Its election day in Quebec; polls close at 800PM, which will bring an end to one of the most interesting campagns in Canada in awhile.
As a quick note, I lived in Montreal for a few months doing research. I do follow politics up there but most of what I know is on the federal side.
That said, in Rex Murphy's words, understanding Quebec politics is tougher than "Chinese algebra". Even the pundits up there (maybe with the exceptions of Paul Wells and Chantal Hebert) seem to get things wrong quite often. This has been especially true this go round, as the emergence of the ADQ has completely thrown the traditional PQ/PLQ dynamic out the window. This dynamic will almost certainly lead to Quebec's first minority government since the 1870s.
Its difficult to predict, but I shall try.
For those of you not familiar with the three main parties, I'll give a quick rundown.
Parti Quebecois (PQ): The PQ is the main separatist/soverignist party in Quebec. Ideologically, it is the most left wing of the three parties. It is headed by Andre Boisclair, who was in large part because it was felt that his youthfulness would be a shot in the arm that would help the party shake its image of dinosaurs like Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry. Instead, his background and leadership have been a disaster for the PQ. The fact that he is openly gay has hurt the PQ in the rural areas of Quebec (especially in the Quebec City area). In addition, he was ridiculed for labeling the referendum process as a "popular consultation", which is akin to putting lipstick on a pig. If the PQ wins a minority government tonight, it is by accident and good fortune as well as the ADQ eating away at PLQ ridings outside of Montreal.
Parti Liberal du Quebec/Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ): The PLQ is the main federalist party within Quebec. They are strongest within the anglophone and allophone areas of Quebec (mostly on the West Island of Montreal and the Gatineau/Pontiac/Hull-Aylmer area near Ottawa); they also pull a decent level of support from francophones. Ideologically they are to the right of the PQ and to the left of the ADQ. They are lead by Jean Charest, who is the current Premier of the province. Charest has spent most of his tenure as one of the most unpopular leaders in the history of Quebec. This is due to the fact that he has been unable to keep his campaign promises regarding tax cuts and health care waiting times. In addition, he has had acrimonious relations with Quebec's powerful labor unions. That said, Charest has managed to bounce back in the polls by teaming up with Conservative PM Stephen Harper to gain Quebec recognition as a "seperate nation within Canada". A week ago, Harper announced a budget which was laden with an additional $700 million of transfer payments to solve what is referred to as the fiscal imbalance (the difference between what Ottawa takes in and what the provinces say they need for their social programs). Charest wasted no time announcing that he would use the money to keep his promises on tax cuts. There is some polling out there that seems to show that the budget has pulled a marginal number of ADQ voters back into the PQ fold. If Charest wins tonight, he can thank Stephen Harper and the horrible performance of Andre Boisclair for making it all possible.
Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ): The ADQ is the upstart and wild card in tonight's election. Their leader is Mario Dumont, a former member of the PLQ. They are by far the most right wing party running in this election and have deep ties to the Federal Conservatives, especially in and around Quebec City. They have taken what they call an "autonomist" stance on the issue of Quebec separatism; that is that they do not feel that another referendum would be a good idea-but at the same time they feel that Ottawa should stay out of Quebec's business. They have campaigned largely on a program of tax cuts and have taken a hard line position on immigration. Their main base of support, as mentioned, is in and around Quebec city. They're absolutely dead meat in metro Montreal, although there are some that think they could win a few ridings on the South Shore. They can probably not form a government, but they should win around 20 ridings (+/- 5 seats).
The latest polling by Leger (the best QC pollster) shows the following":
1. Keep in mind that the PLQ could win the popular vote but still lose in the number of seats. This phenomenon is largely because they win the West Island of Montreal by staggering numbers, which skews everything else out of whack. Conventional wisdom is that the PLQ has to win by at least 4 or 5 points to get some sort of minority government.
2. I'm wondering if the ADQ's support levels were actually a temporary parking lot for soft federalists who don't care for Charest and soft nationalists who think Boisclair is out to lunch and would be a disaster as Premier. A chunk of those will respectively vote for Charest and Boisclair while holding their noses. My guess is that the ADQ support will decline into the low 20s by election day, netting them somewhere between 15 and 22 seats, mostly in and around Quebec City. Everyone knows that Dumont's team isn't strong enough to actually form government-it would be a replay of the Ontario under the NDP government of Bob Rae all over again.
3. There are a helluva lot of undecideds and the general rule of thumb is that these voters will break towards the PLQ, although nothing is for sure. If the Liberals eke out a victory it is because of this ballot box bonus.
4. Lastly, I don't think anyone is going to know until election night how the serious three way dynamic is going to play. That is the gigantic question of tonight. There's a sneaking suspicion on my part that the ADQ is pulling more support from the PQ than the PLQ because Boisclair is so bad. I'm wondering if this dynamic allows the PLQ to come up the middle in some ridings, but its just a wild guess on my part.
My prediction: The late momentum created by the Harper budget gives just enough of a boost for Charest to survive, barely.
PLQ 38% (58 seats/MNAs)
PQ 32% (47 seats/MNAs)
ADQ 25% (20 seats/MNAs)
UPDATE: Courtsey of heritage watch's excellent diary (I highly suggest you read it), here is a list of the key swing ridings tonight.
Voting ends today at 8PM. Many ridings in the center of the province are three way affairs: the relative performance of QS and the Greens could be decisive, as pertains notably to the PQ vote. Here are some ridings to watch all over the province, from east to west:
* Kamouraska-Témiscouata: The ADQ is strong in the area near Rivière-du-Loup (Dumont's turf) and the Chaudière-Appalaches; they were second here last time; the fact that the (controversial) Environment Minister is here may either hurt or help him.
* Dubuc: This was almost PLQ riding number 77 last time. The PQ is not as strong in the Saguenay as usual, but the relative ADQ strength at the PLQ's expense could be enough.
* Chicoutimi: Former federal MP André Harvey is running here and giving the PQ incumbent a run for his money, according to polls.
* Jonquière: The incumbent has done a lot, but what a terrible minister. However, the PQ candidate has had serious knocks for his homsexuality. Then again, it gave him publicity...
* Roberval: The PLQ should never have won this, but they are favoured to keep it.
* Louis-Hébert (Quebec City): The three-way race of the area. The PQ and PLQ have some base. However, it's entirely located within the federal riding of the same name, which is Conservative, and it doesn't include posh and Liberal Sillery. And the incumbent was a weak minister.
* Frontenac: If the PLQ holds here, they will have had a good night - the incumbent mnister is popular but the region is the strongest ADQ area, possibly hitting an absolute majority.
* Mégantic-Compton: ADQ strength in the northeatern corner (next to Beauce) makes an upset quite possible in this seat where the incumbent was expelled from the Liberals for a criminal offence.
* Nicolet-Yamaska: Open PQ seat near Mauricie and the Chaudière-Appalaches. But the ADQ candidate is a convicted criminal.
* Shefford: This contrarian seat both provincially and federally has a three-way race here. The PLQ incumbent probably has an advantage while the ADQ has had strong results in the past.
* Saint-Jean: The classic barometer has a tiny ADQ lead in a recent poll; its tossup status reflects the provincial situation, with a PLQ disadvantage. A good chance exists this status will be lost.
* Mauricie: 4 of its 5 seats are two or three way tossups, with the ADQ making headway. Saint-Maurice is not the ADQ lock one may have thought considering the 2003 results.
* Chambly: Similar to Saint-Jean, but open and with the PQ at a disadvantage this time.
* Marguerite-d'Youville: This seat should have been a sure-fire PQ pickup but the lingering aftertaste of municipal mergers gives the ADQ a shocking chance.
* La Prairie: See above, but with the PLQ more likely to hold, over freeway construction.
* Beauharnois: Likely a PQ hold but the former Mulroney MP running for the PLQ makes this one unpredictable.
* Huntingdon: An ADQ gain in this riding bordering New York State means the PLQ may have hit third place - in any case, Charest will be done by then.
* Mercier: This is one of at most four ridings where QS can hope to win (all in Montreal) from the PQ. This is their best chance. Other parties are not a threat.
* Laurier-Dorion: If the PLQ gains one seat, this will almost certainly be it, as it was lost narrowly in a by-election when the PLQ were at their nadir. The PQ's only hope is Quebec Solidaire, who apparently is peeling away PLQ votes due to the candiate's prior flirtation with the ADQ.
* Laval: No change is likely here; a tight Liberal loss will end its barometer status, which may be threatened long-term as it becomes more allophone (and PLQ).
* Groulx: Usually a bellweather, ADQ strength - due to the candidate, for once - may let them snatch this one on the North Shore - the only one in the area.
* Abitibi-Est: This bellweather has an unpopular Natural Resources minister, and combined with the forestry crisis the riding depends on...
* Ungava: PQ should hold but the size of the riding, the lack of incumbent, and the strong "NO" vote of Natives in 1995 (who can vote for the PQ) make it worth keeping an eye here.