As crowds grow for Legault, will CAQ voters follow?

If the crowds wouldn't go to Legault, he simply went to the crowds. But that is changing.
CAQ Leader François Legault mixes with the lunch crowd in Quebec City this week. (Catherine Cullen/CBC)

Polls suggest the Coalition Avenir Québec’s fortunes have improved since the election began. On the campaign route, there are signs more people are taking an interest.

When I followed the CAQ the first week of the election, François Legault sought out crowds. Every day (then as now), CAQ strategists would send Legault out "main-streeting." (In French, it’s rather delightfullycalled a bain de foule.)

Legault walks the streets of a small town or goes to a festival and starts chatting up strangers about his policies. "Why madame! Do you have a family doctor? No? Well, it’s part of my platform to ensure you get one"— that sort of thing.

It’s not without drawbacks. Someone can put you on the spot or embarrass you.

On CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition, I recently heard one guest tell a story of Mitt Romney main-streeting some two decades ago. A woman saw him — and the accompanying TV cameras — and tried to bolt.

The guest explained that Romney awkwardly called out to the woman "Oh, I know. You don’t have your make-up on yet." She replied in shock and Romney came off looking foolish.

When it works, however, it projects the image that Legault is a man of the people. While Jean Charest has had relatively few unscripted events with the public, it’s been Legault’s bread and butter.

Crowds coming to Legault now

The second, and perhaps most important advantage for the CAQ, is it gives Legault a way to compete with the crowds of supporters that his primary political opponents have mustered.

Don’t forget, the CAQ is a young party. It doesn’t have the throngs of party faithful, the history, in general, the so-called machine that the PQ and the Liberals do.

So while those other parties were regularly holding events with large crowds of their own, the CAQ didn’t have the same base tofall back on night after night.

If the crowds wouldn’t go to Legault, he simply went to the crowds. But that, it seems to me, is what’s changing.

Now there are crowds, but they still aren’t huge. Some are new converts to the CAQ, while others are just trying to figure out what this new party stands for.

Just recently an event at a park attracted a couple of dozen people. It’s not much, but this wasn’t happening at all at the beginning of the campaign.

There’s more interest now — the question now is how much, and how far it will take the CAQ.