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Unresolved Ambiguity: Quebec After the Election of 1998*

  • John Meisel


PSEPHOLOGY – THE ART OF STUDYING ELECTIONS – HAS COME TEN thousand leagues since R.B.McCallum applied the term in the 1940s to his pioneering analyses of British elections and political opinion in the first of the now classic Nuffield studies. Putting the electors under a magnifying glass has ranged from examining them by means of formal logic and sophisticated mathematical procedures, to anecdotal accounts of the process through which democracies choose their governments. In this article, I seek to situate a particular contest – the 1998 Quebec provincial election – into the general political landscape.

The result of the balloting was that the reigning sovereigntist Parti Québécois (PQ) was returned to power under a first-past-thepost system with a resounding majority of seats but with fewer votes than the opposition federalist Parti Liberal du Québec (PLQ). As if that paradox were not enough, polls demonstrated without a smidgen of doubt that although the voters returned a government committed to holding a referendum on the sovereignty of Quebec, a significant majority did not wish a referendum to be held within the foreseeable future. Majorities of both francophone and anglophone electors opposed a direct consultation on Quebec's status in the federation.



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3 ‘40 ans après la Révolution tranquille, il est temps que le Québec change de cap.’

4 A very large number of polls were conducted during the campaign, most of them exhibiting great consistency. The data here are derived from a seine conducted between 23 and 26 November by Léger and Léger for Le journal de Montréal and the Toronto Globe and Mail, published on 28 November. Electoral law in Quebec prohibits the publication of polls immediately before the balloting starts.

5 Gagnon, Lysiane, ‘Voters Don’t Want Referendum, So They Elect PQ. Love is Blind’, The Globe and Mail, 28 11 1998 .

6 Ibid.

7 Massicotte, Louis and Blais, André, ‘Dernière élection: Le PLQ aurait eu besoin de 300,000 votes de plus’, La Presse, Montreal, 7 01 1999 . See also an earlier paper by the same authors in La Presse, 9 December 1998.

8 The complete results were not available until mid‐December because the death of the PQ candidate in Masson necessitated the holding of a by‐election there on 14 December. Only 124 constituencies were therefore contested on election day. The analysis above is based on the final results from all 125 ridings.

9 The change from 1994 is given in brackets.

10 Change from 1994.

11 For a fuller development of this analysis, see Fraser, Graham, ‘Jean Charest’s Slippery Slope’, The Globe and Mail, 28 11 1998 .

12 Séguin, Rhéa, ‘Bouchard Puts off Referendum,’ The Globe and Mail, 2 12 1998 .

* This paper owes much to Matthew Mendelsohn for his counsel and to Joan Harcourt for her blue pencil.

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Unresolved Ambiguity: Quebec After the Election of 1998*

  • John Meisel


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