MONTREAL — The percentage of Quebec voters who have cast an early ballot has almost doubled compared with the last election, the province's elections office said Monday.
About 13 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots on Sunday — the first of two advanced polling days — up from about seven per cent after the first early polling day in the 2018 election, according to Élections Québec.
Seven of the 10 ridings that reported the highest turnouts on Sunday were in the greater Quebec City area, where the incumbent Coalition Avenir Québec is facing a challenge from the Conservatives led by Éric Duhaime.
The high turnout in the region bodes well for the Conservatives because people who are motivated to vote are often people who want a change in government, Duhaime told reporters Monday in the Montreal suburb of Laval. "When we see there's a lot of people participating, we think it's a good sign," Duhaime said.
"We do believe more people participating means people are looking for a change."
But the Tory leader said despite the high polling numbers — the Conservatives are polling between 16 and 19 per cent depending on the survey — his party isn't assured of winning a single seat in the 125-seat legislature because of the distribution of the vote and the fact there is a tight, four-way race between the four main opposition parties.
Meanwhile, two of Quebec's main party leaders travelled on Monday to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine region, which is in cleanup mode after a battering from post-tropical storm Fiona. Before dissolution, the riding was held by the Parti Québécois' Joël Arseneau, who in the last election won by 15 votes over the Liberal candidate.
PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon visited the eastern Quebec island chain to see if there was anything his party could do to help. He told reporters that recovery efforts seemed well underway, but he said Quebecers hit by natural disasters in the past haven't received the support they needed, suggesting a sovereign Quebec would be able to act without having to "pass the buck for years" between the federal and provincial governments.
St-Pierre Plamondon denied his visit was politicizing a natural disaster. “I think that no matter when an event like this takes place, you have to go there, you have to take the measure of what there is to do," he said in Cap-aux-Meules, Que., after touring the island and meeting with officials.
CAQ Leader François Legault also visited the Îles-de-la-Madeleine riding on Monday. His party hopes to steal the district from the PQ, which is facing a stiff challenge from well-known local mayor and CAQ candidate Jonathan Lapierre.
Late Monday, Québec solidaire announced that a candidate running against St-Pierre Plamondon in the Montreal riding of Camille-Laurin was withdrawing her candidacy after security camera video circulating on social media appeared to show her removing a PQ campaign leaflet from a mailbox and replacing it with her own.
Not long after, Marie-Eve Rancourt apologized to St-Pierre Plamondon on social media and said she was committed to finishing the campaign in respect of the rules. The Montreal riding was won by the CAQ in 2018 and polls show the incumbent, Richard Campeau, is in the lead over the PQ leader.
But hours later Québec solidaire co-spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois announced on his Twitter account that Rancourt had decided to withdraw and that he and co-spokesperson Manon Massé had accepted the decision.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade on Monday said her party is the best prepared to deal with a recession, accusing the CAQ of failing to anticipate the inflation crisis and struggling to recognize the persistent problem of labour shortages. Speaking to reporters in Montreal, she promised $4 billion for education infrastructure, including $500 million to improve ventilation in schools.
Anglade said she will travel to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine and to the Gaspé Peninsula this weekend.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.
— With files from Ugo Giguère, Lia Lévesque, Stéphane Blais, Stéphane Rolland, Patrice Bergeron.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press