Québec Solidaire has the Parti Québécois on the ropes

Québec Solidaire has the Parti Québécois on the ropes
Quebec election: Lisée urges anglos to get on the PQ train for 4 years
Three years ago, millennial voters helped Justin Trudeau’s Liberals vault from a distant third place in the House of Commons to a majority government. Next Monday in Quebec, that same cohort could deal a lethal blow to the once mighty Parti Québécois.

PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée spent the past month trying to restore his party’s status as a contender for power. If all had gone according to his original plan, his party would by now have overtaken the Coalition Avenir Québec and emerged as the most likely to beat premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberals.

Lisée also tried to drum up support by urging those linguistic communities to “try” the PQ because of its “green and progressive” platform, adding they could always “get off” the PQ train four years later. But he added he would, in the first four years, try and convince them of the benefits of sovereignty.

Instead the last stretch of the campaign finds the PQ in a battle for survival against Québec Solidaire — a party that only held three seats in the last National Assembly.

After raising questions about the internal governance of the left-wing party over previous days, the PQ leader brought up the spectre of communism on Monday. According to Lisée, there are communists in Québec solidaire, and the party wants to nationalize private companies, which corresponds to this ideology, he suggested.

With less than a week to go until election day, the left-wing party has overtaken its sovereigntist big brother on the Island of Montreal. Come next Monday, the PQ could be wiped off the map of Quebec’s metropolis. Lisée’s Rosemont seat could be among the casualties. And support for QS is on the rise province-wide.

While dismissing the idea of rejecting the PQ’s “deep” commitment to Quebec sovereignty, Lisée buttressed the invitation to anglophones and allophones to support his party because the pledge not to hold a referendum in the first four years was “concrete.”

The immediate cause of the negative turn in the tide of the PQ’s electoral fortunes hails back to last Thursday’s leaders debate.

Saying there would be no referendum on Quebec independence in a first term, Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée on Monday urged Quebec’s non-francophones to vote for his party, adding they could always switch their allegiance after four years.

Opinion | Chantal Hébert: With sovereignty off the table, Quebec’s Liberals and PQ struggle to fill the void

The CAQ candidate is Nadine Girault, a manager. Former Ste-Adèle city councillor Diane De Passillé is running for the Liberals, while criminologist Mylène Jaccoud is the candidate for Québec Solidaire.

Opinion | Chantal Hébert: Will Quebec be the next province to use the ‘notwithstanding’ clause?

By most independent accounts, including mine, CAQ Leader François Legault and QS co-leader Manon Massé had the better evening. By all indications, Legault’s performance has allowed his party to move past the controversy over its (still) half-baked immigration policy and go back on the offensive against the Liberals.

The Quebec Communist Party hasn’t presented candidates for election since 2008. But in a statement published online in August, leader André Parizeau said its members should vote for the PQ over Québec solidaire.

With a large segment of the electorate hungering for change, Legault gets to spend his last week on the hustings hammering the message that he is best placed to beat Couillard.

Meanwhile, Lisée promised a PQ government would put more government resources toward the protection of children, including naming an official specifically tasked to deal with children’s issues.

Lisée’s debate loss was self-inflicted. The PQ leader opened the exchanges with a Byzantine attack on Québec Solidaire, casting it as a party controlled by a Politburo-style group of backroom ideologues.

Lisée’s attacks on Québec solidaire, which polls show is closing the gap on the PQ for third place and threatens Lisée’s own riding of Rosemont, continued on Monday.

Buoyed by favourable reviews of his performance on two previous occasions, Lisée may have believed that by turning his guns squarely on his less-experienced rival, he would neutralize her for the rest of the debate and leave the podium confident that he no longer had to worry about guarding his left flank.

PQ MNA Claude Cousineau, who held the riding for 20 years, has left politics. Running in his place is former provincial police officer Gilbert Lafrenière.

But Massé held her ground and, in the postdebate debriefings, Lisée’s tack was almost universally panned. As far as I can remember, no PQ leader has ever earned reviews quite as scathing for a debate appearance as Lisée did last week.

He said a “ministry of youth” would be created that would integrate the issues of primary and secondary education as well as youth protection.

The only public opinion sounding published postdebate — a Mainstreet Research poll done for Capitales Media — has Québec Solidaire ahead of the PQ among francophone voters. That may not translate into scores of QS seats on election night but it does cut the legs from under the péquiste narrative that their party is a contender for government.

Polls suggest the race will be tight between the PQ and the CAQ in the riding, which straddles the Lanaudière region and the Laurentians.

Lisée has since doubled down on his debate rhetoric. On Monday, he described Québec Solidaire as an anti-capitalist party and its program as one rooted in Marxism. To achieve sovereignty under such a party, he warned, would be dangerous for Quebec.

Jean-François Lisée calls his pledge not to hold a referendum in the first four years "concrete." Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS

What may have started off as a too-smart-by-half debate strategy increasingly sounds like a full-scale panic attack.

The Parti Québécois is “green and progressive” and absolutely wont have a referendum in its first term, the leader promises.

Over the course of the campaign, the rise in Québec Solidaire fortunes has been fuelled by a steady influx of millennial support. They are in no small part drawn to that party’s aggressive climate change agenda, as well as to its inclusive policies.

But the PQ’s difficulties with the younger voting cohort go back further than last week’s debate, the current campaign or even Lisée’s leadership tenure. The party lost its footing among millennial voters over its secularism charter and has never managed to recoup it.

For in Quebec as elsewhere in Canada, millennial voters are more likely to identify with Justin Trudeau’s view that diversity is a virtue than the older cohort. For the most part, younger voters have no time for parties that flirt with identity politics. And they reserve the passion Quebec’s baby-boomers once expended on sovereignty for matters pertaining to the environment.

For the first time since they came of age, baby-boomers do not outnumber the younger cohorts of the Quebec electorate. If millennials show up in droves to vote next Monday, the PQ could be in for a rout of historic proportions. Based on their past turnout, that may be a big if. But a party — be it federal or provincial — that bets on millennial voters staying home on election day is one that is living dangerously.

Chantal Hébert is a columnist based in Ottawa covering politics. Follow her on Twitter: @ChantalHbert

Three years ago, millennial voters helped Justin Trudeau’s Liberals vault from a distant third place in the House of Commons to a majority government. Next Monday in Quebec, that same cohort could deal a lethal blow to the once mighty Parti Québécois.

PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée spent the past month trying to restore his party’s status as a contender for power. If all had gone according to his original plan, his party would by now have overtaken the Coalition Avenir Québec and emerged as the most likely to beat premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberals.

Instead the last stretch of the campaign finds the PQ in a battle for survival against Québec Solidaire — a party that only held three seats in the last National Assembly.

With less than a week to go until election day, the left-wing party has overtaken its sovereigntist big brother on the Island of Montreal. Come next Monday, the PQ could be wiped off the map of Quebec’s metropolis. Lisée’s Rosemont seat could be among the casualties. And support for QS is on the rise province-wide.

The immediate cause of the negative turn in the tide of the PQ’s electoral fortunes hails back to last Thursday’s leaders debate.

Opinion | Chantal Hébert: With sovereignty off the table, Quebec’s Liberals and PQ struggle to fill the void

Opinion | Chantal Hébert: Will Quebec be the next province to use the ‘notwithstanding’ clause?

By most independent accounts, including mine, CAQ Leader François Legault and QS co-leader Manon Massé had the better evening. By all indications, Legault’s performance has allowed his party to move past the controversy over its (still) half-baked immigration policy and go back on the offensive against the Liberals.

With a large segment of the electorate hungering for change, Legault gets to spend his last week on the hustings hammering the message that he is best placed to beat Couillard.

Lisée’s debate loss was self-inflicted. The PQ leader opened the exchanges with a Byzantine attack on Québec Solidaire, casting it as a party controlled by a Politburo-style group of backroom ideologues.

Buoyed by favourable reviews of his performance on two previous occasions, Lisée may have believed that by turning his guns squarely on his less-experienced rival, he would neutralize her for the rest of the debate and leave the podium confident that he no longer had to worry about guarding his left flank.

But Massé held her ground and, in the postdebate debriefings, Lisée’s tack was almost universally panned. As far as I can remember, no PQ leader has ever earned reviews quite as scathing for a debate appearance as Lisée did last week.

The only public opinion sounding published postdebate — a Mainstreet Research poll done for Capitales Media — has Québec Solidaire ahead of the PQ among francophone voters. That may not translate into scores of QS seats on election night but it does cut the legs from under the péquiste narrative that their party is a contender for government.

Lisée has since doubled down on his debate rhetoric. On Monday, he described Québec Solidaire as an anti-capitalist party and its program as one rooted in Marxism. To achieve sovereignty under such a party, he warned, would be dangerous for Quebec.

What may have started off as a too-smart-by-half debate strategy increasingly sounds like a full-scale panic attack.

Over the course of the campaign, the rise in Québec Solidaire fortunes has been fuelled by a steady influx of millennial support. They are in no small part drawn to that party’s aggressive climate change agenda, as well as to its inclusive policies.

But the PQ’s difficulties with the younger voting cohort go back further than last week’s debate, the current campaign or even Lisée’s leadership tenure. The party lost its footing among millennial voters over its secularism charter and has never managed to recoup it.

For in Quebec as elsewhere in Canada, millennial voters are more likely to identify with Justin Trudeau’s view that diversity is a virtue than the older cohort. For the most part, younger voters have no time for parties that flirt with identity politics. And they reserve the passion Quebec’s baby-boomers once expended on sovereignty for matters pertaining to the environment.

For the first time since they came of age, baby-boomers do not outnumber the younger cohorts of the Quebec electorate. If millennials show up in droves to vote next Monday, the PQ could be in for a rout of historic proportions. Based on their past turnout, that may be a big if. But a party — be it federal or provincial — that bets on millennial voters staying home on election day is one that is living dangerously.

Chantal Hébert is a columnist based in Ottawa covering politics. Follow her on Twitter: @ChantalHbert