MONTREAL —The Quebec Liberal party appears to be on track for a majority government after one of the dirtiest and most unpredictable election campaigns in recent history.
Eighteen months after being booted from office at the climax of the Maple Spring, the Liberals seem to have staged a comeback, leading in 78 of Quebec’s 125 electoral districts.
Preliminary results from Elections Quebec show the Parti Quebecois ahead in 35 ridings, the Coalition avenir Quebec leading in 10 and Quebec solidaire out front in two.
Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard, running against a PQ incumbent in Roberval, has a comfortable lead with 56 per cent of the vote.
PQ Premier Pauline Marois was in a tight battle in Charlevoix-Cote-de-Beaupre, ahead with 38 per cent of the vote ahead of her closest opponent.
CAQ leader Fran?ois Legault was on top in L’Assomption with 45 per cent of the vote, while Fran?oise David, the co-spokesperson for Quebec solidaire, was leading in Gouin with 38 per cent of the ballots counted so far.
Results show Liberal star candidates in chateaufort ridings have surged far ahead of their opponents.
Meanwhile PQ star recruit Pierre Karl Peladeau is holding a slight edge in Saint-Jerome with 38 per cent of the vote. But television personality Alexis Deschesne, running for the PQ, is trailing his Liberal opponent in Trois-Rivieres.
The 2014 general election began with a PQ minority government in search of a majority. The early result seems to be a stunning rebuke to the PQ and its charter of secular values.
Bread-and-butter issues of health care, taxes and the economy were largely overshadowed by speculation about another referendum, personal attacks, questions of integrity, identity politics and several red herrings.
There were bizarre pronouncements about students from Ontario trying to steal the election, complaints of voter suppression and Janette Bertrand’s fictional accounts of “rich” McGill students monopolizing apartment building pools while campaigning for the PQ. In the waning days, topless women accostedCouillard.
The stakes are high for Marois. She went into the fight armed with the charter of values and a plan to rally voters with identity politics. But her campaign quickly went awry as she was unable to quell questions about plans for a third sovereignty referendum. The recruitment of Quebecor media baron Peladeau as a star candidate was at first greeted as a coup for the PQ’s credibility in the business community. But his coming out as a sovereignist kick-started all the speculation.
Unable to rule out a referendum for fear of alienating hardliners in the PQ ranks but reluctant to commit to a clear plan at risk of scaring the two-thirds of Quebecers who do not want to go through another vote on independence, Marois’ assertion that there will be another referendum only when Quebecers are ready provoked more uncertainty.
Anything less than a PQ majority probably wukk mean the end of the road for Marois’s leadership.
Couillard, the newly minted Liberal leader, got off to a strong start in the campaign and the first debate, by hammering Marois daily over the referendum anxiety. But he suffered many bruises along the way as Marois began to attack the neurosurgeon’s integrity, first by linking him to the corruption allegations surrounding the previous Liberal government, then with a series of low blows regarding his use of a legal offshore account when working in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s.
(By Allison Hanes)