Ballots are being cast in Quebec today, as voters in the province choose their next government. In all likelihood, that government will be led by Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois.
The campaign has been loud, messy, and, at times, ugly. But in the end, the voting intentions of Quebecers have held relatively steady throughout. The PQ has had the support of about one in three people in the province since day one, and the polls suggest it will be enough to give them a large minority or small majority government.
It did not start out that way. Jean Charest and his governing Liberals were within a few points of the PQ when the campaign began and had a decent shot of pulling off a fourth consecutive electoral victory. Instead, the turning point of the campaign came when François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), introduced Jacques Duchesneau as his new star candidate.
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Duchesneau did cause Legault a few headaches throughout the campaign, contradicting the CAQ leader at times and spurring jokes that the former chief of the Montreal police and anti-corruption warrior was the de facto head of the CAQ. But what Ducheseau did was give the CAQ instant credibility and ensured that the issue of corruption would not disappear during the campaign. It transformed a head-to-head match-up between Charest and Marois into a three-way race the Liberals could not win.
With the CAQ eating into the Liberals’ federalist francophone support, the PQ’s one-third share of the vote and wide lead among French-speaking Quebecers has put them in a position to easily win tonight’s election. Two 11th hour polls (by Forum and EKOS) suggest the PQ has benefited from a last-minute bump in support and could cruise to a majority win, but the last numbers from the two Quebec-based pollsters (CROP and Léger) indicate the PQ may not have such an easy time.
Nevertheless, that only makes the role of second-fiddle up for grabs tonight. Both the Liberals and the CAQ are capable of winning the job. The last CROP and Léger polls gave the CAQ a small edge in the popular vote but the Liberals benefit from an efficient vote that will deliver them more seats. The final poll from Forum suggests the Liberals will easily form the Official Opposition with a four-point lead over the CAQ. EKOS, on the other hand, says the Liberals have fallen to 23 per cent and will be beaten by Legault.
There is also the question of how Québec Solidaire will perform. Will they be able to increase their representation in the National Assembly from their current tally of one? A second seat seems likely – a third or fourth is not an impossibility. And if the PQ only wins a minority government, what role will these QS MNAs play?
If the polls have it, Charest will be the first incumbent premier in Canada to be defeated in two years. Including the 2011 federal election, incumbent governments have won the last seven elections. That streak is likely to end tonight as Quebec elects its first female premier. For that reason it should be a historic night. For the rest of Canada, it could mark the beginning of a tumultuous new chapter in our history.
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.