With a week left before they go to the voting booths, Quebecers need to decide who they want as their next premier - or maybe just who they don't.
The polls suggest Pauline Marois of the Parti Québécois will be elected to head a minority or majority government on Sept. 4, replacing the unpopular Charest Liberals who have been in power since 2003. But in this final week of the campaign, the undecideds will make up their minds and the election will be won or lost.
Each party has a base of support that can be relied upon. Despite CAQ Leader François Legault's best efforts, the Liberals are still dominant among anglophones and are the go-to option for committed federalists. The PQ has a solid chunk of votes that come from their sovereigntist supporters, while the CAQ can count on the votes of more right-of-centre Quebecers, particularly those in and around the provincial capital.
All three parties are aiming at swing voters, those francophone Quebecers who are neither federalist nor sovereigntist that make-up anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent of the population.
These Quebecers are asking themselves two questions. Firstly, if it is indeed time to replace Charest and the Liberals, who is best positioned to do it? The PQ leads in the polls but the CAQ is not far behind.
And in addition to the simple matter of who can actually defeat the Liberals, which party has the best plan to run the province?
The PQ has governed before and has put together a decent team around the generally unloved Marois. But the PQ also promises wrangling with the federal government and potentially another referendum.
Is the Coalition Avenir Québec ready for primetime? Legault has assembled an interesting team as well, but his policies seem simplistic and are likely very difficult to implement.
The second question Quebecers are asking themselves is whether they want the PQ to take control of the province once again. Feelings are as strong in some quarters against the return of the PQ to power as they are against a continuation of the Liberal reign. Those voters who are anti-PQ will be using this last week of the campaign to decide whether Legault is really capable of defeating Marois - and if he isn't, do voters need to hold their noses and vote to re-elect Charest?
None of the three leaders can claim a groundswell of personal support. The series of debates that took place last week gave each leader an opportunity to shine (which they did) and a chance to come off as unlikeable (which they also did). The odds are quite good the next government of Quebec will be elected with the support of little more than one-third of citizens.
The last seven days of the campaign could get ugly. Charest is fighting Legault for the federalist vote, Legault is fighting Marois for the anti-Charest vote and Marois is fighting both Québec Solidaire and Option Nationale for the sovereigntist vote. The one ace up Charest's sleeve is that he is the only leader not being pulled in two directions at once. Unfortunately for him, however, the one direction he is being pulled does not appear to be up.
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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