Will Québec solidaire break through in next Tuesday’s election?

When Québec’s major party leaders gathered a few days ago for the only multi-party debate in advance of the election for Québec’s Assemblée nationale on Sept. 4, voters saw three familiar faces: Jean Charest, leader of the Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) and the province’s premier since 2003; Pauline Marois, leader of the sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ), and François Legault, a former PQ minister and leader of the newly-formed and more center-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ).

They also saw a less familiar face: Québec solidaire spokeswoman Françoise David who, along with spokesman Amir Khadir, are the two “spokespersons” for Québec solidaire, a stridently leftist, environmentalist, feminist and sovereigntist party founded in 2006 when several smaller parties merged.

David wasn’t a wholly outsized presence in that debate, but to the extent it was David’s first introduction to many Québec voters, her above-the-fray tone seemed to make a favorable impression.

David and Québec solidaire are, by far, the most leftwing and anti-neoliberal of the four parties (and party leaders) featured in last week’s debates:

  • On student fees, not only does David oppose tuition increases for students, but was the only party leader to wear a red square — the symbol of student protesters — on stage (even though Marois wore it in solidarity with students last spring and has come out strongly in opposition to tuition hikes).
  • On the environment, David has criticized Charest’s Plan Nord, designed to boost mining and other economic efforts in northern Québec, and her party is downright hostile to Québec’s asbestos industry (Québec is essentially the only main producer of asbestos in North America and Europe).
  • On sovereignty, Québec solidaire is firmly in favor of an independent Québec, in contrast to theMONDAY’S PIECE> nuanced “wait and see” approach that Marois has taken.

Khadir, who was born in Tehran and emigrated to Canada at age 10, became the first Québec solidaire politician to be elected to Québec’s parliament in 2008 when he won the Mercier electoral district in Montréal.

For her part, David is running in the Gouin electoral district (also in Montréal) for the third consecutive time — she lost the race in 2008 by nine points to the PQ’s Nicolas Girard, but is thought to have a decent chance of winning this time around.  Although the party won just 3.78% of the vote in 2008, it looks set to perhaps double that total this time around: last weekend’s Leger Marketing poll shows that the party currently has 7% support, and furthermore is the second choice of 18% of voters (second only to the CAQ, which is the second choice of 20% of voters).

With polls showing a volatile race — a narrow PQ lead here, a narrow PLQ lead there and a surging CAQ — much of Québec solidaire‘s support comes from voters who would have likely voted for the PQ.

In a tight race, those voters might split what otherwise be a unified leftist and/or sovereigntist vote for the PQ.  While any PQ government would be much more likely to win the votes of Khadir or David than any Charest government or any CAQ government, the real fear for the PQ is that Québec solidaire (and Option nationale, another stridently sovereigntist PQ spinoff party, which polls around 2%) could siphon off enough votes from PQ candidates in individual election districts in order to allow either the PQ or the PLQ to win the seat — all the more a concern given the three-way nature of the race and the ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system where only a bare plurality is necessary for a candidate to win in each of Québec’s 125 electoral districts.

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