Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois is in Gatineau today hoping to capitalize on her party's rising standing to win a seat in west Quebec, which in past years would have been unthinkable.

The Liberal Party has dominated the polls in the five west Quebec ridings for more than 30 years, and the sovereigntist PQ has not had much traction with voters living so close to Ottawa, where many west Quebec residents work.

Past election results in Hull (%)
1976 2003 2008
Liberals 40.56 57 51
PQ 40.57 25 33

The last time the PQ won seats in west Quebec was in 1976, the year René Lévesque was elected premier. The PQ won narrow votes in both Papineau and Hull.

But with parties like the Coalition Avenir Québec potentially drawing votes away from the Liberals, observers say the PQ has an opportunity to steal a victory in those two ridings again.

An Aug. 28 Segma poll put the PQ in striking range. In Papineau, the Liberals were the choice of 36 per cent of respondents, while the PQ were the choice with 27 per cent. And in Hull, the Liberals were ahead of the PQ 39 to 30.

That is significantly closer than the results of the 2008 election, when the Liberals beat the PQ handily in both ridings — 51 per cent to 32 per cent in Papineau and 51 per cent to 33 per cent in Hull.

Sovereigntist gains

University of Ottawa law professor and former Liberal cabinet minister Benoit Pelletier said a PQ win in the Outaouais would be significant.

Past election results in Gatineau (%)
1976 2003 2008
Liberals 49 61 60
PQ 27 25 29

"It will mean that even in a region so close to Ottawa there will be a sovereigntist riding. In my view that would be quite a gain for the PQ," said Pelletier.

Christian Bourque, the vice president of polling firm Leger Marketing said the results of the poll might not materialize come election time.

"Is there any sort of bounce back potential in the Liberal vote?" asked Bourque. "Now that the polls are placing the Liberals third, will some people sort of come back ... in a last ditch effort to save their strongholds?"

Local politicians are taking advantage of the PQ leader's appearance in the region. Gatineau mayor Marc Bureau has said he wants to put public transit, tourism and healthcare on Pauline Marois's priority list.