Buoyed by popular support surrounding the secular charter, analysts say Marois’s Parti Québécois could be in majority government territory by the time the 33-day campaign is over.
But it’s still a gamble, one Marois has pointed to as necessary after the opposition parties publicly indicated they wouldn’t support the recently tabled provincial budget.
At issue will be the obvious hot-button topics that have dominated the political headlines since the PQ formed a minority government in the fall of 2012: identity, the economy and health care.
The PQ has been rising in the polls since it tabled the controversial secular charter legislation last year.
The bill, which would ban the wearing of overt religious symbols by public-sector workers, is popular outside urban centres such as Montreal or Quebec City. However, it has been met with fierce opposition by some school boards, health-care institutions and municipalities.
The secular charter has divided opinion in Quebec, and the provincial Liberal party, which lost its governing status in its own provincial election gamble 18 months ago, is hoping to find support in that division by refocusing the debate.
Its slogan is, “We’re taking care of real business.”
"Les vrais affaires are education, health care and economy," Couillard said Tuesday. "Those subjects that are not Les vrais affaires are division among Quebecers and the separation of Quebec."
The Liberals have been pushing hard to keep the focus on the economy and not on national identity.
They have also been quick to remind Quebecers that sovereignty is a significant portion of the PQ’s mandate and one, Liberals say, will re-emerge if the PQ is elected as a majority government.
“Let's make no mistake here: another PQ government means another referendum,” Liberal Leader Philippe Couilllard said on Sunday.
The PQ hasn’t committed to a referendum and has maintained that when there’s enough support for another one, they’ll pursue it.
“I am a sovereigntist,” Marois said in February. “When the people elect me and my government, I have the possibility [to seek] sovereignty.”
Marois has promised to produce a white paper on the issue.
Michel David, a political columnist with the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir, believes a referendum will soon follow.
“I'm very sure that Madame Marois and all the people at the PQ will try very hard to create what Lucien Bouchard used to call ‘the Winning Conditions,’” he said.
“So, if there is to be one, and the possibility is very real, it will be before 2018. So that's only four years from now.”
Standing in Marois's way could be the Coalition Avenir Québec.
The party — formed just before the 2012 election and headed by a former PQ cabinet minister François Legault — presented itself as a fiscally responsible alternative to the PQ, one that puts the economy before a nationalist agenda. The strategy netted the CAQ some big wins in 2012, including 19 seats in the legislature.
There is at least one other wild card in play heading into this campaign.
Quebec's Charbonneau commission, which is looking into corruption and the construction industry, just wrapped up its examination of the province’s construction unions and will start new hearings in a week.
The commission has yet to focus on provincial political party financing. If it does, in the middle of the campaign, it could have an effect on voters.
PQ ministers will gather this morning at the premier’s office for a scheduled 9 a.m. cabinet meeting.
It’s after that meeting that Marois is widely expected to make the request to dissolve the legislature, triggering an election.