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Quebec general election, 2003
The Quebec general election of 2003 was held on April 14, 2003, to elect members of the National Assembly of Quebec (Canada). The Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ), led by Jean Charest, defeated the incumbent Parti Québécois, led by Bernard Landry.
2.1 Health care
In 2002, the Parti Québécois (PQ) government had been in power for two mandates. It was seen as worn-out by some, and its poll numbers fell sharply. It placed third at its lowest point. An important part of its support was going to the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) and its young leader, Mario Dumont. Some PQ supporters had left for the Liberal party.
Bernard Landry, leader of the PQ, undertook a revitalization of the party and its image. As the ideas of the conservative nature of ADQ's platform became more apparent, that party's popularity declined. Social democratic measures taken by the PQ government, like the passing of the "Law against poverty" helped improve the PQ's standing in the public opinion polls. PLQ leader Jean Charest continued to be unpopular with the voters. These factors assisted the Parti Québécois in winning back many voters in the beginning of 2004 to take first place in the public opinion polls again.
The 2003 election happened against the backdrop of the war in Iraq. The battles of that war took place during the first half of the campaign, diverting the attention of the media and the population. Bernard Landry became known for his custom of wearing the white ribbon (which was in 2003 Quebec worn by people in favour of peace). This custom was shortly followed by the two other main party leaders, Jean Charest and Mario Dumont. Landry was the most outspoken critic of the war. The other two were more discreet on the matter. Charest once stated that it was an opportunity to reaffirm his "belief in peace". Dumont acted in a similar way, while also addressing criticism to Landry, saying that Quebecers should refrain from criticizing Americans too harshly since Americans were historical friends of Quebecers.
The desire for change was considered an important factor of the campaign (see "Change", below). However, while reminding voters that the fundamental change was at the core of its primary ideal, sovereignty, the PQ focused its message and publicity not on change, but on stability. Its campaign slogan emphsized this (see the Campaign slogans section below). Landry also tried to portray the vote as being a choice between the left wing PQ and two parties of the right. The PLQ portrayed itself as centrist, something that would, after its election, be contested by the massive opposition to his government. The PLQ produced dynamic ads and material, and released a new, younger logo. The ADQ put forward its young, underdog leader, and denied being too much to the right. It first broadcast a negative advertisement (a bleak television spot speaking of deaths in the hospitals) that backfired substantially, with criticism from opponents and citizens. It shortly released a brighter, more positive advertising.
Despite an impressive PQ comeback, Charest managed to play his cards well enough to appear as a viable alternative for people in desire of change, especially during the Leaders' Debate. Also, the Parizeau Affair sparked by Charest is said to have harmed Landry's campaign up to election day. The PQ lead in the public opinion polls vanished by mid-campaign.
The Parti Québécois won a respectable number of seats, but the Parti Libéral won the election. The Action démocratique du Québec under Mario Dumont won four seats, which was a considerable improvement from previous general elections. It was nonetheless a disappointment for the party since it had five sitting members as a result of by-election victories in the previous year. It had also had a high standing in the polls of that same year. This was the first general election for the new left-wing Union des forces progressistes.
Jean Charest and the PLQ focused their campaign upon the issue of health care and reducing waiting lists. The other major parties criticized Charest for planning to only invest in health care and education, while freezing other budgets. Landry argued that money for health care would be available when the fiscal imbalance was solved by sovereignty. He vowed to fight for money from Ottawa until then, as he had done earlier that year (see the "Fiscal Imbalance", below). Charest portrayed Landry as putting sovereignty ahead of health care and presented his party as the one that would make health care its first priority. He also accused Landry's government of using waiting lists as an administration procedure for hospitals.
The desire for change was considered by the media to be a major deciding factor of the vote. The media were criticized by the PQ and some citizens as "wanting change for the sake of change", since the government had ended its term with an economy doing well and high satisfaction polls for an outgoing administration. Landry reminded voters that, while voting for his party did not change the government right away, the first ideal of the PQ, sovereignty, was "the greatest of changes". At the Leaders' Debate, Charest told viewers that those wanting change should vote for the PLQ since "A vote for the ADQ is a vote for the PQ". At the time, the ADQ was considered to be too low in the polls to be a potential victor. Charest's reminder of the spoiler effect is said to have been partly responsible for his vicory on election day.
Jean Charest presented a plan of major reduction of income tax, which Bernard Landry opposed. Quebec's income taxes are the highest in North America, but its social programs are also relatively generous, and the gap between rich and poor is the lowest of the North American continent. The ADQ presented a flat tax plan in 2002. This proved to be highly unpopular, and contributed to the image of the party as being too conservative. This plan, in its pure form, was dropped in the beginning of 2003. The ADQ claimed that, after further examination, the Quebec government did not have the resources to implement it. This, again, hurt the party further by giving it the image of flip flopping.
State size and intervention
The PQ government was criticized by the two other major parties for being too interventionist, maintaining an overly large government, and for practicing statism. Dumont spoke of Landry and the PQ's "Social bureaucracy", a pun on the Social democracy the PQ defends. Landry responded to Charest and Dumont that "Quebecers do not want less state, they want better state". Dumont had previously proposed a drastic reduction in the size of the civil service, but this was also softened before the campaign.
The conciliation famille-travail became an important issue of the campaign asa result of Landry's "Four day work-week" plan. This proposal would have required Quebec employers to offer the option of a four-day work week to parents. This was presented by the PQ as a way to enhance family life, lower the stress on parents, and of counteracting the fall in Quebec's birthrate since the Quiet Revolution. The plan was attacked by the PLQ and ADQ as being "improvized" since it was only presented near the beginning of the election. It attracted some interest and support from voters, enough for Charest to declare, days before voting day, that he could consider implementing a four day week, although the PLQ has not mentioned this since the election.
The theory of a fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and Quebec City was maintained and denounced by all major parties. Charest argued that the cooperative approach of a federalist party like the PLQ would be more efficient at solving the problem. As proof that the PQ would be able to solve the fiscal imbalance, Landry pointed to his success of early 2003, when he, along with the English Canadian Premiers, managed to come to an agreement with Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chrétien for more money to finance health care. He promised to continue the "battle" to solve the imbalance until independence is achieved.
The PQ government, during the premiership of Landry's predecessor Lucien Bouchard, had merged the major cities of Quebec. The government argued that the mergers would allow a better division of the wealth and responsibilities between richer suburban communities and poorer parts of the main cities. The mergers occurred despite wide-spread opposition in some municipalities. Many Quebecers were still disgruntled, especially in wealthier and anglophone communities. The PLQ proposed to allow referenda on deamalgamation in communities where there was sufficient support. The PQ and the ADQ strongly opposed the idea.
Sovereignty and autonomy
While the PQ continued to promote sovereignty for Quebec with its usual arguments (dignity, culture, globalization, etc.), it was also presented by the PQ as a way to solve the fiscal imbalance problem. The ADQ made great efforts to avoid taking a position on the subject of independence in order to attract both sides of the National Question spectrum. The ADQ positioned itself as a "third way" to Quebecers between what Dumont called "radical separation" and "knelt down federalism". The ADQ had worked in favour of sovereignty during the 1995 Quebec referendum, but had been equivocal on the subject since then.
The PLQ criticized the PQ for using the politics of confrontation because of its sovereignty position, and argued that a PLQ government would restore Quebec's "leadership role" in the federation. Landry promised a third referendum on independence "in 1000 days", confirming the plan he had set out in the Declaration of Gatineau . An argument of Landry for this timetable was that he wanted Quebec to be present at the Summit of the Americas in Buenos Aires in 2005. Representation for Quebec had been denied by Ottawa at the previous summit held in Quebec City, an act that angered many Quebecers. At the same time, Landry kept the door opened to federalist support for the PQ and stated that he would only hold a referendum if he had the "moral assurance" of winning it. This lead Charest to accuse him of having a "hidden agenda", during the Leaders' Debate.
On the day of the Leaders' Debate, Charest's advisors presented to him an article from the website of the Trois-Rivieres newspaper Le Nouvelliste. It spoke of past PQ leader Jacques Parizeau reiterating the controversial statement about "money and the ethnic vote" that he made in his 1995 referendum concession speech. The truth article was later disputed. Despite the uncertainty around this article, Charest surprised Landry with it during the Leaders' Debate, on live television. This created a new controversy that ran for some days following the debate, and was said to have hurt Landry's campaign. The PQ's denounces Charest for launching as an "immoral attack" on Parizeau's reputation and dignity because the article was incorrect in concluding that he had repeated his comments. This response strategy arguably did not work well enough to counter the controversy. The aftermath of the Leaders' Debate is thoroughly treated in the À Hauteur d'homme documentary. This became known as the Parizeau Affair.
The "five dollar-a-day child care" program implemented by the PQ government of Lucien Bouchard was one of the most appreciated achievements of the recent PQ administration. Some parents still did not have access to it, however, because of a lack of sufficient places. Landry, who had been Minister of Fiannce when the plan was implemented, vowed to continue creating more spaces. Charest presented his team as the most capable for this task. He also vowed to keep the price at $5 a day. He broke this promise later that year. See Opposition to the Charest government.
The Action Démocratique insisted that the Government of Quebec to pay down the public debt. The other major leaders did not see it as a priority.
See also: List of political parties in Quebec
Action démocratique du Québec
Parti Libéral du Québec
Union des forces progressistes
- Action démocratique du Québec: L'avenir autrement (The future differently)
- Parti libéral du Québec: Nous sommes prêts (We are ready)
- Parti Québécois: Restons forts (Let us stay strong)
|Party||Party Leader||Candidates||Seats||Popular Vote|
|Parti Québécois||Bernard Landry||125||76||45||-40.8%||1,269,183||33.24%||-9.63%|
|Action démocratique||Mario Dumont||125||1||4||+300%||694,122||18.18%||6.37%|
|Union des forces progressistes||74||40,422||1.06%||0.42%|
|Source: Elections Quebec|
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