Austerity kills: Liberals tumble, Quebec Solidaire gain in new poll

Support for Quebec’s Liberal government drops amid public discontent
Photo: Gerry Lauzon

A new CROP poll released by La Presse this morning shows support for Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government in free fall as public opposition to the government’s austerity agenda intensifies.

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Support for the Parti Liberal du Québec has dropped eight points from February, after holding steady in the high thirties since the last election, and now stands at 29 per cent. A technically leaderless Parti Québécois are spinning their wheels at 27 per cent as they await the coronation of media mogul Pierre-Karl Peladeau, followed by the Coalition Avenir Québec, who recently suggested a three year trial period for new immigrants, at 26 per cent (up four points).

Support for Quebec Solidaire, the small sovereigntist party with a clear anti-austerity message, went up five points since February, leaving them at 16 per cent. As La Presse notes, this is the most support a poll has found for QS since the last election, in April 2014, and likely since the creation of the party.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that with PQ support almost unchanged, the five point increase in support for QS appears to represent voters stolen from the Liberals. Conventional wisdom suggests that the PQ and QS broadly share one universe of supporters, the Liberals and CAQ another, with some middle ground. For a significant number of supporters of the federalist, right-wing Liberals to swing to the sovereigntist, left-wing QS would require a trigger.

That trigger is austerity. Long-discussed but little understood until recently, the details, and consequences, of Liberal cuts have begun to come into more focus for the population over the past months, partially thanks to a significant mobilization of civil society to oppose them.

Last night I was at a suburban mall outside Montreal and stopped at an ice cream counter. Tucked beside the cash by the twenty-something clerk was a round button that read “stop austerity” in French. When Quebec turns on something, we turn fast, and if the trends in this poll continue (no sure thing) then Quebec may well be turning on austerity.

In Quebec the support of non-francophones is far less fluid than that of the majority, in this poll for example, 74 per cent of anglophones support the PLQ, and as a result political observers are often more interested in support among francophones than the population at large. Here it goes from bad to worse for Couillard.

Among francophones the PQ leads with 32 per cent support, followed closely by the CAQ, with 30 per cent. The Liberals find themselves in a distant third place at 18 per cent, only a few points better than Québec Solidaire.

Confusingly enough, satisfaction with the government remained steady at 37 per cent, but the Premier’s personal approval rating sunk to a new low of 20 per cent.

Now of course we have a majority government, and we’re four years away from an election, so in a sense poll numbers don’t mean a whole lot. But if these trends continue, pointed out pollster Youri Rivest in La Presse, it gets dangerous for this government.

It’s also hard to predict exactly how these numbers will move when Peladeau is confirmed as leader of the PQ, but move they will. One thing is certain, if this poll is to be believed then the opposition to austerity is succeeding in convincing the population, and the prime beneficiary of that discontent with the government appears to be QS.

As a strike-breaking media baron takes the reins of the traditionally social-democratic PQ, progressives eager to fight the government on austerity seem to be rallying to QS instead. Maybe that will change once the PQ has a leader, but it’s hard to imagine PKP leading the charge against austerity.

Meanwhile the electoral success of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, newly-created vehicles for popular anger over austerity, ought to give pause to those inclined to scoff at the impact of a minor party with a clear anti-austerity message.

This poll found flesh, and the government is bleeding. For the first time since their election, these Liberals are hitting some turbulence. If these trends continue, it will be interesting to see if the government changes course on their austerity agenda.

UPDATE: Prediction site Too Close To Call calculates that an election based on this poll result would give the PLQ 47 seats, the PQ 41, the CAQ 32 and QS 5. The current PLQ majority government holds 69 seats, the opposition PQ 30, the CAQ 22 and QS 3.
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