MONTREAL – Voters in Quebec will go to the polls today after a provincial election campaign that has seen the Liberal party and the Coalition Avenir Quebec locked in a battle for first place.
Coalition Leader Francois Legault entered the race as the front-runner, but has seen his early lead dwindle as he seeks to unseat Philippe Couillard’s incumbent Liberals.
The race is rounded out by Jean Francois Lisee’s Parti Quebecois, which entered the campaign as the official Opposition but has been stuck in third place in the polls.
The three main leaders spent the final day of the campaign on Sunday criss-crossing Quebec, making last-minute pitches to voters and trading insults over which leader would best advance the province’s interests.
With campaigning over, the leaders will cast ballots in their home ridings this morning before waiting for the results to come in after polls close at 8 p.m.
The Liberal party had 68 seats at the legislature’s dissolution, while the Parti Quebecois had 28, the Coalition had 21 and the small, left-leaning Quebec solidaire had three. Sixty-three seats are needed to form a majority.
Most polls show the Coalition Avenir Quebec with a whisker-thin lead over the Liberals, but the two parties remain close with just over 30 per cent support each.
While Quebec’s economy has surged in recent years, public opinion polls have suggested for months that voters are looking for a change after 15 years of nearly continuous Liberal rule.
With the exception of a 19-month Parti Quebecois minority government between 2012 and 2014, the Liberals have been in power since 2003.
With none of the major parties promising a sovereignty referendum in the next four years, the 39-day campaign focused on immigration, health care and the best way to spend the province’s billions in budget surpluses.
While Couillard touted his government’s balanced budgets and the province’s strong economic performance, Legault positioned himself as the best person to deliver needed change.
Both leaders faced criticism at times: Couillard for having reduced health and education budgets early in his mandate, and Legault for a controversial plan to “expel” immigrants who fail to pass a language and values test within three years of arrival.
A Coalition victory would mark the first time in nearly 50 years that the province would be led by a party other than the Liberals or the Parti Quebecois.
The last other party to hold power was the now-defunct Union Nationale, which led the province from 1966 to 1970.News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016