An on-line poll conducted by La presse March 18 asked visitors to the website of the largest Francophone newspaper in Canada how they identified themselves politically: left, right, centre, do not know, or do not care.

The results give some indication of why Liberal Party leader Jean Charest is having problems in the current Quebec election campaign. Only 24 per cent of the over 11,000 respondents said they were on the right, compared to 32 per cent for the left, and 34 per cent for the centre (with the other nine per cent responding do not know, or do not care).

A website poll is not a random sample of voter opinion, so no one can say scientifically that, by aligning himself on the right, Charest has given up on two-thirds of the electorate. But, for poll respondents at a centre right newspaper website, the right is a losing place to be. This is consistent with scientific data on Quebec public opinion, which has shown considerable support for social democratic policies over the years.

Of all current political leaders from Quebec, only Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois, has consistently flown left-wing colours. In announcing Monday his willingness to vote yes on the Harper budget, he indicated that André Boisclair, leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ), would know what to with the increase in federal transfer payments when he was elected premier March 26. A new PQ government would spend the federal money to promote sovereignty, he jibed.

In the tight three-way race, now in its last days, the election outcome could well destroy the career of either Jean Charest or André Boisclair should the other win a majority. In the event Boisclair loses, Duceppe would be the frontrunner in the eventual race to succeed him.

But the odds are that Boisclair is not going to lose badly. Some polls show the PQ poised to win the most seats.

The federal budget was supposed to put Charest over the top, push him ahead of his adversaries, but it is not working out that way.

Mario Dumont, leader of the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), has jumped all over Charest, saying he is like a snail that has crawled in another snail’s shell, or a man trying to wear another man’s coat. Since the premier cannot defend his own record in office, he is trying to be elected on Stephen Harper’s record, according to Dumont, a Harper ally in Quebec.

Gilles Duceppe is readying himself for the federal election to come. It was not Charest who made the case for more money from Ottawa he is telling interviewers. Credit for raising the fiscal imbalance issue goes to former PQ premier Bernard Landry, Duceppe points out. It was the PQ that appointed the Seguin Commission to study the question, and it was the PQ, and the Bloc that toured Quebec explaining how the federal government was short-changing the province. The sovereignists deliver for Quebec, nobody else, says Duceppe, trotting out the line he will be using once the federal writ is dropped.

Moreover, according to the Bloc, Charest is wrong to suggest the fiscal imbalance has been dealt with at all. For Duceppe, Harper has not settled the issue of limits on the federal spending power, nor has a formula been agreed upon for how to increase future transfer payments so as to make Quebec more autonomous. So, for the Bloc leader, Jean Charest is wrong to equate what is only additional federal money, with a settlement of the fiscal imbalance.

Monday looks like a stalemate Quebec election. If a minority Parliament ensues, Jean Charest is still going to be premier, until he either resigns, or is defeated in the House. Given a minority, his best bet will be to enter into a coalition with Mario Dumont, if he wants to hold on to power.

If Boisclair, and the PQ win, they can thank the social democratic vote. Otherwise, the PQ will be looking closely at the performance of Boisclair as leader.

Duncan Cameron

Duncan Cameron

Born in Victoria B.C. in 1944, Duncan now lives in Vancouver. Following graduation from the University of Alberta he joined the Department of Finance (Ottawa) in 1966 and was financial advisor to the...