MONTREAL — Quebec's legislature reopened on Tuesday for its last session before the fall's provincial election and, on the same day, a new poll indicated almost 70 per cent of francophone voters want to see a change in government.
With seven months to go before the election campaign, time is running out for the Liberals to convince Quebecers they are better off with a party that's been in power since 2003, except for a brief Parti Quebecois minority government.
"Quebecers are saying it's time to move on to other things," said Sebastien Dallaire, vice-president of Ipsos, during an interview.
His firm's latest numbers place the right-leaning Coalition Avenir Quebec at 34 per cent, with the Liberals at 30 per cent and the PQ with 23 per cent.
The numbers confirm a several-months-long tendency from various polling firms: the anti-Liberal vote is crystallizing around the Coalition.
While overall results indicate the Liberals are not far behind, they are third place among francophone voters, who decide elections.
Polling aggregator blog, QC125.com, projects the Coalition winning 64 seats out of 125, with the Liberals in second place with 41 seats.
"Everyone would like to be where we are right now," Coalition leader Francois Legault told reporters with regard to the Ipsos numbers, which indicate his party has 40 per cent support among francophones and in majority-government territory.
"What's important is not to take anything for granted and to work hard."
Legault said he'll spend the next seven months before the election campaign trying to get further tax cuts into the Liberals' spring budget.
"What's important is to put more money into the wallets of Quebec families," he said.
The PQ has taken the opposite route, and is positioning itself as the party that will fight for a strong state at the service of citizens.
Their new advertising campaign shows a figure flexing its muscles with a message asking voters whether they want the Quebec state on a diet or at the gym.
"They are sending a message that is more progressive," said Dallaire. "They are convinced Quebecers' values are there."
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says his government's seven remaining months will be focused on the economy, entrepreneurship, innovation and transport, as well as on announcing measures to help families.
Finance Minister Carlos Leitao's final budget of the Liberals' current mandate will likely be tabled in the spring, and he has already stated it will include tax cuts for small- and medium-sized businesses.
Several high-profile cabinet ministers are considering retiring from politics, including House Leader Jean-Marc Fournier and National Assembly Speaker Jacques Chagnon, and Quebecers can expect candidate announcements from all parties as the election date nears.
It remains to be seen how the Liberals will be able to overcome the perception among voters that a change in direction is needed.
Sixty-eight per cent of francophones want a new government, and while 53 of total respondents said the economy is doing better today than three years ago, 70 per cent said the health-care sector was doing worse.
Ipsos polled 1,297 Quebecers — 797 online and 500 by telephone — between Feb. 2 and Feb. 4. Due to the combination of methods, there is no overall margin of error.