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Why the Future of the PQ Lies With Quebec City

03/21/2014 09:31 EDT | Updated 05/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Quebec City has long been a thorn in the side of the separatist movement, and it seems it is continuing to uphold that title. Ever since the 1995 referendum results, where the NO side did much better than anticipated, it has continued to be a heart-break and a conundrum for separatists.

Unlike Montreal, where the sizable Anglophone and immigrant votes were expected to go handily to the NO side in the 1995 referendum, Quebec City had all the right conditions (at least according to separatists) to vote YES en masse. A major chunk of the population is employed, either directly or indirectly by the provincial government; therefore, unlike in Outaouais where it made sense to vote NO since many people are employed by the Federal public service, there wasn't that same level of attachment in Quebec City. Also unlike Montreal, Quebec City is almost uniformly Francophone, and hugely "pur laine" at that, which is where the PQ expects and also needs to obtain their vote in order to win.

In the 2006 Federal election, the Conservatives managed to take 8 seats in the Quebec City Region, stealing 7 of those 8 from the Bloc. This is where the right-leaning tendency of Quebec City voters was brought to light. The Conservatives continued their electoral success there through the 2008 election and even elected Bernard Généreux as a Conservative in a bi-election in 2009. The orange wave that swept Quebec in the 2011 election managed to flip about half of those Quebec City region Conservative seats to the NDP, but Quebec City continues to remain a target and an aspiration for the Conservative Party.

Current (and very popular) Quebec City mayor Régis Labeaume, first elected in 2007, is very well known for his rightist leanings, and has been involved in a very public battle against the public-sector unions in Quebec City in the last year, thereby reinforcing Quebec City's general right-of-centre outlook. And much like in America, where right-wing commentators rule the airwaves, the same is true in Quebec City where CHOI 91,9 Radio X, is a very popular and very well-known bastion of small "c" conservative ideals. The PLQ is currently heavily targeting those listeners with advertisements.

When it comes to provincial politics, and this current campaign in particular, the outlook is bleak for the PQ. Considering Marois called this election with the anticipation of winning a majority, the chances of that happening now seem very unlikely at this stage in the campaign. Currently, there are only two PQ seats in the Quebec City region, including the Premiere's. The rest are split between the CAQ and the PLQ. The latest CROP poll and polls previous to that one show no good news for the PQ in the region, as the strong CAQ support there last election is bleeding largely to the PLQ. The poll also shows francophone support for the PLQ growing steadily, as they were at 23% at the beginning of the campaign, and are now at 30% due in part to the increasing support in Quebec City.

What is also interesting to note is that the PQ was probably betting on support rising in Quebec City due to the addition of Pierre Karl Péladeau to their team. PKP, chummy with Mayor Régis Labeaume, could be seen as being in part responsible for the building of the new arena for the future Nordiques hockey team. That, and his being labeled as "right-wing" by Quebec media, were seen as potential pull-factors by the PQ. That is not happening, and it seems PKP's entry into the political arena is only benefitting the PLQ. His fiery statements about jumping into politics specially to make Quebec a country no doubt scared some would-be federalist CAQ supporters to the PLQ. Moreover, no poll has had good news for the CAQ; therefore, some of their voters may be more enticed to vote for a winning team than a sure-bet third place one.

The latest CROP poll, which showed the PLQ in the lead for the first time in months, as well as likely internal polling the PQ does, spooked Marois and the PQ to the core and no more was that demonstrated than in the 180 degree turn-around in PQ strategy in the last two days. Marois seemed panicky in attacking Couillard Tuesday at a press conference in Verdun, and in a seemingly desperate attempt, brought up Arthur Porter and Couillard's apparent close connection. Marois also tried to link Couillard's current team with that of the last unpopular PLQ Premier, Jean Charest.

The PQ is apparently planning on phasing Marois out of their election strategy, by replacing her with the more popular Bernard Drainville and his baby; la charte. The PQ right up until quite recently were riding high in voter support, especially among Francophones, because the Charter remained very popular amongst that segment of the population and was very much in the news. Strangely enough, the PQ has hardly mentioned the Charter up until now, with the exception of the day Fatima Houda-Pepin was endorsed by the PQ in La Piniere riding. And although the Charter remains popular, it isn't tangible, nor is it a bread and butter issue. PKP has proven to be anything but helpful, Marois is continuing to flail, and so the PQ is frantically hoping Drainville could drum up some much needed former support.

With polls showing a close three-way race between all three major parties in the region, the Quebec City area will no doubt be the area to watch on election night. And as polls show the seat count between the PQ and the PLQ extremely close, whoever does end up forming government between the two will have Quebec City voters to thank on April 8.

This article was originally published in the Prince Arthur Herald

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