Robert Libman: Québec solidaire is in turmoil. Who stands to benefit?

If QS implodes, it could greatly help the Parti Québécois solidify its climb in the polls. The Liberals? They have a steeper hill to climb.

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For the past several months, most opinion polls on voter intentions in Quebec highlighted how support for Premier François Legault and his Coalition Avenir Québec was in free fall, inversely proportional to the rise of the Parti Québécois and its leader, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon. The Léger poll released this week, instead, shone the spotlight on Québec solidaire and its co-spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. Reeling from recent turmoil within the party, QS shed six percentage points, a third of its support, since March.

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The poll indicates the CAQ slide seems to have subsided, with the party hovering at around 22 per cent support. The PQ seemingly has reached its peak at 32 per cent, down two points from last month. The Liberals, still without a permanent leader, crept up a couple of points to 17 per cent but are still in single digits among francophone voters at six per cent. The Conservatives, led by Éric Duhaime, are at 12 per cent.

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Québec solidaire had been struggling to distinguish itself since the last election. Over the past few weeks, however, it has been the subject of numerous headlines in the French-language media. The ideologically left-wing, pro-sovereignty party has been locked in an existential crisis that is expected to come to a head at its national council meeting next weekend in Saguenay.

QS’s female co-spokesperson, Émilise Lessard-Therrien, suddenly resigned, alleging that an airtight “clique” was shunning her. Nadeau-Dubois then called on members to embrace an overhaul of the party program and structure, aiming for more “pragmatism” to better project the image of a potential government in waiting. To that end, he will propose adoption of a “Saguenay Declaration” to refresh the party’s image and purge some of its “radical” orientations.

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This provoked an open letter in La Presse from 40 former candidates, employees and party activists scorching him, suggesting he is undermining the party’s pure values and instead of listening, is distracting from the real problems. A group of supporters then penned a fierce rebuttal, defending him in Le Devoir. This very public ordeal is certainly affecting the party’s poll numbers, which also dropped by 12 points both among women and young people (18-34). All this is ramping up the intensity for next weekend.

Public opinion polls regarding voter intentions outside of election periods, particularly two and a half years in advance, forecast little, if anything, about future results. They measure mood swings and allow people to lash out at the government. The PQ has been the beneficiary of this discontent, so far.

But if QS implodes, as do many ideological parties eventually, it could greatly benefit the PQ’s ability to solidify its recent numbers. With five main parties, Quebec’s political map is complicated, with many vote-splitting scenarios. Support alternates fluidly between certain of the parties because there is overlap on key factors that influence Quebec elections, whether it be left versus right, nationalist identity, and/or federalism versus sovereignty.

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For the past 15 years, QS has eaten away at a chunk of the PQ’s sovereigntist vote and appealed to younger voters, formerly the bastion of the PQ. Despite having taken a right turn under PSPP, many young, disaffected francophone sovereigntists from QS would probably gravitate to the PQ and their young leader. This week’s poll indicates the Liberals may have something to gain as many non-francophone QS supporters oppose sovereignty, and the Liberals would be their only option. But the Liberals, once they have a new leader, will have a much bigger hill to climb than just picking up pieces from QS.

The outcome of the QS Saguenay convention could be a catalyst in reshaping the political building blocks, possibly aiding a PQ path to victory in the next election.

Robert Libman is an architect and planning consultant who has served as Equality Party leader and MNA, mayor of Côte-St-Luc and a member of the Montreal executive committee. He was a Conservative candidate in the 2015 federal election. X@robertlibman

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