Montreal·Analysis

Quebec byelections will put new PQ leader, CAQ's identity politics to test

The new leader of the Parti Quebécois, the Coalition Avenir Québec's decision to zero in on identity politics and the Liberal government's track record will all be put to the test in four byelections being held today across the province.

Verdun, Arthabaska, Marie-Victorin and Saint-Jérôme voters head to polls today

Byelections are being held in four ridings on Monday, including Marie-Victorin in Longueuil. (Radio-Canada)

The new leader of the Parti Quebécois, the Coalition Avenir Québec's decision to zero in on identity politics and the Liberal government's track record will all be put to the test in four byelections being held today across the province.

Voters in Verdun, Arthabaska, Marie-Victorin and Saint-Jérôme will head to the polls.

Saint-Jérôme has been vacant since former PQ Leader Pierre Karl Péladeau's resignation earlier this year, while Marie-Victorin was held by former PQ MNA Bernard Drainville.

Verdun, a long-time Liberal stronghold, was previously held by the Liberals but cabinet minister Jacques Daoust resigned in August amid controversy over the approval of the sale of Rona.

The riding of Arthabaska needs to be filled following the death of Independent MNA Sylvie Roy.

Here are four things to watch out for by the time the night is over.

Is the CAQ's identity message resonating?

The third party has focused a lot of energy on taking the role "defender of Quebec identity" from the PQ.

They have hammered home their identity platform all session. The CAQ proposed values test for newcomers, fiercely opposes to the province's religious neutrality bill and suggests decreasing immigration levels.

It culminated in this advertisement released by the party on social media, claiming the PQ and the Liberals support teachers wearing chadors in the classroom.

The question is are these messages resonating with the public and if so, in what way?

The Lisée effect?

Jean-François Lisée is the PQ's third leader in the last six years. That kind of instability is never good for a party, but a new leader can also bring momentum to the PQ and a chance to turn the page.

The byelections will be a test for Jean-François Lisée, the new leader of the Parti Québécois. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Lisée has held the job for under two months so the jury is still out. However, he is sharper when questioning the premier in the National Assembly than his predecessor Péladeau.

It has been tough for the new PQ leader to pin down a stance on identity and that has created an opening for the CAQ to fill. Lisée is trying to appeal to his base while at the same time building the image of a party more open to Quebecers of all backgrounds and origins.

Lisée ran a leadership campaign taking a hardline on identity, only to immediately admit after winning that he will have to re-adjust in order to build consensus among his caucus colleagues who disagreed with him. 

However, he recently proposed teachers and daycare workers in the group of public servants in positions of authority should not be allowed to wear religious garb. It goes a step further than what he pitched during the PQ leadership race and the party's failed secular charter.

The PQ's proposed secular charter in 2013 prompted protests. (Canadian Press)

Monday's results could give us more of a sense of how Quebecers perceive the PQ's new leader and his direction for the party.

Liberal reinvestment vs. Liberal ghosts

After two years of difficult austerity measures, the Couillard government announced $135 million for education and health care.

However, the ghosts of Liberals past continue to haunt Premier Philippe Couillard. The latest emerged from a Radio-Canada investigation raising questions about the connections between former Liberal fundraisers and people who worked for the provincial agency in charge of the government's real estate. 

Quebec Premier Leader Philippe Couillard has a hard time escaping his party's ghosts. (Clement Allard/CP)

Whenever these questions come up, Couillard stresses that they didn't happen on his watch. This has been the premier's never-ending struggle: communicating his government's accomplishments while a cloud of ethical questions from the past hover above.

The latter often steals the spotlight.

Future electoral alliances? 

Lisée suggested teaming up with Québec solidaire in certain ridings where the two parties split the vote and fielding a common candidate in order to pick up Liberal seats in the next election. 

His suggestion in October for such an alliance in the Verdun byelection fell flat. Québec solidaire resented the fact that the made the public suggestion without consulting the party first.

Québec solidaire has since consulted with its members and agreed to start talks with the PQ, Option Nationale and other progressive social movements about whether they can form some sort of electoral alliance.

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