The domination of the center | The press

For a taste of the upcoming election in Quebec, check out the Ontario one.

Posted at 06:00

The debate is very concrete. Citizens mainly want to know what the parties are going to do to deal with inflation.

Conservative leader Doug Ford boasts of being pragmatic and is getting closer to the center. Enough to fend off his rivals and head for re-election.

His strategy is the opposite of that of Pierre Poilievre, the presumed leader of the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race. Of course, a general election is different from a leadership campaign. We are targeting the entire population, not activists. Each province also has its own dynamics. But if his win is confirmed, Mr. Ford could be impersonated.

Power and the pandemic have calmed him down. He no longer ventures into peripheral battles, such as sex lessons. He is more interested in the housing crisis than in the fight against the shortage. And he’s now talking a little bit about the environment by investing in electric vehicles.

It’s not that far from François Legault’s recipe. In particular, he abandoned his discourse on the efficiency of the state. He is no longer talking about reducing the number of officials or departments.

“At the CAQ, we don’t work to defend an ideology. Our only master are the people of Quebec,” he said at a convention in Drummondville on Sunday.


PHOTOGRAPH CHRISTINNE MUSCHI, REUTERS

François Legault at the CAQ convention on Sunday in Drummondville

This master is not always consistent.

According to the polls, people want to pay less tax and get better services. It demands more autonomy for Quebec, knowing the federal government will refuse. And she wants to protect the environment without losing the comfort of her car.

This is exactly what Mr. Legault sells. Reasonable daring, change in continuity. “Nothing crazy, common sense, good management,” he says. It tops off with a few fads to set itself apart from the competition, such as expensive senior housing.

Québec Solidaire is also doing a slight refocusing. The left-wing party is diversifying its candidates. To broaden his support, he recruited outside the community on the left, with doctors (Mélissa Généreux and Isabelle Leblanc), a lawyer (Guillaume Cliche-Rivard), a director-general of the Federation of Agricultural Succession (Philippe Pagé) and a deputy Vice President of the Business Development Bank of Canada (Haroun Bouazzi).

As for the Parti Québécois and the Liberal Party, their approach to health and education is not radically different from that of the CAQ. They also want to reinvest in public services. The debate is more about the means than about the objectives.

Mr. Legault therefore ignores them. He prefers to use solidarity and conservatives as foil. His plan: to be somewhere in between.

In a panel of experts at the CAQ convention, political scientist Stéphane Paquin exposed the different electoral strategies.

I am simplifying enormously. The old approach is aimed at the average voter. In the late 1950s, economist Anthony Downs claimed that the parties naturally converged towards the center.

Donald Trump has shown that voter psychology is too complex to be explained by a left-right diagram. But we suspected so. The tactics had been refined long before him. One is betting on an emotional topic that divides the electorate into two camps. This cleavage (wedge) is used to mobilize his troops. Stephen Harper was particularly adept at this game.

Which school does the CAQ belong to? A little bit of both. On the form it provokes. But actually it targets the median voter, or almost.

This is especially true for French and Immigration.

Mr. Legault will announce nothing less than the Louisianaization of Quebec if the federal government does not relinquish control of the family reunification program to him. However, these are usually children who go to study in French in Quebec.

But if you look at CAQ policies in French and immigration, they embody a compromise between rivals.

In French, he boasts of going less far than the PQ, which would apply Bill 101 to CEGEPs and select only economic immigrants who speak French.

Mr Legault wants to replace his old party by bringing together both the weary PQ and the Nationalist Federalists. His nationalism consists of claiming more power in a country that refuses it. Thus he embodies the ambiguity of Quebec. It’s a compromise wrapped in rough talk.

It compensates with absurd hassles, such as requiring a refugee to learn French within six months. When his enemies are angry, he is content. And the Trudeau administration adds provocations, such as its threat to weaken the clause notwithstanding.

However, I would be surprised if Quebeckers voted on the basis of immigration or French. Like the people of Ontario, they are coming out of the pandemic exhausted: they want to know what their government will do for them, especially with the rising cost of living. To fill the votes, the parties will each approach the center in their own way. In other words, out of the paid zone.

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