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High Tide: ‘Orange Wave’ Set to Continue in Québec

High tide: ‘Orange Wave’ set to continue in Québec

 Québec is an important battleground for the NDP and the Liberals in the 2015 federal election. Following the federal election in 2011, the NDP gained 54 seats in Québec in what has been called the “orange wave,” virtually wiping out the Bloc Québécois in most Québec ridings.

Contrary to the situation in Ontario where all three major parties are in play across the province, in Québec the outcome of the vote on October 19 is much easier to predict. Based on the latest polling numbers from CBC poll analyst Éric Grenier, the NDP is polling at 44.5 per cent, almost double the level of support for the Liberals and three times ahead of the governing Conservatives.

That being said, both the Liberals and Conservatives do have areas of strength in the province, but even there the NDP presence is being felt.  In the Québec City region, traditionally a more Conservative leaning area, the NDP is polling at 32 per cent, slightly ahead of both the Conservatives and Liberals.   In greater Montréal, the NDP and Liberals remain locked in a two-way battle (33% to 31%), with a majority of the key ridings to watch in and around the province’s largest city.

Charts depicting NDP support in Quebec

The NDP in Québec

Overall, the elected Québec NDP MPs have performed well since 2011, and over the past four years the party has managed to build a party infrastructure on the ground which will serve them well in this election campaign. The NDP even managed to evade the scorn of Quebeckers despite the controversy surrounding the regional party offices being paid for in part by taxpayers. Despite the unfavourable ruling against the NDP, the issue did not resonate negatively with Quebeckers, and the NDP were not impacted in polls.

As a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister, Mulcair is also a well-known political figure in Québec. With this in mind, Quebeckers likely feel that Mulcair is the more experienced of the centre-left parties and view the NDP Leader as more ready to lead the country and defend Québec’s interests in Ottawa than Trudeau.

Furthermore, as many political commentators have observed, supporting the NDP in Québec is less about supporting their policies and more about rejecting Harper. As is the case in many other regions of the country, voters in Québec feel that it is time for a change. Despite Harper’s Québec Lieutenant Denis Lebel’s best efforts to tour Québec, promoting the Conservatives key accomplishments and party lines, voting for the Conservatives is still not appealing to the overwhelming majority of Quebeckers.

In addition, the NDP remains strong because none of the other leaders have been able to portray his or herself as a real alternative to the Conservatives. The party who traditionally played this role was the Bloc Québécois– a party that is under threat to disappear from the ballot altogether after this election. Despite the return of Gilles Duceppe as Leader and the unparalleled involvement of its provincial counterpart, the Parti Québécois and their newly-elected leader Pierre Karl Péladeau, the Bloc has not been able to gain momentum while articulating a platform that could appeal to voters who might fear other parties cannot defend their province’s interest in Ottawa. The Bloc is likely to return only one MP to Ottawa, veteran MP Louis Plamondon. A recent CROP poll also suggests that Duceppe is far behind the NDP incumbent in his own riding.

For these reasons, there should not be any big surprises in Québec on October 19. The most likely scenario will be that the NDP wins a majority of the seats, and may even make some gains from the 59 seats they won in 2011.

Almost all projections at this point show the Liberals doubling their seat totals in the province (back to what they achieved in both 2006 and 2008), from the historical low of seven seats they picked up in 2011.  They will, however, need to expand those numbers significantly outside of their traditional Montréal base if Justin Trudeau expects to form government.

The Conservative Party’s hopes are modest; as they are unlikely to see any change in numbers from the five seats that they currently hold. However, Harper’s polarizing stance on how the refugee crisis in Syria should be handled, and his position on the importance of being unveiled for citizenship ceremonies, could help him in a couple of swing ridings in the Québec City region.

The scenario of a repeat NDP sweep over Québec will significantly impact the leaders’ strategies in the two upcoming French debates (September 24 and October 2). Mulcair will likely be the target and Trudeau will be the leader who has the most to gain. Harper, whose chances for electoral gains are severely limited, will likely let the pair fight to show that in the end, Quebeckers should vote for the stability his government would provide.

With nothing to lose, Duceppe is expected to be the most aggressive towards Mulcair, and both Trudeau and Harper will let him attack, in the hopes that a Bloc uptick in support could potentially weaken the NDP, and help both the Liberals and Tories gain a couple of seats.  Expect the TransCanada Energy East pipeline project to be a hot topic, as Duceppe will continue to attack Mulcair for not defending Québec’s best interests.

With just over four weeks to go until voting day, it is very likely that the “orange wave” that swept over Québec in 2011 is here to stay. The NDP high tide will make it increasingly difficult for both the Liberals and Conservatives to keep their heads above water, and may wash the Bloc Québécois out to sea on a permanent basis.