The Quebec Government, which wasn't required to hold an election for over another year, gave up the ghost on August 1st, 2012, dissolving Parliament and announcing that elections were to be held on September 4, 2012. Why?
Many people credit the Liberal (read Conservative) Party's decision to hold 'snap elections' on the massive protests that took place starting in February and which continued for months in Montreal and other cities. Quebec Premier Charest made clear that the protests were to be an issue front-and-center to the election:
"The social unrest of recent months hurt many Quebecers. The street made a lot of noise. Now it's Quebecers' turn to speak up," Charest told a press conference in Quebec City.
"The September 4 election will be unlike any others.... We must decide what kind of society we wish to live in."
The main opposition party leader, Pauline Marois of the Parti Quebecois, also made the student protesters' issues an important part of its platform:
On the first full day of the Quebec election campaign Marois promised to drop the tuition hikes, cancel the emergency protest law bill 78 and call for a summit on university funding within 100 days of being elected on September 4.
Certainly there were other considerations
Observers note that the election timing allows the Liberals to avoid possible damaging revelations when a commission of inquiry on alleged corruption in the construction industry resumes hearings mid-September.but as CBC wrote
The election call comes on the heels of the province's raucous student crisis over tuition increases -- an issue that gripped the province over the winter and spring.Led by CLASSE, the student union, sparked by proposed tuition hikes, the protests increasing intensity eventually led to what some estimate as more than a quarter million people out in the streets protesting austerity (and a new law, Bill 78, designed to stop protests (!)).
In what has been called "The largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian History," between 400,000 and 500,000 people marched in downtown Montreal on May 25...Now think about the fact that these were protests you never heard about if you just followed the main stream media in the United States.
What of the election itself?
Three major parties are contesting it: The Quebec Liberal Party (relatively conservative and federalist), the Parti Quebecois (left-wing and separatist), and the Coalition Avenir Quebec (more middle of the road, centre-right economically, left of centre socially).
Averaging polls taken over the last two weeks shows the Parti Quebecois will a small lead over the Liberals:
Averaging only the three most recent polls gives a similar result:
There are 125 seats in the National Assembly of Quebec. Currently the Liberals hold 64 seats, one more than a bare majority.
It seems that the Parti Quebecois is headed for a squeak of a victory, though at this point, with almost a week to go before the election, anything could happen.
If PQ does win, it could very well be with a plurality of seats, not a majority. Oddly, in all the election coverage I'm perused, I've seen no discussion of what kind of coalition might be formed by PQ, or with whom, or what happens if they cannot form a working majority. Wikipedia notes that
Normally, the leader of the political party with the largest number of elected candidates is asked by the Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec to form the government as premierHowever, with the PQ favoring a separatist platform (independence from Canada), albeit being wishy-washy on whether there would be a referendum on the matter, and the QLP and CAQ in favor of staying as part of Canada and against holding a referendum, a coalition with the PQ may not be possible. Perhaps Kossacks who live in Quebec can shed more light on this.
Massive protests in Mexico recently in the lead up to and in the aftermath of a Presidential election did not succeed in preventing a conservative Government from taking power again. Will a different story be written in Quebec is less than a week?
Protests in the United States around austerity and economic injustice (aka Occupy) have been on a much smaller scale than in either Mexico or Quebec. Even the largest protests managed to get a few tens of thousands into the streets, not hundreds of thousands. Quebecois have guaranteed health care, relatively low tuition, and in general a better social safety net than in the US. Yet they are far more willing to protest less inequality than we are to protest far worse. It is an odd thing to say, but imagine an entire United States worth of angry Quebecois, instead of a population that meekly accedes to every demand the one percent, who are continue to sop up more and more of our economic wealth, make.