CAQ targeting Liberal bastions in western Quebec

CAQ leader François Legault was the first provincial party leader to visit the region during this election campaign, a sign the party sees an opportunity there.

Despite 40 years of Liberal rule, François Legault made early stop in the Outaouais

The leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) François Legault was the first to visit western Quebec during the Quebec election campaign. (Radio-Canada)

As the first week of the Quebec election campaign comes to an end, the Coalition Avenir Québec has its eye on western Quebec despite its longtime support for the Liberal Party. 

The five ridings in the Outaouais — Papineau, Pontiac, Gatineau, Chapleau and Hull — have voted Liberal for some forty years.

Each Liberal candidate got more than 50 per cent of the vote in 2014. 

But CAQ Leader François Legault made western Quebec one of his first stops on the campaign trail, handing out a massive promise to build a brand new 160-bed hospital to address problems of access to health care in the region. 

The CAQ candidate for Papineau, former TVA personality Mathieu Lacombe, said forty years of Liberal rule mean it's time for change.

"We feel taken for granted. We are taken for granted," said Lacombe, standing beside his leader.

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard has not visited the region yet in the campaign's official first week.

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard samples a glass of local beer while visiting a county fair in Neuville, Que., Saturday, August 25, 2018. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Outaouais in play

But he may not be able to stay away for long, according to Pierre Jury, editorialist-in-chief with Le Droit newspaper.

He said the rise of the CAQ in the polls means several ridings in western Quebec may be in play.

In particular, he said keep your eyes on: 

  • Chapleau, where Liberal incumbent Marc Carrière won with 58 per cent of the vote in 2014.
  • Gatineau, where Liberal candidate Luce Farrell is running to replace incumbent Stéphanie Vallée who won with 62 per cent. 
  • Papineau, where Liberal incumbent Alexandre Iracà won with 50 per cent.

Jury said despite those numbers, the dynamics have changed and the longtime joke the Liberals would win western Quebec ridings if the candidate was a pig in a red cape may not apply this time. 

"You have two main parties that are federalists now and that's a big change," said Jury. 

It means with the sovereignty question off the table, and with the the CAQ high in the polls provincially, voters have been presented with a choice and a campaign that can examine other issues beyond which party will keep Quebec from separating. 

Pierre Jury with Le Droit said the dynamics that have have kept the Liberal hold on western Quebec ridings have changed in 2018. (CBC)

Health care key

It's no surprise the CAQ is focusing on health care.  

Papineau's Lacombe said the region is at the bottom of the list when it comes to provincial per capita spending.

The community group Santé Outaouais 2020 has already presented the parties with a questionnaire on the issues, from emergency room waiting lists to access to long-term care. 

"Because of how important this issue is to people, and how it affects the people we love, there's no doubt this is the most important issue," according to the non-profit's Andrew Gibson. 

The candidate signs are up as the first week of the Quebec election campaign gets underway.