Premier Pauline Marois today called an election for April 7 as she met Lieutenant-Governor Pierre Duchesne to ask him to dissolve the provincial legislature. Polls show Marois’ separatist Parti Quebecois may have enough support to form its first majority government in more than a decade.
“Today, I have summoned my ministers and we have taken the necessary steps to dissolve the National Assembly and call an election,” Marois said in televised remarks in Quebec City. “It’s now up to you, Quebeckers, to decide.”
A majority would set the stage in the French-speaking province for a possible referendum on secession from the rest of Canada, roiling credit markets and threatening to push the Canadian dollar lower.
“If they get a majority, I fully expect they will hold a referendum during their next mandate,” said Harold Chorney, a political science professor at Concordia University in Montreal. “Marois isn’t going to give up sovereignty.”
A majority victory for the Parti Quebecois would mark the third time since the mid-1970s the party has taken sole control of the province’s legislature, propelling Quebec into another confrontation with the rest of Canada that a former premier once likened to a never-ending visit to the dentist.
Quebec has held two plebiscites on splitting from Canada — in 1980 and 1995 — under previous Parti Quebecois majority governments. The party will hold a third vote if a victory is in sight, Jean-François Lisée, Quebec’s international relations minister, told ICI Radio-Canada television March 1. The separatists came within 0.6 of a percentage point of gaining majority support in the 1995 referendum, but support for the cause has been stalled in the 30 percent range in recent years.
One advantage the separatists may seek to exploit is the federal Conservatives’ lack of representation and low support in the province, where the party holds five of 75 districts. The Conservatives are in fourth place in support in Quebec, polling about 9.4 percent support in the province, according to a four- week rolling survey by Nanos Research of 208 Quebeckers that ended Feb. 15.
It’s a vulnerability for Harper that the opposition Liberal and New Democratic Party, both led by Quebeckers, will try to exploit ahead of federal elections in 2015.