The first of four leader debates in the Québec election has taken place. There was no clear winner. Françoise David exceeded expectations and perhaps she will win her seat and perhaps Québec Solidaire will chip away at some of the PQ’s vote . François Legault was an aggressive performer but I am not certain that he will be found convincing. He is clearly a conditional federalist essentially arguing now is not an opportune time for sovereignty . So the debate clearly confirmed that there are three parties in this election who are either sovereignists or will lean that way when conditions permit. Charest performed well but there were times because of the four way participation where he was relegated to the sidelines . He defended himself and his party against the accusation of corruption by going on the offensive citing an earlier judicial report that criticized the PQ for improper funding. Whether this will be found convincing remains to be seen.
Some of the more interesting portions of the debate focused on health care and the lack of adequate number of family physicians in Quebec. Legault promised to fix the situation in 12 months. Marois dismissed this as unrealistic and Charest blamed it on bad decisions taken years before by the previous PQ Governments which is undoubtedly partly true. David pointed out that cuts in government budgets pushed by neo-con/neo liberal ideology were at fault, also partly true. Charest had some progressive things to say about the deficit in infrastructure investment and the importance of social accounting and the economic crisis but not enough time was devoted to this topic.
Cultural identity was mentioned briefly with Marois denouncing xenophobia, ironic since it was her insistence on opening up the issue of laicité in the way that she did which led eventually to the xenophobic remarks by the mayor of Saguenay. Bill 101 also came up, but sadly there was a consensus except for Charest that strengthening it and tightening the rules on access to education in English was a good thing. So all in all Charest did fairly well, Marois was less impressive although she scored some points on Legault and Charest on several issues. Legault also scored on both Charest and Marois but beat a retreat on several counter attacks . His net result may be to slightly weaken his attraction for disgruntled Liberals. David benefitted by exceeding expectations and because both Charest and Legault wanted to promote her in order to weaken the PQ vote.The debate was also rather technical which may turn off some potential voters who watched part of it. We shall see if there is movement in the polls.