Support for Quebec's Charter of Values appears to be dropping, potentially throwing Premier Pauline Marois' electoral calculations into doubt.
A new poll by Léger Marketing for Le Journal de Montréal, conducted on Friday and Saturday and interviewing 2,000 Quebecers online, shows that 43 per cent of the population is favourable towards the proposed charter, compared to 42 per cent who are not.
This suggests a significant decrease in support over the last few weeks. Léger conducted a poll on religious accommodations on Aug. 23-24 and found 57 per cent of Quebecers thought the Charter of Quebec Values was a good idea. Though the questions asked were slightly different, and the charter itself had yet to be revealed when the earlier poll was taken, the drop in support is rather stark. It would suggest that either a large proportion of Quebecers who supported the charter have since changed their minds or that the Parti Québécois' handling of its announcement has turned off almost a quarter of those who previously found it to be a good idea.
The linguistic divide continues to be the most important one in Quebec, with 49 per cent of francophones in favour of it to 34 per cent against. That is in contrast to 72 per cent of anglophones and 66 per cent of allophones — those whose first language is neither French nor English — who are against the charter. This continues a rather surprising trend where allophones are slightly less likely to be against the charter than anglophones, despite being the more likely group affected by it.
Support for the charter is highest in the suburbs north and south of the island of Montreal, as well as in western Quebec (though still only at between 45 and 48 per cent), while it was lowest in Quebec City (37 per cent) and Montreal itself (40 per cent). But even here there is a linguistic divide, as 55 per cent of francophones on the island of Montreal were in favour of the charter. The cleavage is thus primarily between linguistic groups, and not by region.
This might cause a problem for the Parti Québécois, as the PQ needs much higher support among francophones, primarily those outside of Montreal, to be able to win a majority government. Léger found the race is close, with the Liberals at 36 per cent province-wide to the PQ's 33 per cent. But Marois would likely want a clearer advantage in order to pull the plug on her own government, which Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard has dared her to do.
The two parties' supporters are defined by their differences on the charter: 80 per cent of PQ supporters are in favour of it while 70 per cent of Liberal voters are against it. Ninety per cent of all Quebecers favour requiring people seeking government services to do so with their face uncovered, one issue upon which both the PQ and Liberals agree.
But that leaves François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec in a bit of a no-man's-land. Léger found that 46 per cent of CAQ supporters favour the charter, against 40 per cent who do not. Polling by Forum Research showed a similar divide among CAQ supporters, while Liberals were against the charter by a factor of 3-to-1 and PQ supporters were for it by a factor of 6-to-1.
Issue fatigue could quickly become a problem for the PQ, in the same way opinion on the student protests in 2012 could carry neither the Liberals nor the PQ to an outright victory in that year's election. If support for the charter is already faltering amid criticism, it could be a weight that sinks the PQ if the government delays until December or later to hold the election. Municipal campaigns in October-November make it difficult to call the election earlier.
So far, the PQ appears to be holding its own. But will voters soon turn against the party for causing such discord?
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.