It’s been quite a week in Quebec politics. Last Thursday, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois announced his candidacy for co-spokesperson of Québec solidaire and for the party’s nomination in the riding of Gouin. Last Sunday he appeared on Quebec’s most popular talk show, Tout le monde en parle, and in the week following his announcement more than 5,000 people joined the party, increasing its membership by 50 per cent.
This morning, a new poll conducted by Léger for Montreal daily Le Devoir, the first since Nadeau-Dubois’ announcement, shows big gains for QS, largely at the expense of the Parti Québécois.
The small progressive party has increased its support by 55 per cent since Léger’s last poll in January, jumping from 9 per cent to 14. The PQ dropped four points in the same period, from 29 to 25 per cent.
Quebec’s governing Liberals continue to lead the field at 34 per cent (+2), while the right-wing CAQ remains in third place with 23 per cent of the vote (+1). The survey of more than 1000 eligible Quebec voters was conducted from March 13 to 16.
Since announcing his candidacy, Nadeau-Dubois has faced scorching attacks from right-wing media and politicians, who decry his politics as radical and dangerous. His brand of charismatic leadership also infuriates parts of the far left, where he is condemned for his resignation from the student movement as the 2012 strike was ongoing, and for his eagerness to enter politics. Nevertheless, the 26 year-old author and activist appears to be connecting with Quebecers.
For the first time, Québec solidaire is above 10 per cent support in every region of Quebec. The party has also closed to within six points of the PQ in Montreal.
The political class that has betrayed Quebec
Perhaps the most shocking result in the poll is that 50 per cent of Quebecers agree with the statement [translation]: “We must remove the political class that has governed us for the past thirty years, because they have betrayed Quebec.”
These were the words Nadeau-Dubois used in his campaign announcement to decry the political class, both PQ and Liberal, who have dominated Quebec’s politics for decades. He argued that no matter what either party promises, we always get the same policies, which have been bad for Quebec.
This statement became the focus of heavy criticism, especially from the PQ, which sent out its own young stars to respond. Several cabinet ministers from past PQ governments took it as an insult to their legacy, and the PQ demanded that he adjust his tone in future statements.
Premier Couillard also waded in, lecturing Nadeau-Dubois on the importance of respecting others in a democratic debate. While only a quarter of Liberal supporters agreed with the statement, 56 per cent of PQ supporters considered it accurate, indicating a certain disconnect between that party’s leaders and its grassroots base.
Dissatisfaction with government, desire for change hit new high
Dissatisfaction with the Couillard government increased by three points, reaching a new high of 65 per cent. Seventy-one per cent of francophones described themselves as very or mostly dissatisfied, while only three per cent said they were “very satisfied” with the Liberal government’s performance.
Frustration with the government may in fact be even higher. A series of recent scandals, and mounting anger over cuts to public services, culminated this week in outrage after 300 cars were left stranded overnight on a snowed-in highway, but almost all of the interviews for this poll were conducted before that latest scandal unfolded.
Sixty-three per cent of Quebecers polled hope to see a change of government in the next election, while only 20 per cent hope to see the government re-elected (despite the Liberals polling at 34 per cent).
Tweeting in French about the results, pollster Jean-Marc Léger described the desire for change as “the most important number,” explaining that it was now as high as it had been in 2012 (when the Liberals were swept from power by the PQ). Because no opposition party has yet to stand out in capturing this discontent, and over half the province is open to changing its mind, Léger described Quebecers as “political orphans.”
56% des électeurs disent qu'ils peuvent changer d'idée. C'est du jamais vu ou mesuré. Les Québécois sont des orphelins politiques!— Jean-Marc Leger (@JeanMarcLeger1) March 18, 2017
Unsurprisingly, the governing Liberals are seen as the party embodying change by only two per cent of the electorate. The other three parties (PQ, CAQ and QS) are each seen as the embodiment of change by around a quarter of the population, suggesting an increasingly divided opposition heading into next year’s election.
The poll found Nadeau-Dubois remains a polarizing figure, with 23 per cent of Quebecers holding a good opinion of him, 33 per cent a bad opinion, and the rest not yet sure.
Little support for sovereignty
The bad news for all parties that support sovereignty is that if a referendum were held tomorrow, 64 per cent of Quebecers would vote no, including 56 per cent of francophones. Worse still for Nadeau-Dubois, two thirds of 18-24 year-olds oppose independence, as do 62 per cent of 25-34 year-olds, indicating a potential sticking point in recruiting youth to his political project.
This unfavourable climate for sovereigntist parties puts more pressure on the PQ to seek agreement from QS on a strategy of convergence, in which they would both agree to support a single party’s nominee in close races with Liberals.
Talks are ongoing between the parties towards such an agreement and the PQ has declined to run a candidate against Nadeau-Dubois in the upcoming by-election in Gouin. They describe it as a gesture of good faith towards QS, but the decision may have been more about saving face, as internal polls were rumoured to show that none of their potential candidates would be competitive.
Seventy-three per cent of PQ supporters favoured an electoral alliance in today’s poll, compared to only 43 per cent of QS supporters, indicating that QS faithful may be more interested in replacing the PQ than in partnering with it.
In a recent English interview with Breakfast Television Montreal, Nadeau-Dubois described his vision of independence as progressive and inclusive, contrasting it with what he described as the PQ’s focus on identity.
During his announcement, Nadeau-Dubois specifically reached out to the Muslim community, promising to move on from divisive debates over religious symbols. He also repeated the core of his remarks in English. Both of these gestures are rarely seen from political candidates in this province.
You can read the full survey report from Léger, linked in the Le Devoir story here.