Why voters with young families supported the ADQ, and how to get them back
by Camil Bouchard
The 2007 Quebec election saw francophone voters reject the Liberal Party, a large part of the electorate refuse to give the Parti Québécois a new mandate, and support for the Action Démocratique du Québec grow dramatically, both in popular vote and in seats won. While many political observers termed the ADQ surge a protest vote, there is more to it. There has been a steady growth in support for the ADQ since the 1994 election. To make sense of the election outcome we need to understand the social forces underlying this trend.
This is not to underestimate the role of ADQ leader Mario Dumont. While erratic during the previous few years, he proved remarkably skilful at taking advantage of voters’ dissatisfaction and frustration as the election approached. He practically monopolized the debate on reasonable accommodation, and managed, at the right moment, to come up with several measures that attracted the media and resonated in the public imagination. But it would be a mistake to believe that this reflected only a shifting mood among voters. I suggest that it is a sign of a deeper change, and that what we are seeing could be more a generational leap than a change of mood.
Consider these facts “on the ground.” The PQ remained very strong in ridings located in the resource-extracting regions of Quebec. These regions are experiencing a very large demographic imbalance as a result of two related phenomena: the falling birth rate and the emigration of youth toward metropolitan areas. The remaining residents in these regions are older on average and less affected by the precarious employment situation in the resource sector. And many have nest eggs to shelter them against debt. The ADQ made only marginal gains in the resource regions, though the Liberals suffered heavy losses as a result of a very severe and poorly managed forest industry crisis and what the public perceived as an ineffective regional policy.
In contrast, PQ support fell dramatically in the “450” belt surrounding Montreal (named for its telephone area code), characterized in large part by newly built suburban housing for young families. This group, while not poor comparatively speaking, feels squeezed and may experience the stress that comes from insecurity more than any other social group. The ADQ’s message – reduce the size of government and put more money back into the pockets of taxpayers, particularly young families – found its readiest audience in the 450 area this time around, just as it had earlier in the Quebec City region.1
I was personally struck by the situation of these young suburban families during the 2003 election campaign. In my door-to-door visits, I frequently encountered young adults, new parents, living in brand new homes and, apparently, spending rather freely. Typically both parents worked, each had their own car – and they complained, often bitterly, of lack of both time and money. They were exasperated with politicians and politics and frustrated by the taxes they had to pay while working so hard to make ends meet. The perception that Quebecers are the most-taxed population in North America and never get their money’s worth was spelled out regularly, in no uncertain terms.