01/15/2013 09:32 EST | Updated 03/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Philippe Couillard Could Lead Quebec Liberals To Victory: Poll


The Parti Québécois remains in front in Quebec's voting intentions, but that could all change when the provincial Liberals choose their next leader.

An online poll by CROP for La Presse suggests the governing PQ holds a narrow lead with 31 per cent support to 30 per cent for the Liberals. The CAQ trails in third with 27 per cent. These numbers are generally in line with what other polls have been showing since the Sept. 4 election.

That vote resulted in the end of Jean Charest's tenure as premier, after his party was pushed to the opposition benches and the Liberal leader was defeated in his own riding. The political landscape could change dramatically depending on which of the three candidates the party chooses to replace Charest.

Pierre Moreau is the least known of the three. A former cabinet minister, Moreau is unknown to almost half of the population in Quebec and only seven per cent think he is the best person to be the province's next premier.

That makes the race primarily between Raymond Bachand and Philippe Couillard, who should both be able to elect a large number of delegates to the party's convention on March 17.

Bachand appears to be trailing, however. Though he gets high marks on economic competence (46 per cent chose him as the best of the three on this question, followed by Couillard at 12 per cent) and as a good administrator (33 per cent), only 18 per cent see him as the best future premier. And while 77 per cent of Liberal supporters have a good opinion of the former finance minister, a bare majority (52 per cent) of the general population agrees.

Couillard, a former health minister who took a break from politics in 2008, has the strongest numbers of the three candidates. He beat out his rivals on most metrics, including honesty and ethics, representing change and getting the job done. Furthermore, 32 per cent of Quebecers chose him as the best person to be premier. Fully 42 per cent of Quebecers think he will win and 84 per cent of Liberal supporters have a good opinion of him. Perhaps more importantly, almost two-thirds of Quebecers do as well.

With Couillard at the helm, the Liberals could return to power. He boosts their support to 36 per cent, dropping the PQ under Premier Pauline Marois to 28 per cent and the CAQ to 25 per cent. Bachand would be in a tighter fight at 31 per cent to 29 per cent for the CAQ and 28 per cent for the PQ, while Moreau would not improve the Liberals' numbers at all.

Nevertheless, despite their improved position, Liberal voters do not want to return to the ballot box. While 32 per cent said the Liberals should force an election as soon as possible, 56 per cent thought it would be best to wait until the Charbonneau Commission on corruption finishes its work.

And the Liberals themselves still have some work to do: 62 per cent of francophones have a bad opinion of the party. The Liberals need to make in-roads here if they are to return to power, as the Parti Québécois enjoys a big advantage off the island of Montreal, where the Liberals are still well-regarded. While Couillard looks like he might be the one to put the Liberals back in government, he will have to change the perception of his party if he is to be anything other than a short-term solution.

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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