 44 per cent to 19 per cent for Bachand and 10 per cent for Moreau. These sorts of numbers have held consistently since November.

The race between the three contenders has been dirty at times, but the Liberals would do best to ensure that the two front-runners can work together when the campaign is over. Though Couillard beat Bachand on most questions in Léger’s poll (he is seen as better able to win the next election, improve the health care system, and simply as a more likeable person), Bachand scored much better than him on the economy. Bachand was the Minister of Finance under Jean Charest, and could be an asset for Couillard going forward.

Whether it is Couillard or Bachand who emerges victorious on the weekend, they do have an opportunity in Pauline Marois’s increasingly unpopular minority government. Though her polling numbers have remained relatively unchanged since the September election, satisfaction with her government has fallen to only 28 per cent — the lowest it has been since she became premier. Will the next leader of the Liberals try to find a way to pull the plug?

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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