Today is the first day of school (the first day of classes) at Mount Allison and by good luck, I am teaching Regionalism this year. Regionalism is, as I am sure you can imagine, a fairly standard course in Canadian Studies. Regional discontent, alienation, conflict, etc., are common and important themes in Canadian history. The good luck is that the Quebec election is slated for today and so this provides me with a ready made assignment or sorts.
It seems to me that there are a several key questions that need to be asked on the eve of the election:
1. How accurate will be the polling predictions. The Alberta election, of course, raised serious questions about the accuracy of polling. Will Quebec fall in line with the inaccuracy or will it produce the more normal results of good polling being relatively accurate? As I think I've mentioned before, Quebec political polling tends to under-estimate federalist support. I don't really know why this is but it is a pattern. If this pattern holds true, the Liberal Party will do better then the polling numbers are suggesting, even if this "better" is only in terms of popular vote.
The wild card here, of course, is the CAQ. The issue is not simply how well CAQ will do, but how much of the vote it will take from the Liberals. I'll go out on a limb and suggest that the polling so far has been pretty accurate.
2. Will the split electorate lead to a PQ majority government. At this point in time, it seems pretty clear that the PQ will "win" the election but their percentage of popular vote will be in the mid to low 30s. In other words, they will have the largest share in what looks like a three way race. I will also go out on a limb and suggest that a PQ victory will have little to do with sovereignty. They have the hard core sovereignty vote wrapped up in most regions of the province. They are being challenged by Quebec Solidaire and Option nationale in a couple of places but, really, separatists don't have many other options. What is clear, however, is that separatism, as a preferred option for Quebecers, is less popular then it has been in ages. Indeed, the PQ is not polling much beyond its hard core base support. The key question here is how will a PQ victory be interpreted outside of Quebec.
This is an important question because of the news stories that say things like "PQ closing in on majority government." Unless the polls are wrong -- and that is possible -- the PQ is not closing in on anything. It has not really grown its percentage of the popular vote in any significant way since the election was called. So, you can see my interpretation: the PQ is not closing in on anything. It is simply benefitted from the way in which the First Past the Post system works. (There is nothing horrible about this, btw, other parties have clearly benefitted from this over the years, including the CPC at the national level.)
3. Does a vote for CAQ indicate a quest of a third way for Quebecers. I've argued in the past that Quebecers are fed up with the federalist/separatist divide and are looking for a third option. Support for the ADQ two elections ago was evidence to which I pointed. But, the CAQ is also a fairly conservative party (like the ADQ). Does its support indicate a quest of a third way or conservative Quebecers coming out to vote and support a political option that they have not really had since the old Union nationale and Crediste parties went under.
4. Finally ... what percentage of Quebecers will vote? Will the downward trend in voting participation continue?