Monday, June 20, 2011

Will PQ pattern of revolt prevent Pauline Marois from becoming premier?

Only a month ago, the Parti Québécois was comfortably leading the Liberals in the polls and was on track to take office in Quebec City in the province’s next general election. Now, the PQ’s numbers have dropped precipitously and the future of their leader is in question. But the troubles Pauline Marois faces are nothing new for the notoriously tumultuous party.

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website here.

I always enjoy a chance to combine history and politics, and this retrospective on the life and times of the Parti Québécois was fascinating, for several reasons.

These leadership challenges were almost unavoidable and often involved the same people. Pauline Marois is under some difficulty presently because of Jacques Parizeau, who was very involved in the fall of René Lévesque and replaced Pierre-Marc Johnson. André Boisclair came under fire from Bernard Landry, who in turn was under pressure from Pauline Marois and François Legault, the latter someone who is also hurting the PQ today!

In researching this article, I went through the polling archives going back to the 1980s. What was interesting to see was that in almost all public opinion polls on who should be the next PQ leader when Boisclair, Landry, Bouchard, Johnson, and Lévesque resigned, Pauline Marois was always in the race. Going back as far as the Lévesque days, Marois was a major part of the party. She was there in the leadership race to replace Lévesque, tried to get in when Bouchard resigned, was defeated after Landry, and finally took the helm after the departure of Boisclair.

Another interesting tidbit was the performance of the Quebec wing of the New Democrats in the mid-to-late 1980s. Yes, there was a time when a Quebec NDP existed and its descendants survive today. In the mid-to-late 1980s, during the heyday of Ed Broadbent and the unpopularity of the PQ, the Quebec NDP routinely polled about 20% in the province, tied with the PQ. In the end, the Quebec NDP never earned more than 2% of the vote in an election, but for a short period it was a real factor (or potentially so) in Quebec politics.

In the early 1990s the Quebec NDP endorsed the Bloc Québécois in a by-election, and was expelled from the national apparatus of the federal New Democrats. They changed their name to the Social Democratic Party of Quebec, eventually formed the Union des forces progressistes (UFP) (a union which incorporated the Communist Party of Quebec), and eventually merged with Françoise David's Option citoyenne to form Québec Solidaire.


On an unrelated note, I invite you all to read Frank Graves' analysis of what went wrong and what went right for EKOS in the last campaign. The analysis can be found here.

Generally speaking, the inclusion of cellphone users (who were less likely to vote) was a major contributor to the under-representation of Conservative support. Graves found that when using a "likely voter" screening process, he was far closer to the mark. Pollsters in the United States use methods like this, and one wonders why we don't use them more here.

Graves deserves some applause here for the honesty of this analysis. Most of the other pollsters wiped their hands of the 2011 federal election and consider it to have been a job well-done, blaming others like myself for false seat projections that raised false hopes (or fears).

The fact of the matter is that all pollsters under-estimated the Conservative Party. They all put the Tories in a minority government, and it cannot be chalked up to mere coincidence that no polling firm was on the mark or over-estimated Conservative support. There was a problem there, and at least Frank Graves appears to have recognized it and intends to fix it.

Considering that the Conservatives won a minority government in 2008 with 37.7% and a very weak opposition, it was not the fault of seat projectors that Canadians expected a minority government on May 2nd when the polls put the Tories around 36% to 38% against a stronger opposition. If the pollsters had under-shot and over-shot the Conservative result in relatively equal numbers, it would not have been an issue. But they all under-shot their support. The odds of that happening naturally are slim to none, and that means they were inaccurately recording Conservative support.

Hopefully others will take Frank Graves' lead and take a second look at the 2011 campaign. And if they already have done so, they should present their findings publicly. A little self-reflection goes a long way.