MONTREAL — It befits Jacques Duchesneau, star candidate for the Coalition Avenir Québec in the Sept. 4 Quebec election, to have a personal coat of arms and flag, which he acquired 15 years ago.
For this anti-corruption crusader appears to see himself as a modern-day, real-life version of the legendary Sir Lancelot : a knight errant, or wandering knight, virtuously sallying forth to slay dragons threatening the realm.
His latest quest drew his party into one controversy after another in his first week as a candidate.
The most notable was a verbal jousting match with a fellow knight, the chief counsel of the Charbonneau inquiry, over the quality of the evidence Duchesneau gave the commission last June.
But CAQ Leader François Legault had been warned :
Like a knight errant, Duchesneau wanders, and he wanders alone.
Duchesneau’s independent spirit might prove to be more of an asset than a liability to his party, however.
He’s been a public hero in Quebec since he leaked his report for the transport ministry on collusion in bidding for public-works contracts last year.
This could be a perfect convergence of the corruption issue, a candidate who is a corruption fighter and a party that has never been in power to favour contributors with contracts — even if the candidate is not “perfect” in the conventional sense.
Indeed, voters cynical about politics and yearning for change might be attracted by an “imperfect” candidate whom they trust and who occasionally violates such political conventions as party discipline and obedience to the leader. René Lévesque was such a candidate for the Liberals in the 1960s.
Duchesneau’s candidacy has been the highlight of the first 10 days of an otherwise desultory summer campaign.
It’s unusual for early campaign poll results to be as eagerly anticipated as the first ones to measure the “Duchesneau effect,” which were published on Friday.
The results are inconclusive.
Léger Marketing, polling for Le Devoir, found that there has been an effect, boosting support for the CAQ by six percentage points.
CROP, which conducted its poll for La Presse over a longer period using a different method, said that an effect hasn’t shown up yet, but still might.
It found that government integrity was the most important issue for voters, and that the CAQ was their first choice to deal with it.
One thing on which the rival polling firms agreed is that the Parti Québécois held an early lead in popularity, especially among the French-speaking majority.
This is bad news for the Liberals, who lagged far behind the PQ ; Léger gave them only 18 per cent of the francophone vote, to 39 for the PQ and 31 for the CAQ.
But it’s also bad news for the CAQ, which hopes to make inroads among non-French-speaking voters.
This week, Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister, said for the first time that he would vote No in a sovereignty referendum. And the CAQ added an English section to its website.
Non-francophones are frustrated at being taken for granted, neglected and now even abused by Jean Charest, whose threatening tone toward them about the PQ is reminiscent of a member of Tony Soprano’s crew shaking down a coffee-shop owner for protection.
But as long as it looks as though the PQ has a chance of forming the next government, they’re likely to hold their noses against the stench of scandal and vote again for Charest’s federalist Liberals.
So, for now at least, it appears that the CAQ has little to gain from its overtures to non-French-speaking voters.
And that if it continues to be minority-friendly, it risks forfeiting the support of the significant minority of xenophobic voters to whom the PQ is appealing with its campaign against “multiculturalism” or diversity.
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