Liberals facing rout in Quebec if results of poll stand up

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The Gazette, Wednesday, March 30, 2011

If the polls are to be believed, the Liberals are in big trouble in Quebec, and just about everywhere else in Canada.

The two most reliable public opinion research firms in Quebec are Léger Marketing and CROP. And the numbers they put out on the weekend in Le Devoir and La Presse, were scary bad for the Liberals.

Both pollsters were in the field last week, before the writ dropped.

In the Quebec segment of Léger's national poll, the Liberals were in third place at 18 per cent, behind the Bloc at 39 per cent, with the Conservatives at 22 per cent, and the NDP at 16 per cent.

In the CROP Quebec-only poll, the Liberals were in fourth place at 11 per cent, behind the Bloc at 38 per cent, the Conservatives at 23 per cent and the NDP at 20 per cent.

That is not a typo - 11 per cent is the number - and the Liberals better hope it's wrong.

It gets even worse: among francophones - 85 per cent of Quebec voters - the Liberals are at seven per cent in the CROP, behind the Bloc at 44 per cent, with the Conservatives and NDP tied at 21 per cent.

These two numbers, 11 per cent and seven per cent, represent the lowest polling scores ever in Quebec for the party of Laurier, St. Laurent, Trudeau and Chrétien.

Stated another way, under Michael Ignatieff, the Liberals are in even worse shape going into an election in Quebec than they were under Stéphane Dion in September 2008, when they were at 16 per cent.

The Liberals' 18 per cent score in the Léger poll would break down to about 14 per cent among francophones, still nothing to write home about, but twice their francophone score in the CROP.

But both polls tell essentially the same story - francophone Quebec determines outcomes in about 60 of Quebec's 75 seats, and with scores like these, the Liberals would lose every one of them.

They would be reduced to Fortress Montreal, and even there pushed back to their strongholds in the Englishspeaking West Island and several North End seats where they rely on the allophone vote for their majorities.

As for the Conservatives, both polls put them around their 2008 levels of 22 per cent, a very efficient vote for the Tories in the 418 area region of Quebec City and eastern Quebec, where they hold nine of their 11 Quebec seats.

There could be an arena effect in Quebec City itself from Harper's decision not to participate in the funding of the new Colisée, part of the city's pitch for a return of the NHL as well as its bid for the 2022 Olympics. Certainly the Bloc is hoping to make the most of it.

But Harper scored some leadership points by having the courage to go there himself and make the announcement Ottawa wouldn't be funding any pro sports arenas, and while he was there he sprinkled millions for airport improvements, the kind of business Ottawa should be in.

In the Quebec region, CROP puts the Bloc at 36 per cent, the Conservatives at 33 per cent, the NDP at 22 per cent and the Liberals at 8 per cent.

The Conservatives blew themselves up in Quebec in 2008 with their cultural cuts and kiddie crime package. Or as one member of the Tory war room put it at the time: "How did you like our brilliant plan to lock up 14-yearold artists for life?"

Gilles Duceppe successfully bundled it as the Conservatives being alien to Quebec values.

And the Tories then made things worse for themselves when they sent a mobile billboard around saying Quebecers had wasted hundreds of millions of dollars voting for the Bloc since 1993.

And with that, their majority went south. Standing at 36 per cent in a Léger poll only 25 days before the election, they were fortunate to climb back into the race in the last few days and save the furniture, retaining the 10 seats they won in their 2006 breakthrough.

This time they have an opportunity for modest growth at the expense of the Bloc, if they go about it as they did in the 2009 Rivière du Loup by-election, with a strong local candidate in Bernard Généreux, the mayor of La Pocatière, a positive message urging voters to vote Conservative to get things done, and not least the support of the real Big Red Machine, the provincial Liberals.

Having regained their 2008 level, the question is whether the Tories can grow to the next level, taking a few points from the Bloc.

There's a bit of a fatigue factor with the Bloc, but voters need good reasons to move off them. Being in government, rather than opposition, is the best one of all.

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