Legault, Trudeau and what's next
Quebec's premier looks set to sweep Monday's election. How does Ottawa respond?
I’ve posted a bunch of the Quebec election columns I’ve been writing for L’actualité, Quebec’s leading newsmagazine. They’re over in my section for French-language writing. Rather than translate each one word-for-word, here’s a column in English that draws from all that analysis and offers some final thoughts about what’s going to happen after the votes are counted on Monday.
A big Legault majority with a Montreal-shaped hole in it
François Legault and the Coalition Avenir Québec (centre-right, suburban populist) are going to win big. Poll analyst Philippe J. Fournier says they’re on track to win 92 seats, the biggest majority since Robert Bourassa’s comeback in 1985. This is mostly a trick of the electoral system: at 39%, the CAQ’s projected share of the popular vote is actually at the low end of voter support received by Quebec governing parties in my lifetime.
But the collapse of the old parties of power has left a shattered opposition. The Liberals and PQ together look set to win one-third as many seats as the CAQ, worse in both cases than the two parties’ worst-ever results from 2018. But neither are voters rallying behind any other opposition party. In July Conservative leader Éric Duhaime, riding a formidable polling bump, admitted to me that his lucky streak might not yield any seats. That seems to be how it’s working out.
The divided and demoralized opposition will actually represent most of the province’s voters, including substantial winning majorities in most ridings in Quebec’s metropolis, Montreal. Take a look at Fournier’s hex map of projected results, with each riding depicted as equal in size. See the big red-and-orange splotch? That’s Montreal, the last stronghold of the Liberals and (NDP-ish) Québec Solidaire.
These urban-rural, or metropolis-hinterland, splits are hardly unheard-of. They’re common around the world. We’ve had one, less stark, at the federal level for the last two Parliaments. They don’t undermine a government’s legitimacy. In our system, you can absolutely win a third of the vote and all of the power.
But I wonder how it will play inside the head of François Legault. He’s often irritable in the face of disagreement. He’s 65 years old. He’d already lost two elections before he came to power in 2018. He is widely thought to have run a clumsy campaign, though it only knocked a few points off his party’s support. And now he’s going to face a tiny opposition in which each member represents five or six times as many voters as each of his members. In a Quebec in which opposition complaints are amplified by an overwhelmingly Montreal-based media.
Will he serve a full second term as premier? If he retires, can a party that has never known another leader remain coherent, relevant and electorally dominant?