Charest had a good week, but Liberals are still short of majority

With the crash of the ADQ, the election has become a two-party race

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The Gazette, Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The first sounding of the voters' mood by Léger Marketing shows Jean Charest took only a one-point hit for calling a snap election, though a look inside the numbers has the Parti Québécois moving out to a five-point lead among francophone voters, which drops the Liberals back into minority territory.

Just by way of review, the Liberals are at 41 per cent (down a point from two weeks ago), the PQ at 35 per cent, (up a point) and Mario Dumont's Action Democratique du Quebec flatlining at 14 per cent. Clearly, this is a two-party race, and Dumont stands to be reduced to the handfill of seats he held before last year's election propelled him to official opposition in a minority legislature. Indeed, the Liberals need Dumont to pick up a few points among francophones--where they now trail the PQ 39-34, with Mario a distant 17 per cent - to propel them into majority territory.

Although three Quebecers in four opposed an election, less than one in three told Léger the call would negatively influence their vote. This means the blowback on the writ has largely dissipated and that Charest has successfully made the economy his ballot question, where research shows more than 50 per cent of Quebecers regard the Liberals as the party of choice.

Best premier in the Léger poll: Charest 40 per cent, Pauline Marois 30 per cent, and Dumont 11 per cent, trailing his party in voting intention. The founder of the ADQ, and its only leader, is a drag on the ticket. It's pretty humbling, but then Dumont's performance as opposition leader leaves him with much to be humble about.

So far, nothing is working for Dumont, not even the identity card he played so adroitly in hijacking the 2007 campaign over the reasonable accommodation debate. Already in this campaign, Dumont has tried to seize this ground by denouncing the replacement of religious instruction by ethics and religious cultural courses in Quebec schools. "A negation of Québécois values," he huffed the other day. "Enough, Mr. Dumont" wrote La Presse chief editorialist André Pratte yesterday. "Enough falsehoods and demagoguery." A Gazette editorial said about the same.

It gets worse. On Monday, someone linked a YouTube musical video attacking Marois as a snob to the ADQ website, a meeting was held at the wrong address, and a school visit was cancelled at the last minute, because the school board didn't want a partisan event. Ça va mal.

Things haven't been going much better in the Marois campaign, which has been dogged since the first day by a series of mishaps that have obscured her message. The story begins with the PQ being broke and $800,000 in debt, which hardly boosts their standing on the economy. It gets better. We have it from the PQ's own focus group research, leaked to La Presse's redoubtable Denis Lessard, that Marois "is seen as a snob." But then, the PQ is famously undisciplined and divided, as the leak from the inner circle reminds us. Nothing could be more corrosive to a campaign, except perhaps for fisticuffs breaking out at a nomination meeting, as was the case in suburban L'Assomption the other night. Just the thing to get female voters on board. And then the Quebec Federation of Labour declined to endorse the PQ. Ça va mal there, too.

For Charest, the one cloud in the first week of his campaign has been the debate over the debate, in which he has literally refused to sit down with his opponents. The television consortium wants them sitting around a table, as in the federal debates last month, with taped questions from voters. Charest prefers a podium, with no holds barred. The federal debate in French reached a new low in public policy discourse when the leaders were asked: "If you could say something nice about the person on your left, what would it be?" Oh, great. Politics as group therapy.

Meanwhile, Charest was in Quebec City yesterday, drawing good crowds and promising them everything, including the Olympics, or at least the government's backing of its bid to be the Canadian candidate for a future Winter Games. Well, they like to feel special in the provincial capital. And the story there is that Dumont, who holds 11 seats in Quebec City, is running third, with the Liberals 20 points ahead of the PQ. It's Charest's primary target in this campaign.

Overall, this first set of poll numbers suggest that while Charest might not currently be in majority territory, a majority is there to be won. It's up to him to go and get it.

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