Status quo holds in Quebec as many ridings still too close to call
Tight races in suburbs outside of Montreal will hold the balance of power
With results trickling in, the Liberals, Bloc Québécois and Conservatives were in fierce battles in many ridings of Quebec but the province seemed to be on the path to about the same result as the 2019 election.
And while some television networks said the Liberals would form the next federal government — minority or majority was not known early in the evening — the results also suggest Quebecers did not heed Premier François Legault's suggestion to help elect a Conservative minority government.
Legault had argued the Conservatives and its leader Erin O'toole believed in giving Quebec more powers and not meddling in its affairs, while the other parties — Liberals, New Democrats and Greens — were centralizers.
As of 10:30 p.m., the Liberals were leading or had elected 37 MPS in Quebec, followed by the Bloc with 28, Conservatives 10 and the New Democratic Party two.
At dissolution of the House, the Liberals held 35 seats, the Bloc 32, Conservatives 10 and the NDP one in Quebec. There are 78 seats up for grabs in Quebec.
The Bloc entered the campaign saying it would like to increase its share of seats to 40 and have more than the Liberals.
The battle, however, was still being waged in a dozen or so suburban swing ridings outside of Montreal and in the regions, all of which were being closely monitored Monday evening as results slowly trickled in across Canada.
While most of the island of Montreal was expected to stay Liberal red, these off-island ridings were more difficult to predict — and would play a key role in determining whether the Liberals or Conservatives would win, and just how big a victory it would be.
The last Léger poll released last week pegged support for the Liberals in Quebec at 33 per cent, the Bloc at 32 per cent, the Conservatives at 19 per cent and New Democratic Party at 11 per cent.
While most analysts were predicting the Bloc would see its share of ridings increase, they also believed the Liberals and Conservatives would be in a struggle to hold the ones they have.
The vote brings the curtain down on an election which, initially, barely made a ripple in the imagination of Quebecers because there was no real theme. Many called it the election about nothing.
Voters were well aware the campaign was taking place in the midst of a fourth wave of COVID-19 but there was no dominant theme.
Normally, the “why now” question disappears about 48 hours after the campaign starts, but this time Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau spent many a news conference trying to justify his actions.
One Ipsos poll indicated 68 per cent of Canadians felt the election was not necessary, a fact which dogged Trudeau for weeks.
“A damned election,” read one weekend headline in Le Devoir.
Even though the Bloc became the party on the rise by the end of the campaign, its campaign got off to a rocky start.
Blanchet was accused of being arrogant after declaring at the start of the race that his party would win 40 seats, which is eight more than in 2019. He then drew the ire of environmentalists when he said the Quebec government's tunnel scheme between Quebec City and Lévis had ecological potential.
He was ridiculed when he said it was a personal view and not that of the party.
But as has happened time after time in the Bloc's history, its electoral fortunes got a boost from outside factors.
As Le Devoir columnist Michel David noted Saturday, Blanchet owes a huge debt of gratitude to the moderator of the English language debate, Shachi Kurl, for asking the loaded question she did about Bill 21, Quebec's secularism law, and Bill 96 on language.
It allowed Blanchet, with help from Legault who insisted he was not telling Quebecers how to vote, to play the `Quebec under attack' identity theme which has worked so well in the past.
The incident galvanized the vote and gave dormant Bloc voters and other nationalists a reason to go to the polls but it was unclear Monday night whether that was enough to win more seats.
O'toole, on the other hand, got off on the right foot in Quebec and appeared determined to correct the errors of his predecessor, Andrew Scheer, in 2019.
Early in the campaign, he appeared in Quebec City to propose a “contract,” one based on “federalism partnership.”
In the contract, O'toole promised not to challenge Bill 21, Quebec's state secularism law, and to give Quebec more power over immigration, as well as applying Bill 101 to federally chartered companies such as banks.
He also said repeatedly that he was pro-choice, an issue which Scheer tripped over in 2019.
But he got in hot water at the end of the campaign when he flipflopped on a promise to cancel a government decree banning certain military assault rifles.
And he announced a Conservative government would cancel a $30-billion Liberal deal to create a national daycare strategy. Quebec risked losing its share of the pie: $6 billion.
Trudeau had his own problems. In his zeal to win votes in the rest of Canada, he campaigned in favour of national standards for seniors' residences and pledged millions to reduce health-care waiting lists and hire 7,500 doctors.
Legault saw it as meddling. As late as Sunday, speaking at a Coalition Avenir Québec youth convention, Legault was still warning Quebecers against voting for centralizing parties such as the Liberals, NDP and Greens.
None of them lived up to the shopping list of demands he set out early in the campaign.
“What we need is not more bureaucrats in Ottawa, it's more nurses in Quebec,” he said.
While he suggested two weeks ago that he was in favour of a Conservative minority government, Legault gradually backed away from the statement, saying Quebec was under attack in the English debate and it was his duty to defend it.
The same centralization talk got NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in trouble with Legault even though Singh managed to earn the affection of Quebecers by being himself.
The Green Party, mired in its internal struggles, barely made a mark in Quebec. It only managed to field 56 candidates and party leader Annamie Paul did not even campaign in Quebec.
But there was another surprise at the end of the campaign: the apparent rise in support for Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada, particularly in western Canada.
The most recent Léger poll has Bernier's party polling at four per cent in Quebec.
He is trying to win back his old riding of Beauce but has chosen to spend his election night in Saskatoon. Early results had Bernier losing and the Conservatives holding the seat.