Pauline Marois has triggered an election, set for April 7th, to decide the future of Quebec.
I want to first tackle a claim made by some about the timing of the election. When Harper called an election, despite not having hit his "term limit", people said such laws were pointless. Now that Marois has called an election, they say the same. I want to take a look at BC, which is where the original legislation came from.
There was a time when BC had an election every 3 years. 1960, 1963, 1966, 1969, 1972, 1975, etc. After the 1986 election, the government, thinking it would lose, waited to the last moment to call an election. Thus 1991 was an election year. The government elected in that year, also fearing it would lose, again, waited out the full term, calling an election in 1996. They managed to win, but, fearing a loss, again, waited to the full term in 2001. It was the government elected in 2001 that brought in the new legislation.
I now want to look at elections that majority governments have lost, in all the provinces, in the past few decades.
Provinces like Newfoundland, Manitoba, and PEI, have not seen a 5 year government in quite some time. However, in every other province, this has happened. 1991 in Saskatchewan, 1995 in Ontario, 1994 and 2003 in Quebec, 1993 in Nova Scotia, and perhaps most notably, 1987 in New Brunswick, where the election was 5 years and 1 day after the last one.
The only thing the fixed election date law ever truly did, or was designed to do, was to reduce the maximum length of a legislature to 4 years. The thinking behind it was that by reducing that 5th year that you can hang on to, you force governments on their way out, to go out. As well, by setting the limit at 4 years - palatable - as opposed to 5 - unpalatable - to encourage parties that look like they can win from going to the polls early. Since the new law has come in, no majority government has jumped the gun; breaking a trend of past majority governments, where, when leading in the polls, they would call an election 3.5 years in.
Regardless, I'm getting off topic.
Marois has chosen to call an election now because of something that I mentioned many times during the last Quebec election. The "edge".
The PQ, for most of it's life, had an "edge" over the PLQ. It could, on the same share of vote, win many more seats. How? Simple really, the PQ would win the Francophone vote, and force the PLQ to thus rack up huge majorities in anglophone and allophone ridings in Montreal.
In 2012, the PQ lost that "edge". Why? The CAQ is why. The CAQ was able to take 28% of the Francophone vote last time, compared to 23% for the Liberals, and 38% for the PQ. This 10-point lead was just not enough to result in the same lobsided victory that the PQ was used to. Thus the PQ finished only slightly ahead of the PLQ, despite being near equal in popular vote. The PQ had lost it's "edge". So, why is the PQ going now?
The "edge" is back.
Polls show that a full 45% of francophone voters back the PQ, compared to 23% for the Liberals, and 18% for the CAQ. Remember that in Quebec, 110 of the 125 ridings are overwhelmingly francophone. Thus the "magic 42% needed for a majority" applies there. The PQ will be able to win 71 of these 110 ridings on these numbers. Even when you add in the remaining mostly anglo-allophone ridings, which will go PLQ, it is just not enough.
The PQ is running on the charter, not because it's popular with Quebec voters; but because it's popular with Francophone Quebecois. Marois knows she does not need to win over Quebec voters; she only needs to win over half of the Francophone Quebecois, and with that, she can win a massive majority.
There are two risks. First, that over the course of the campaign, the CAQ can regain ground. Second, that the PLQ can present a case to the voters that convinces them to stop the PQ.
Both can happen for the same reason. The PQ is running very heavily in sovereignty.
The PQ Website is full of references to "Souverainete" and graphics showing how Quebec is in a far better position now than it was in 1994. In effect, the PQ is making the case that 2014's Quebec is ready for Independence; while 1994's Quebec was not.
The problem for the PQ is that polls show that this may not be enough to win. The CAQ can argue that now is not the time; there may be a day, but that day is not today. The PLQ can argue that it is never the time, that a PQ victory would only get Quebec stuck in more debate about a referendum; a strategy it used well in the last election.
How all of this plays out remains to be seen. Until then; as always, a map.
Note that this is a prediction not a projection. A Projection is using current data to forecast the final result; while a prediction involves more guesswork and is more of an art than a science.