The CAQ is marking its sixth anniversary by riding high in the polls.
The relative newcomer in Quebec politics, the CAQ thinks it is poised to elect its leader Francois Legault as the next premier, seeing its recent victory in the Louis-Hebert by-election as a sign of good things to come. Not only did the party beat the Liberals – it was a landslide.
“Next year I think we have a shot – a real good shot – to form the next government,” said Legault.
Consider the numbers: For months now, the CAQ has been making steady gains in the polls, pushing the PQ into third place.
“For two years, I would say they're going left and right and we don't know exactly where they stand,” said political analyst Gilles Duceppe of the PQ. “People are not attracted enough by the Parti Quebecois and they seem kind of fed up with the Liberals, so it opened the door for the CAQ.”
The latest survey suggests an even bigger shakeup, with the CAQ breaking out of a virtual tie with the Liberals and leaping ahead of them with 34 per cent support, and a possibility of forming a majority government.
Even when they're positive, though, politicians tend to downplay polls and Legault is no different.
“In politics you never know where you will stand six months from now,” he said.
A former PQ minister, Legault founded the coalition, bringing together federalists and sovereignists. Since then, the party has changed its logo, as well as its narrative.
“Our constitutional proposal is within Canada. So we stated very clearly that a CAQ government will never hold a referendum on sovereignty,” he said.
It's an issue that gives the Liberals ammunition: Premier Philippe Couillard says Legault has a habit of changing his mind, with the party attacking him online, saying for example, in a tweet, that Legault is always in a bad mood, negative and pessimistic.
“It's ‘on verra.’ It's no program, no proposals, all criticism, and we are in an election year. We need CAQ to take a stand and say clearly what they want to do,” said Liberal Health Minister Gaetan Barrette.
Legault said those kinds of comments don't surprise him.
“We see that every day. The two doctors – Dr. Couillard and Dr. Barrette – they cannot stop talking about the CAQ. They are in kind of a panic,” he said.
If the CAQ really is on the verge of making a breakthrough in the next general election, analysts wonder if they’re ready for it; Legault’s biggest challenge may be proving it’s not a one-man show all the while hoping the party can build on its momentum.
“Who will be the minister of justice? Who will be the minister of finance? And so on. Quite a difference, I would say, with, let's take the PQ in 1976,” said Duceppe. “We could agree or disagree, but they had a lot of people with experience and capacity. We don't know. I'm not saying they don't have those people. But we don't really know them.”