Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Quebec ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Well, kind of.

The Quebec election campaign is in full swing and at this point it's fair to ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Well, kind of.

You see, we have what has become commonplace in all recent Quebec elections - that being the traditional Liberal-Parti Quebecois battle for the hearts, minds and votes of the province.  This is a dynamic which produces a remarkably consistent narrative.

On one side is the PQ, promising to stand-up to protect, defend and grow the Quebec project.  It is a rhetoric steeped in cultural and economic nationalism, with the end goal being the establishment of an independent Quebec.

On the other side are the Liberals, promising to effectively manage and modernize the province while at the same time offering stability and protection from the uncertainty of the separation debate.

Only this time around, we have a third party - and an interesting one at that.  The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), led by former PQ member François Legault, has arrived and is shaking things up.  Theirs is an agenda which says put separation aside for at least a decade and focus on getting Quebec's house in order.

In many respects it is an agenda which is more frank about the challenges Quebec faces and the need for the province to engage in a more meaningful dialogue about what to do.  Importantly, it is arguing for a dialogue that is unencumbered by the federalist vs. separatist noose that has been around the province's neck and which has choked off real debate and action.

The question now is whether Legault's CAQ can truly build itself into a viable third option, or whether it will suffer the fate of the ADQ (which it effectively absorbed) and simply fade away after showing early promise.  Interestingly, unlike the ADQ the CAQ has three things that point to more than a fighting chance at survival.

1. A desire for change - part one.  Federalist Quebeckers who have felt that they have nowhere to go but to the Liberals now have a choice.  Legault is not a federalist, but he is offering stability.  As well, for those who would favour a more business-minded approach to the management of the province, the CAQ offers a perspective which in some respects is more Liberal than PQ.

2. A desire for change - part two.  Quebec is changing.  Legault is a former PQ Cabinet Minister.  He was a PQ MNA as recently as 2009.  That he has managed, thus far, to successfully present himself as something other than a pequiste speaks volumes about the mood in the province.  Legault is attempting to tap into a desire for something new, something different and something that is not Charest or Marois.  So far he is succeeding.

3. The corruption wild card.  The Charest mandate(s) have increasingly been tainted by the spectre of corruption.  The CAQ's ability to draft the most public opponent of corruption - Jacques Duchesneau - as its star candidate has immediately branded it as the anti-corruption party and the one most willing to clean things up.

We are still early days in this campaign.  The debates are still to come.  As well, the electoral map of Quebec gives the PQ several significant advantages once you move outside of the Montreal area.  Still, thus far the CAQ is showing and making things interesting.  At the very least, Mr. Legault could find himself in the position of king/queen-maker.

Watch and see who attacks who as we move into this middle-period of the campaign.  More than any poll you will read, where leader's direct their attention will tell you volumes about what is keeping them up at night.

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