At 10 am this morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Governor General and launched the campaign that will culminate in a general election on October 21.
As has been so often the case historically, how Quebec votes will be a decisive factor. Quebec’s 78 seats in the House of Commons represents nearly a quarter of the legislature – an important but volatile voting block -- and all the parties are making them a priority.
Despite being rocked by the SNC-Lavalin scandal and other recent difficulties, the Liberals are looking to pick up new seats to make up for anticipated losses in the West. The Conservatives are counting on more Quebec seats to get back to power. The two major parties are looking to capitalize on what looks like a pending NDP collapse.
But will the Bloc Québécois – whose ship has been steadied under new leader Yves François Blanchet – be rehabilitated to its former glory? Will voters abandoning the NDP be tempted by Elizabeth May's Green Party? As we know from experience, predicting the Quebec electorate’s behaviour is a fool’s game, but we will watch closely as these stories and more play out over the next five weeks.
Trudeau is likely to cast the campaign as being about big-picture value issues, painting the Liberals as being more in tune with Quebecers’ liberal social values. They will attack the Conservatives and Andrew Scheer as too socially conservative and out of touch with modern Quebec, which will have traction, particularly in the urban Montreal region. You can bet that neither Scheer nor Trudeau will be too eager to stand up against Bill 21, Quebec’s controversial new secularism law, that has strong support in Quebec but is viewed as illiberal in the rest of Canada.
A year ago, Quebecers went to the polls in a provincial general election that saw a nationalist centre-right party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), soar to an overwhelming majority, ending 15 years of provincial Liberal rule. The Conservatives will focus on the suburban and rural areas that voted for the CAQ provincially, particularly in and around the Quebec City area and in the northeast of the province.
The NDP under Jagmeet Singh will do everything in their power to hold on to whatever they can in the province. Since being elected to replace Thomas Mulcair, Singh, who speaks weak French, has just not caught on in Quebec. Pundits also question the electability of a turban-wearing Sikh in a province that banned the wearing of religious symbols for certain government jobs.
The Bloc has been in serious decline in recent years. Following the 2015 election, the long-time leader of the separatist party, Gilles Duceppe, stepped down and was replaced by Martine Ouellet, who was seen as ushering in much-needed change. Instead, the party suffered internal turmoil and virtually imploded. Ouellet was forced out and Yves-François Blanchet grabbed the reins of the party in January. He has spent the last few months re-establishing the credibility and voice the Bloc used to have. As the ex-CEO of the Quebec music lobby, a former PQ MNA at the provincial level as well as having been a panelist on a popular Quebec political talk show, Blanchet should not be underestimated. He may not be able to return the Bloc to its full former strength, but he could gain seats and play spoiler to the Conservatives in some key ridings.
Along with the Bloc, the Greens under Elizabeth May could make gains and win some seats in the province. They would be following in the footsteps of Québec Solidaire, a hard-left provincial party focused on the environment which went from three to 11 seats following the 2018 provincial election.
Barring an unforeseen or cataclysmic event, the Liberals will pick up new seats in Quebec, but the biggest unknown is where the votes from the expected NDP collapse will go – Liberal, Conservative, or Green. We expect some three or four-way races and this makes Quebec very difficult to predict.