Quebecers vote after a mudslinging campaign
Kevin Gould, CTV Montreal
Published Sunday, April 6, 2014 7:03PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 7, 2014 7:56PM EDT
After 33 days of campaigning and mudslinging, voters are going to the polls Monday to elect the 41st government of Quebec.
27,000 polling booths across the province will be open from 9:30 a.m. until 8 p.m., although more than 1,000,000 voters already cast ballots in advance polling.
- Not sure where to vote? Check with Elections Quebec
As of 3 p.m. Monday 41,.71 percent of Quebecers had cast ballots, including those who took advantage of advance polling. That is slightly more than had voted by that time in 2012.
How we got here
When Pauline Marois called the election in March, the Parti Quebecois was riding high after a series of announcements about creating jobs and encouraging investment in the province.
With polls indicating strong voter support, the general consensus was the PQ would be elected to a majority government 18 months after the PQ were first elected as a minority.
Six months of debate about the Charter of Values had also increased her party's fortunes, with the majority of francophones feeling clearly-defined rules about religious accommodations would be a welcome addition to Quebec's legal landscape.
Infighting among the Liberal party caused by muddled statements about the Charter, ending with MNA Fatima Houda-Pepin being ousted from the party had led to a dip in popular support.
At first, it was believed the Charter of Values and the economy would be the main issues in the campaign.
But soon after the campaign buses began to cruise from riding to riding, attitudes began to shift with many analysts saying the event that defined the campaign was when media mogul Pierre Karl Peladeau was announced as the Parti Quebecois candidate for St. Jerome.
The chair of Hydro Quebec, who had been sitting in on PQ government cabinet meetings for months and was also the majority shareholder of Quebecor, raised his fist and declared he was representing the PQ because he wanted "a country for my children."
"I think that was the turning point," said political analyst Don Macpherson. "I think the Parti Quebecois and Marois had achieved a pretty good balance on the question of the referendum before going into the campaign and saying well there will be a white paper and a consultation."
That indicated to diehard separatists that the PQ was dedicated to the notion of independence, while at the same time soft-pedalling the idea to the majority of Quebecers who don't care to have a third referendum on the topic.
"Then when Peladeau came in and placed the emphasis on sovereignty and got sovereignists all excited about the possibility of another referendum, I think that is really where the PQ got into trouble," said Macpherson.
Indeed, for nearly two weeks after Peladeau made his statement, most of the questions Marois faced concerned independence, a referendum, and how a sovereign Quebec would function.
Controversy about the Charter of Values continued to dog the PQ campaign into its final week, with Marois first refusing to admit that people who refused to give up religious symbols would lose their jobs, and then acknowledging that a PQ government would help those affected look for new work
Party leaders, past and present, openly acknowledge the past month was the dirtiest campaign in living memory.
The personal integrity of candidates and their spouses has been called into question, with candidates targeted for writing about religious conspiracies, supposedly comparing their opponents to Nazis, and for praising intolerance.
"It makes me profoundly sad," said Marois. "We're living in a climate of imaginable suspicion that we've never seen in Quebec."
Liberal leader Philippe Couillard, who had to defend himself for placing $600,000 in an offshore account while he worked in Saudi Arabia, said he did his best to be positive.
"I have never responded to mud with mud," said Couillard.
Claude Blanchet, Marois’ husband, denied allegations that he solicited $25,000 in illegal donations to her campaign to become leader of the PQ.
Meanwhile ongoing investigations into corruption have tainted many, with the PQ having to explain that the police corruption squad met party directors before the campaign began, and police sources saying an investigation into the Liberals will resume in the days after the election.
While voters have said in multiple polls they are concerned about the political integrity of the Liberals and the PQ, those two parties are the ones with the most support.
However, the mudslinging between the two larger parties has apparently driven many voters into the arms of the third and fourth parties, the Coalition Avenir Quebec and Quebec solidaire.
No certainties on election day
Francoise David, the parliamentary leader of Quebec Solidaire, once again earned the respect of many during the election campaign.
Her party, with most of its support in eastern Montreal, expects to gain up to three seats in the National Assembly.
But the Coalition Avenir Quebec has emerged as the wildcard in this campaign.
Recent polls have indicated the party is closing in on the second-place PQ – with polling analysts saying the rise in CAQ voter intentions came at the expense of the PQ.
While Marois was the clear target during the first debate and Couillard was attacked during the second, the PQ and Liberals both focused their attention on CAQ Leader Francois Legault at the end of the campaign.
Both parties hope to retain voters who may decide to vote for the CAQ and block them from forming a majority.
His party’s much-improved fortunes bolstered leader Legault’s spirits in the dying days of the campaign.
Legault even acknowledged Sunday that his party was on the verge of ruin at the outset of the campaign.
With 18 seats when parliament was dissolved, voter projections based on polling data show many ridings the party held are simply too close to call as voters go to the polls on Monday.
Some projections show the CAQ will only maintain five seats when the day is done, while others show it will win many more.
Polls taken in the past week also show the CAQ and QS have been gaining electoral support, which is expected to come into play on this voting day.
"When I look at the list, for me, I have 26 that are too close to call," said Jean Lapierre last week.
"Some of them are leaning Liberal and that is why I see them with a slim majority, but there are 26 ridings that, you know, after having talked to the chief organizers of the Liberals, of the PQ, and with some pollsters, they're too close to call."
CTV will have extensive coverage of the vote both online and on the air.
Our election team begins broadcasting on CTV Montreal at 8 p.m. this evening, and that broadcast will be livestreamed without restrictions at montreal.ctvnews.ca.
During the election our online team will be running a live blog where voters can ask questions -- some of which will be used on-air. Our results page will have up-to-the-minute data from every riding, and we will have extensive video interviews with party leaders and analysts.