Stephen Harper is going to have a hard time holding on to his majority in this fall’s election – but his chances of victory may get an unexpected boost from Quebec.
The conventional wisdom in English Canada is that soft-left Quebecers will vote en masse for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals giving them enough seats to challenge for power. The trouble is that Quebecers don’t seem to be going along with this plan.
While Trudeau and the parliamentary press gallery are outraged by Harper’s demand that niqabs be banned at Canadian citizenship ceremonies it is playing well right across the country. Quebec has been struggling with these issues for years and on this issue Harper is certainly in line with the values of certain Quebecers.
It’s making a difference in the Quebec City area – where the Conservatives are now at 41%, up three percent from last month. In 2011 the Conservatives only got 30% in the region and the NDP got 39% winning most of the seats. At 41% the Conservatives could sweep the area winning five or six new seats because the opposition is so divided.
Parliament is growing by 30 seats in the next election and when the results of the 2011 election are distributed on the new boundaries Prime Minister Harper is defending an 18 seat majority. That was always going to be tough after nearly a decade in power – but if the Conservatives can gain five or six in Quebec City holding that majority will be much easier.
Just as Quebec may save Harper, it is also making things very tough for Justin Trudeau. The most recent poll from CROP has the Liberals at 29%, neck and neck with the NDP at 30%. On the surface that’s more than double what the Liberals got in the last election, and they should be on track to win many more seats. But the problem is that the Liberal vote is very concentrated among the non-French speakers who make up only 18% of Quebec’s population.
In fact, the Liberals are only at 23% among francophone Quebecers. What this means practically is that a seat has to be less than half francophone for the Liberals to win it. There are only 8 seats in Quebec that fall into this category, and the Liberals already hold 5 of them.
Even if we include seats which are less than one third Francophone – which would be a real stretch with the Liberal Francophone support below 25% - there are only 18 of these seats, and the Liberals hold 8 of them, and another one of them is Tom Mulcair’s seat. So that means the absolute best case the Liberals can expect in Quebec is to gain 9 seats. That’s not enough to get ahead of the NDP, much less win the election.
And one little twist may make things even worse for Trudeau: Irwin Cotler the MP for Mount Royal is retiring. Mount Royal is the second most Jewish riding in the country and as the Conservatives have gained in that community Cotler has seen his support drop from 92% in his first election to only 41% in 2011. His was able to hang on in the last election mainly because of his personal popularity. With Cotler not on the ballot this is a seat the Conservatives could actually grab from the Liberals in Quebec.