Montreal

Crisscrossing Quebec, what the leaders' routes reveal about their campaigns

Since the election campaign kicked off in August, the four main leaders have kept up a relentless pace, travelling an average of 10,000 kilometres each across the province.

All four of the main parties racked up thousands of kilometres on the road since August

PQ Leader Jean-François Lisee launched his election campaign in St-Hilaire, Que., on Aug. 23. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Since the election campaign kicked off Aug. 23, back in the hot, humid days of summer, the four main party leaders have kept up a relentless pace in an effort to convince Quebecers that they deserve their vote.

All four have travelled an average of 10,000 kilometres each, between the start of the campaign and Sept. 27.

That's about as much as driving from Montreal to Vancouver — and back again.

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault visited 64 of 125 total ridings in the province, the most of any of the four main party leaders.

Jean-François Lisée of the Parti Québécois went to 58 ridings, followed by the Liberals' Philippe Couillard and Québec Solidaire's co-spokespeople, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Manon Massé, who visited 52 and 43 ridings, respectively.

But as CBC Montreal's data shows, each leader took a distinct path, depending on where their party wanted to shore up votes or win over new ones. 

Here's what their routes say about the parties' priorities, hopes and fears ahead of Monday's vote.

Liberals

Trailing the CAQ in the polls, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard made campaign stops all over the province.

Nearly 16 per cent of his stops were in the Quebec City region, however, where the Liberals are fighting to keep several National Assembly seats.

"They may be able to hold onto a few ridings, but it won't be easy," said Éric Grenier, CBC's polls analyst.

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard has travelled widely to shore up support in ridings the party wants to hold onto. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Couillard also paid an equal number of visits to Montreal, the Eastern Townships, and the Montérégie and Chaudière-Appalaches regions. These accounted for almost half of his total campaign stops, at just over 45 per cent.

"This is all about defence and minimizing the number of seats they lose," said Grenier.

Couillard did not spend a lot of time in cities like Drummondville, in central Quebec, where the CAQ is likely to win, said Grenier.

The Liberal bus never made it to the West Island either, where the Liberal vote is perceived as a virtual slam dunk.

But Couillard was the only leader to visit the Îles-de-la-Madeleine​ and Sept-Îles.

Saturday, the party swung through Quebec City again, as well as Rimouski, ending the evening back in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine​​, a swing riding the Liberals appear to be worried about losing.

Coalition Avenir Québec

To become the next government, the CAQ had to go on the offensive, says Grenier, targeting ridings currently held by the Liberals or the Parti Québécois.

"For the CAQ, they need to pick up seats," said Grenier, pointing out that the party spent a lot of time around Montreal, Trois-Rivières and the Eastern Townships.

Nearly a quarter of François Legault's campaign stops were in the Montérégie region. (Cathy Senay/CBC)

About 12.4 per cent of CAQ Leader François Legault's campaign stops were in the Quebec City region and 10 per cent were in Montreal.

What struck Bernard St-Laurent, the Quebec political analyst for CBC Montreal's Daybreak, was how much time the CAQ spent in the Montérégie, in cities such as Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and Coteau-du-Lac.

Nearly a quarter of Legault's total visits were in this region.

"There's an important number of seats there," said St.-Laurent. "It is where they have to consolidate their support."

This weekend, the CAQ was back in the Eastern Townships, where they hope to pick up seats. St-Laurent says there may be a lot of surprises in that region election night, as many of those ridings are four-way races.

Parti Québécois

The Parti Québécois also had an ambitious itinerary, but it didn't really pay off in the polls, says Grenier.

Although PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée performed well in the first two debates, his performance in the third debate was roundly criticized as a strategic error, after he decided to pick a bone with the leadership of Québec Solidaire.

Unlike the other leaders, polls show Lisée is most at risk of losing his own riding of Rosemont.

A quarter of Lisée's total campaign stops were in the Montreal area, followed by the Montérégie (22.6 per cent) and Lanaudière (6.5 per cent) regions.

"Their campaign stops might have been planned for a campaign that didn't happen," said Grenier.

Hovering around 20 per cent in the polls and perennially stuck in third place, the PQ are in "save–the-furniture" mode, Grenier said.

Unlike the other leaders, polls show Lisée is most at risk of losing his own riding in Rosemont. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

He said the PQ traditionally does well in some ridings in the Gaspé, Côte-Nord, Lac Saint-Jean and Abitibi regions, so Lisée made stops there to try to shore up support.

Saturday, the party held big campaign rallies in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Joliette, Terrebonne and Saint-Esprit.

These kind of rallies have been more rare this campaign, said St-Laurent, in part because social media has taken precedence as a way to drum up support.

"But rallies are important to encourage people and maintain momentum," said St-Laurent.

Québec Solidaire

Heading into the election, Québec Solidaire held three seats at the National Assembly, all in Montreal.

So, not surprisingly, more than a third of their time was spent in that city.

"It's where they will make most of their gains," said Grenier.

Québec Solidaire's bus only started out five days into the campaign, but that didn't stop it from travelling widely.

Convinced it could pick up seats off the island of Montreal, the party embarked on an ambitious tour with trips to Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Rimouski and even up to the Gaspésie and Abitibi regions.

Splitting duties between the party's co-spokespeople, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Manon Massé, also helped.

While Québec Solidaire's Manon Massé was prepping for the leaders debates, co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was on the campaign trail. (Mathieu Dion/Radio-Canada)

On the days Massé was hunkered down in Montreal to focus on the debates, Nadeau-Dubois was on the road meeting voters.

The party looked like it was trying to cash in on Nadeau-Dubois' background in the student movement, spending a lot of time in Montreal, Quebec City and Sherbrooke, which have large concentrations of young people.

"It's where their support is," said St-Laurent. But, he says, the party's biggest hurdle will be motivating young voters to get out and cast their ballots. That's not something many end up doing.

Nearly 14 per cent of Québec Solidaire's time was spent in the Quebec City area, followed by 10 per cent in Abitibi.

"At the beginning, it looked risky, like it was a waste of money," said Grenier.

Even its outgoing deputy, Amir Khadir, warned the party that it could be spreading itself too thin, advising it instead to focus on ridings where it was most likely to win. But with solid debate performances by Massé, the party picked up steam.

The four main party leaders have travelled an average of 10,000 kilometres each, between the start of the campaign and Sept. 27. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Québec Solidaire may have taken inspiration from Jack Layton's Orange Crush campaign, Grenier said, as the party is looking good in areas where the federal NDP had done well back in 2011, such as Rimouski, Sherbrooke and on the island of Montreal.

On Friday, Massé predicted her party will make its first breakthroughs outside Montreal, saying she's convinced it will win in the Quebec City ridings of Taschereau, a longtime PQ stronghold, as well as the riding of Jean-Lesage, held by the Liberals.

That's a lot of confidence for a party that lamented only a few weeks ago how few journalists were on its media bus.

With files from CBC's Anna Sosnowski, Cathy Senay, Elias Abboud and Simon Nakonechny, and Radio-Canada

About the Author

Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Contact her via our confidential tipline: 514-597-5155 or on email at montrealinvestigates@cbc.ca.