Friday, August 22, 2014

On political evolution

Both Chantal Hebert and the combination of Bruce Anderson and David Coletto have written recently about the state of federal politics in Quebec, with particular emphasis on what we can expect as the Bloc Quebecois appears to crumble. With that in mind, I'll offer a quick reminder as to one of the more subtle factors behind the 2011 Orange Wave - and how things have changed less than we might think at first glance.

As I've mentioned before, the NDP's relatively strong push into Quebec happened to coincide with an election where both the Cons and Libs had obvious reasons not to put much effort into the province - based in large part on the Bloc's success in campaigning against their preferred themes.

Which isn't to say that the NDP was obviously ahead of its competitors at the start of the campaign (see: polling prior to April 2011 passim). Instead, its increased strategic focus figures mostly to have counterbalanced the Libs' and Cons' historic advantages. And with no national party going into 2011 with much expectation of winning over a substantial amount of Bloc support, the outcome might be seen as reflecting two factors: not only the popularity of Jack Layton, but also the growth of natural voter preferences in a rare case where political targeting played a relatively small role.

Of course, that's all changed going into the next federal campaign. Now that the obvious obstacle to growth in Quebec for all of the federal parties is seemingly disintegrating, every party has an incentive to test its prospects within a much larger pool of available voters and seats. And there's reason to think the NDP, Libs and Cons have all done just that.

In turn, that makes the lack of change in voter support just as noteworthy as any further shift would have been. The NDP's change in leadership from Jack Layton to Thomas Mulcair hasn't affected its massive advantage on that question. And renewed pushes from both the Libs and Cons haven't significantly altered the party standings aside from the Bloc's further decline - which, as noted by Anderson and Coletto, may actually bolster the NDP's position compared to its competitors.

Not that any party can rest on its laurels now: after all, it's the illusion of stability over an even longer period that caught nearly everybody off guard in the last election. But if 2011 showed us what the Quebec electorate looks like following relatively little work to cultivate party interests, the last few years seem to indicate that voters are comfortable with the landscape.

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