10/25/2013 12:30 EDT

Quebec Election 2013? Pauline Marois May Have Good Reason To Go For It


To go, or not to go? That is the question.

Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois may answer it in the coming days as her caucus meets to determine whether or not to call an election before the end of the year.

The PQ was elected to a slim minority government a little more than a year ago. Requiring the support of either Philippe Couillard's Liberals or François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec to pass legislation, the government is limited in its ability to push through its agenda. High on that list is the proposed Charter of Quebec Values.

In the end, however, the charter may just turn out to be the electoral issue that gives the PQ its majority government.

Recent polls suggest the charter's popularity is increasing, after initial reactions put a dent in support. The PQ believes it is a good issue for them, and the polls seem to bear that out: the latest surveys give the Parti Québécois 34 per cent support, two points up from where they were on election night in 2012 and just two to four points behind Couillard's Liberals.

That deficit is not as wide as it looks, due to the PQ's advantage among francophone voters. The party has 41 per cent support among this demographic. Once over the 40 per cent mark among French-speaking Quebecers, the PQ has the potential to win a majority government in the near-term.

The charter debate seems to have polarized support between the Liberals and the PQ. The result is that the CAQ has fallen by the wayside, with only 15 to 17 per cent support and under 20 per cent support among francophones. With their prospects looking weak even in Quebec City, where the party had its best performance in 2012, the CAQ is in great danger of its seats and votes being devoured by both the Liberals and the PQ.

But to call an election now would still be a gamble. The numbers the PQ is putting up are not nearly enough to be able to make the decision with any great confidence about the outcome.

There is also the risk that Quebecers react negatively to the premature calling of an election — polls show a very small proportion of the population favours calling a vote this year, and PQ ministers have begun downplaying the possibility a call could come soon. Of course, just three weeks before he called an election in 2008, Jean Charest was also saying that a vote was not then on the horizon. One has to keep your opponents on their toes, and not look too eager to hit the hustings.

On the other hand, not calling an election now might also be a gamble for the PQ. If they calculate the charter gives them the best chance of winning they will get in the near future, it may be worth the risk. If the PQ waits until the spring, when they can be defeated on a budget that is likely to show a deficit, the campaign has a higher likelihood of being about the economy. That is an issue that both Couillard and Legault can expect to benefit from over the premier.

But even assuming that a spring campaign is inevitable goes out on a limb: if the CAQ is still polling in the mid-teens, would the party really want to pull the plug on the government and risk being booted out of the National Assembly entirely?

Marois and the PQ have the choice of retaining control over the electoral calendar now or letting the opposition parties make the decision for them in the spring. It is obvious which option Marois would prefer, but does she think she can win?

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

Also on HuffPost

Quebec Values Charter