POLITICS
06/17/2011 07:34 EDT | Updated 08/17/2011 05:12 EDT

Jean Charest And Dalton McGuinty May Suffer As Desire For Change Migrates From Ottawa To Provinces

CP FileC

Change is in the air, as voters in Ontario and Quebec seem keen on exchanging their political leaders for something a little different.

So strong is the desire to change the status quo that there may be another wave coming that could potentially sweep out the Liberals in both provinces, and in one case, usher a non-existing party into power.

Quebecers demonstrated this appetite for change most dramatically in the last federal election. From nowhere, the New Democrats stormed to first place in the province and grabbed 43 per cent of the vote, winning 59 seats and taking votes primarily from the Bloc Québécois, but also the Conservatives and Liberals.

The Bloc Québécois had been the dominant party in the province for two decades, winning the majority of seats in Quebec in every election since 1993. Gilles Duceppe had been the province’s voice in the House of Commons as leader for 15 years.

Jack Layton offered a fresh face and only marginally different policy positions. Voters flocked to the NDP, with 28 per cent of Canadians throughout the country recently saying they cast their ballot for the New Democrats because the wanted change. Fully 45 per cent of NDP voters in Quebec mentioned a desire for change as their top motivation on Election Day, with another large portion saying they had simply had enough of the Bloc.

This disillusionment has transferred over to the provincial side. The latest polls put both the Liberals and Parti Québécois, the two parties that have governed the province without interruption since 1970, at or below 30 per cent. A relatively new party like Québec Solidaire is seeing its support increase fivefold.

But Quebecers’ thirst for change is best demonstrated by their support for a party that doesn’t exist. Former PQ minister François Legault is likely to transform his political action group, “Coalition for the Future of Quebec” (CAQ en français), into a political party in the fall.

The latest poll from Léger Marketing puts Legault’s CAQ at 33 per cent support in the province, well ahead of the Parti Québécois at 21 per cent and the governing Liberals at 20 per cent.

But the form that Legault’s party will take is still very much unknown. Legault has been relatively vague on several issues, and without a platform or a slate of candidates the CAQ at this point is a hypothetical party that can be everything to everyone. That one-third of Quebecers are ready to cast their ballot for a party simply because it is something different should worry the two leaders of the established parties in the province. Pauline Marois, who was first named a cabinet minister under René Lévesque in the 1980s, and Jean Charest, premier since 2003, are far from representing a breath of fresh air.

This want of something different has crossed the border into Ontario, where many voters apparently left the Liberals to support the Conservatives and NDP in the last federal election. Provincially, Liberal Dalton McGuinty is trailing Tim Hudak of the Progressive Conservatives in the polls. By the fall, McGuinty will have been premier for eight years while Hudak will be running his first campaign as party leader.

But according to Adam Radwanski, The Globe and Mail’s columnist on Ontario politics, the Progressive Conservatives will not be offering much of anything new to voters in the province aside from their leader. Voters have simply had enough of Dalton McGuinty, not necessarily his politics, and want a new face in Queen’s Park.

The desire for change can be an irresistible force in politics, as was demonstrated in Quebec in the last federal election. Jean Charest and Dalton McGuinty, currently Canada’s two longest serving premiers, may be unable to turn back the tide.

Éric Grenier taps the pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.