Quebec Studies

The Changing Party System in Quebec: The 2003 Elections and Beyond

Quebec Studies (2004), 37, (1), 3–22.

Abstract

3 The Changing Party System in Quebec: The 2003 Elections and Beyond1 James P. Allan Wittenberg University Richard Vengroff University of Connecticut In contrast to the 1998 Quebec election — "the election everybody won" (Allan, O'Reilly, and Vengroff), at first glance the 2003 election result seems much more decisive. The Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ) achieved a clear majority, winning 76 of 125 seats in the National Assembly and gaining 46 percent of the total vote. The incumbent Parti Québécois (PQ), contesting its first election under the leadership of Bernard Landry carried only 45 seats (including one seat won after a dead heat and a special by-election) — 30 fewer than in 1998 — with only a third of votes cast. For Mario Dumont's Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ), finally, the election proved to be a major disappointment. Having won four by-elections since 1998 (in addi­ tion to the seat already held by Dumont), the ADQ was optimistic that this could be a "takeoff" election that would establish them officially as the prov­ ince's third party. Many thought that the time seemed ripe for the ADQ to be Quebec's "next generational party" (Caldwell; see also Lemieux). It may still be on track to do so. Instead, however, although it increased its share of the vote by 50 per­ cent since 1998 (to over 18 percent) and won three new seats, it lost all four seats gained in by-elections since 1998 for a net loss of one seat, leaving it well short of the twelve seats but close to the 20 percent of the vote needed for official party status in the National Assembly of Quebec.2 Its support, however, was critical to the PQ defeat and indirectly to the Liberal's victory. What, if anything, does the stunning victory of Jean Charest's PLQ tell us about the current nature of the party system in Quebec? Does it simply reinforce the two-party dominance in Quebec, where no party has won three consecutive provincial elections since the 1930s, or does it suggest a longerterm process of party system change? In this article, we offer an analysis of the 2003 campaign and its implications for the future of Quebec's party sys­ tem. The paper is divided into three broad sections. First we examine the state of the party system following the 1998 election, and briefly review the major political developments, including opinion poll trends, during the period between 1998 and the beginning of the 2003 campaign. Second, we provide an overview of the 2003 election campaign itself, focusing on the major issues that dominated the campaign, the party platforms, trends in opinion polls, and the impact of the leaders' debate. Finally, we offer an em­ pirical analysis of the election results themselves, using riding and regionallevel data to gain greater purchase over our understanding of the election's implications for the future of Quebec's party politics. Québec Studies, Volume 37, Spring/Summer 2004

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Author details

Allan, James

Vengroff, Richard