On Monday, October 3, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) Party was re-elected in Quebec’s general election, securing Premier Legault a second consecutive majority term. This win marks the first time since 2008 that a political party has won two successive general elections, and the first time that Quebecers have given the same party two consecutive majority mandates since 1998.
The CAQ was elected in 90 seats, 16 more than in the 2018 election, surpassing the 63-seat threshold to form a majority government in Quebec’s National Assembly and giving Premier François Legault the largest majority government in Quebec since 1989.
The Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), led by Dominique Anglade, was elected in 21 seats, retaining the role of Official Opposition for the second consecutive time. Québec Solidaire (QS) leader, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, could not make the gains required to form the Official Opposition, only growing its number of elected seats from 10 in 2018 to 11 in 2022. The Parti Québécois (PQ) was elected in 3 seats, including the closely contested riding of Camille-Laurin, where leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon came out on top. Finally, despite making meaningful gains in the popular vote, the Conservative Party of Quebec (PCQ) was unable to win a single seat in the National Assembly, including party leader Eric Duhaime who lost his race in the Chauveau riding to the incumbent CAQ candidate.
A Tale of Two Quebecs
There was a time when the Liberals and the Parti Québécois were the dominant forces in Quebec politics and winning a majority government in the province without decent representation in Montreal seemed unfathomable. Well, that is no longer the case. Last Monday evening, CAQ made inroads everywhere this past election, except for Montreal. They won 90 total seats in the Quebec election with only two coming from the province’s largest city – that’s two seats out of a possible 27 in Montreal.
Legault, a Montreal native himself, has clearly learned from the 2018 election, where he managed to form a majority government with only two elected members, that he does not need his hometown to govern.
Differences between Montreal and the rest of the province have always been stark. However, the province’s recent political debates have only exacerbated those differences in recent years. A quick look at Quebec’s electoral map, and you’ll see Montreal, an island of red and orange, surrounded by an ocean of the CAQ’s trademark powder blue.
Tensions between Montreal and Quebec’s government were ever-present during Legault’s first term, most notably the strong opposition to Bill 21 and Bill 96, which impacted the lives of linguistic and religious minorities in the metropolis. Legault’s recent election campaign did not seek to build more bridges to the island. Many of the Premier’s comments on immigration led to outrage in Montreal. He argued that it would be “suicidal” for Quebec to welcome more than 50,000 immigrants to the province per year, linked immigration to violent extremism, and his Immigration Minister, Jean Boulet, falsely claimed that 80% of immigrants go to Montreal, don’t work, don’t speak French, and don’t adhere to the values of Quebec.
Legault, the self-appointed great defender of “Quebec values,” has seen his CAQ party alienate an increasing number of Quebecers: immigrants, anglophones and allophones, young people, and urban city dwellers who do not see themselves included in Legault’s Quebec. As a result, Montreal is not only a geographical island; it has now become a political and social island under Legault. This new reality will become a concern to the almost 2 million residents of Montreal, particularly those who are racialized, who will fear not being a priority nor their voices heard in the upcoming parliament. With a region-centric government and a Montreal-centric opposition, dynamics at the National Assembly will continue to be worth a watch for the next four years.
Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game
The election’s results immediately led to renewed calls for electoral reform from many Quebec voters, particularly Montrealers, who were left disenchanted last Monday night. That includes party leaders like Nadeau-Dubois, who stated the election results reflect a broken system. At the same time, Plamondon decried the disproportion between the popular vote and the number of seats as problematic for democracy in Quebec. Duhaime described the results as a distortion.
Let’s crunch the numbers.
The CAQ was re-elected, winning 90 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly with 40.98% of the popular vote. On the other hand, the Quebec Liberals won 21 ridings with 14.37% percent of the vote, which was enough to achieve official Opposition status. Combined, both parties won 111 out of 125 seats, or 89% of the seats with 55% of the popular vote, while the PQ, QS, and PCQ won 43% of the popular but only 11% of the seats at the National Assembly. Both QS (15.43%) and the PQ (14.61%) finished with a higher percentage of the popular vote and collected more votes (+43,270 votes for QS and +9420 votes for the PQ), yet both finished with significantly fewer seats than the Liberals. As for the PCQ, they received 12.92% of the popular votes, with over 530,000 Quebecers voting for their candidates across the province. However, they will have no representation at the National Assembly, having failed to elect a single candidate in the 125 ridings of the province.
In 2018, while in opposition, CAQ Leader François Legault promised to reform the electoral system and establish a mixed electoral system in which 45 of the 125 ridings would be distributed based on proportional representation. However, Legault quickly changed his tune after winning a strong majority that same year. With polls predicting another convincing victory for Legault in 2022, Legault made clear very early in the campaign that he is not open to any electoral reform, claiming that the public was uninterested except for a few intellectuals. Case closed, it seems. With the CAQ and the PLQ holding 111 of the 125 legislature seats in the National Assembly, neither party has an incentive to reform the voting system that has secured them several wins.
In the absence of electoral reform, the PQ and QS will seek to be recognized as parliamentary groups, a status that comes with increased budgets and speaking time at the National Assembly normally given to parties with at least 12 seats, or 20% of the popular vote. As for Legault, his greatest opposition for the next four years is unlikely to come from within the National Assembly but from external actors such as civil society, the media, and Quebec’s more progressive big city Mayors.
Four More Years
It took all but eight minutes after polls closed across the province at 8:00 p.m. ET on October 3 for major news outlets to declare Legault the victor of Quebec’s 43rd election – a result that every political operative, pollster, media commentator and political science student accurately predicted. Moreover, every poll indicated an easy CAQ victory long before the election even began, turning the campaign into a race for second place. However, nobody can say Legault did not do his part to try to make the campaign more interesting. He provided the other parties numerous opportunities to make up ground with his sub-par debate performances and his struggles with transparency around the third link project, and the hiring of the McKinsey consultancy firm during the pandemic. His repeated controversial comments and the clumsy apologies that would follow did not help his support in Montreal – though some could argue that those very comments may be part of the reason his cultural nationalism is a strong feature of his coalition.
Luckily for Legault, all the opposition parties had problems that prevented them from taking advantage of his clumsy campaign. The PLQ fought to repair a badly damaged brand. QS struggled with credibility on the fiscal front, continuously defending their tax proposals (the “orange tax” as labelled by Legault). The PQ was facing an existential and voter efficiency crisis. Lastly, the first-past-the-post electoral system proved enough to suffocate the PCQ and rising populism.
Though the 36-day campaign was a stroll in the park for Legault, what comes next will be more challenging for Quebec’s Premier. Inflation and labour shortages continue to be a big challenge in Canada, and Quebec is no exception. Furthermore, if Legault remains steadfast with his electoral platform and promises, we can not only expect clashes with the federal government, namely on immigration powers and on Bill 96 and Bill 21 but more importantly, by a significant portion of his population who continue to feel alienated by his policies, rhetoric and generally feel excluded from Legault’s vision of Quebec. Though, if the last four years have taught Legault anything, it may be that these very clashes are opportunities, and not obstacles.
Legault’s campaign slogan was “Continuons” (Let’s continue), an appeal to Quebecers to trust him and his CAQ government to build on the successes of the last four years and deliver on the many promises made when it first came into power in 2018 that were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For better or for worse, continuity is what Legault promised; continuity is what Quebec will get. Unfortunately, Montreal and Ottawa will also get continuity, much to their chagrin.