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Bill Owens: Quebec Provincial Election

The Quebec Provincial Election will be held on October 1, 2018 which is akin to our Gubernatorial election this November. There hasn’t been much in the US media about this election, other than the recent broadcast by Mountain Lake Public Television of a debate amongst the four main parties.

My suspicion is that many of us are not even aware of who the players are, so let me provide some background. We have the Quebec Liberals are led by Mr. Couillard, The Party Quebecois, is led by Jean-Francois Lisée, the Coalition Avenir Quebecois, led by Francois Legault, the Quebec Solidaire is led by Manon Masse.

Many of the issues in this election are unique to Quebec including the resurgence of the question of Quebec’s unique identity and culture. Madame Masse is calling for a revolution, not a violent overthrow of the government, but rather a move further to the left, including the total or partial nationalization of Quebec’s banking system, as well as its mining and forestry industries. Mr. Legault’s coalition is running on the proposition of reducing immigration and requiring a French language and Quebec’s values test after three years, as well as limits on state employees wearing of religious symbols. The party Quebecois’s leader, is proposing to require Anglophone Junior College students to attend a Francophone institution for one semester. Many of these themes sound much like what is happening in the United States, as some in Quebec are beginning to look inward. A dangerous prospect for a Province that needs immigration and is a major exporter.

One of the more salient propositions that has come out of the election is Mr. Couillard’s proposed tariff relief for Canadian farmers, as well as other businesses impacted by the US tariffs. The Liberals announced a $657 million aid plan to farmers and the aluminum sector in Quebec. It is interesting to note that these in the AG sector related programs are focused on pork and soy bean producers and not on the dairy industry which has been the primary AG issue in the US/Canada NAFTA discussions.

Mr. Legault has also indicated that he wants to reduce the debt, but he will also lower taxes, and boost healthcare spending, and of interest to many voters, is that he will bring in new blood given the fact that the Liberals have been in power 13 out of the last 15 years. It is fascinating to me that there has been such limited coverage of a significant election in Quebec, although I suspect there hasn’t been much coverage of the governor’s race in New York in Quebec either.

Mr. Legault’s party has been ahead of the liberals, however that has been narrowing over the last weeks. The polling in the election has seen Mr. Legault’s Coalition dropping while Mr. Couillard’s Liberals are staying relatively flat, but the gap is clearly narrowing as of September 17, 2018 to essentially less than half of 1%, although some polls do say the Liberals are up by as much of seven percentage points.

As you know, the popular vote does not determine the outcome of the Premiership, but rather the number of seats that the party holds in the Quebec Parliament which then effectively elects the Premier. It may be that given the tight race between Mr. Legault’s coalition and Mr. Couillard’s Liberals, that some form of a “coalition government” (excuse the pun), maybe necessary, which is something which has not happened in Quebec in many, many years.

There has been some interesting polling, both in terms of the placement of the party’s vote, but also what matters most to Quebecer’s, and you might be surprised:

  1. For forty percent (40%) it is education;
  2. Thirty-two percent (32%), health;
  3. Twenty percent (20%), the economy; and
  4. Four percent (4%), sovereignty.

The continued uncertainty with NAFTA, its direction and potential outcomes add a level of tension to our relationship with Quebec, although it is unlikely that irrespective of who wins the Premiership in Quebec, that the relationship between upstate New York and the many Canadian businesses that operate here will be altered in any significant fashion.

Mr. Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st, a partner in Stafford Owens in Plattsburgh, NY and a Senior Advisor to Dentons to Washington, DC.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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