Even before the start of the congress, conservative organizers indicated that the confidence vote that Éric Duhaime would have to undergo would not be an easy task.
With a support of 77.5%, the conservative leader receives more than the 76.2% that led Bernard Landry to resign, but we are far from the 98.6% and 98.5% recently obtained by François Legault and Paul St-Pierre Plamondon were achieved.
Every comparison has its limits; Not only does each party have its own internal culture, but the Conservative Party remains a young political group. Although it was officially founded almost 15 years ago, the new impetus it has received in recent years is practically equivalent to a new founding.
From the outside, this timid support may seem surprising. With Éric Duhaime at the helm, the Conservative Party of Quebec received 12.9% of the vote in the last election, compared to 1.5% in 2018. Its membership and funding also recorded spectacular growth thanks to the pandemic, although meanwhile the trend has reversed.
The main concern is that the leader has failed to elect a single deputy, for which many activists continue to criticize him. With around 70,000 more votes across Quebec, the PQ received three, which, as we see every day, makes a big difference in his assertiveness.
The voting method is certainly questionable, but many members still question the Conservative Party’s campaign strategy. Should we have been more vocal against the political system? Become more aggressive towards the media? Are you asking the anglophones of Montreal to devote more energy to Chaudière-Appalaches? Not everyone agrees, but Éric Duhaime says he is already learning lessons from the last elections.
In his speech after the vote of confidence, Éric Duhaime made it clear that his party was part of it
Rebels… and later added in a press conference that I was proud that it had been institutionalized. Unless the two concepts are incompatible in the leader’s eyes, activists would prefer to see their party make a choice.
Many of them want that PCQ is professionalizing and turning the page on the pandemic, but another fringe would rather see it shake the cage of the political and media establishment more forcefully. The race for the leadership of the party, which led to the election of Chantal Dauphinais, was also partly based on these different visions.
There seems to be a certain amount of mistrust between the different camps. To the surprise of many observers, activists immediately expressed doubts about the integrity of the vote, which began Saturday morning. The election period, originally scheduled to last two days, was ultimately shortened because of concerns about who would monitor the ballot boxes at night.
Beyond their different strategic approaches, the Conservatives primarily used the weekend to better define their shared values and their political project. After hours of debate, they managed to work through a dense book of proposals that ran to around a hundred pages. The party wants to demonstrate its depth, but much remains to be done to develop a complete and attractive program.
If the PCQ distinguishes itself from its opponents on private healthcare or hydrocarbon exploitation, the discussions we witnessed about electoral system reform could well have taken place in another political party. The common thread of the Congress was autonomy, but certain proposals still need to be clarified. Above all, it is far from certain that they will be enough to attract voters.
During debate on a proposal to give more powers to the federal government, a member put forward an amendment calling for Quebec’s independence in the event it was impossible to reach an agreement with Ottawa. The amendment was defeated, but we can sense that activists believe they have not yet gotten to the bottom of certain issues.
Duhaime is here to stay
Although he would undoubtedly have liked to win the support of a larger part of his activists, Éric Duhaime was categorical after the vote of confidence: he is here to stay. We also wonder who could replace him. His popularity is far greater than that of any other member of the party.
However, the next few years are likely to be more difficult for the leader than the last, especially if the PCQ does not benefit from the disappointment of the CAQ in the polls. The honeymoon with the activists is finally over.
The Conservative Party not only has to succeed in being noticed on an already rather crowded political stage, but it also has to better define itself, mature and, above all, ensure its internal cohesion.
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