Quebec election 2014: Pauline Marois loses electoral Hail Mary

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois lost Monday night's election for two simple reasons: Voters were neither seduced by her as a person, nor did they believe in the program she proposed.

Crushing defeat of Parti Québécois after just 18 months in power follows campaign full of mixed messages

Parti Quebecois knocks itself out

9 years ago
Duration 5:41
Christian Bourque, executive VP of Leger Marketing, explains how Quebecers overwhelmingly rejected the PQ

There are politicians who win elections without ever winning the heart-felt affection of voters.

Quebec's late Liberal premier Robert Bourassa is arguably the best example of that: He won four majority terms, yet was often considered distant, intellectual and generally disconnected from the average Quebecer.

But what Bourassa and others like him have in common is this: They win over voters by gaining their confidence and providing a program they agree with and believe in.Therein lies the reason behind the unequivocal defeat of Pauline Marois on Monday night. Voters were neither seduced by the Parti Québécois leader as a person, nor did they believe in the program she proposed on the hustings.

Across the province, and even in Marois's own riding of Charlevoix-Côte-De-Beaupré, voters repudiated the 18-month-old PQ government.

The raised fist

Marois began the campaign leading in the polls. However, after star candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau infamously raised his fist in the air while calling for an independent Quebec for his children, Marois spent weeks swatting down questions about another referendum.

Then there were suggestions of improper PQ fundraising. As her support in the polls plummeted, Marois came up with a last-minute, unplanned promise of tax cuts after swearing the cupboard was bare.

When the premier called the election on March 5 — flouting her own fixed election date legislation — she did so after introducing a budget both main opposition parties vowed to defeat. Yet, it is far from clear the PQ would necessarily have been toppled in a confidence vote, especially if either the Coalition Avenir Québec or the Liberals had cold feet about facing voters.

The main reason for a snap election, according to Marois, was to form a majority government in order to adopt her proposed secular charter of values. The legislation aimed to ban the display of any overt religious symbols or clothing by virtually all public employees, from civil servants to daycare workers.

The CAQ was ready to play ball and negotiate some minor amendments to the bill, but the PQ would have none of it, choosing to call the election instead.

'So much to offer'

In her concession speech Monday night, Marois told a room full of PQ supporters and candidates, the party "had so much to offer, so much to do for Quebecers."

In the coming weeks and months, Parti Québécois members will have time to analyze the results of last night's results. One of the conclusions they may well reach is voters felt less that the PQ had "so much to offer," as Marois said in her speech, as much as they may have believed she was using them.

It is certain a major factor behind the erosion of PQ support came from fears Marois might call another referendum. But it would be simplistic to chalk it up to that.

Voters may have sensed they were being asked to hand Marois a majority to pass the charter based not on principle but populism. On Monday night, many who otherwise agreed with the idea of the charter turned their backs on the PQ because they didn't trust Marois or her motives.


Tim Duboyce was a news editor at CBC Montreal. He was CBC's correspondent at the Quebec National Assembly from 2003 to 2013, and has covered five Quebec provincial election campaigns.