The Quebec Liberal Party has a five-point lead over the Parti Quebecois ahead of the first debate of the election campaign, according to a new poll, which suggests voters have been put off by talk of a referendum should the PQ win a majority next month.

The CTV News/Ipsos Reid poll found that if an election were held tomorrow, Quebec’s Liberals would receive 37 per cent support from decided voters compared to 32 per cent for the PQ.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec is far behind, with 16 per cent support among decided voters, while Quebec Solidaire would receive 10 per cent support. About 12 per cent of voters were undecided.

A vast majority of respondents, some 72 per cent, said that a vote for the PQ is a vote for a referendum on separation, the poll found. Thirty per cent of respondents said they are in favour of Quebec’s independence, while 51 per cent said they are not.

Barely a third of Quebecers are in favour of sovereignty, the poll found.

The PQ was polling more strongly at the outset of the campaign, when talk was focused on the party’s proposed charter of values, pollster Luc Durand told CTV News.

The PQ’s fortunes changed, he said, with the entry into the race of candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau, who immediately declared he is jumping into politics because he wants to see Quebec become a country.

“The game really changed recently with the debate being less about the charter of values and more about the referendum,” Durand said.

“And I think because support for the referendum is very low, there are a lot of people who were afraid of this that moved consequently to the Liberals. But the PQ should have the objective in changing the conversation.”

Meanwhile, two-thirds of Quebecers, or 57 per cent, said Quebec is “going down the wrong direction,” compared to 33 per cent who said “Quebec is headed in the right track.”

The findings are released a day before the first leaders’ debate of this spring campaign, which culminates in a vote on April 7.

The poll was conducted between March 14 and 18 and included a sample of 810 Quebecers from Ipsos’ Canadian online panel.  The poll is considered accurate to within +/- 4 percentage points.

The poll results were broken down by the language used by respondents.

Of those who completed the survey in English, support worked out to:

  • Liberals - 80 per cent
  • PQ - 6 per cent
  • CAQ - 6 per cent
  • Quebec Solidaire - 2 per cent
  • Option Nationale - 2 per cent
  • Other - 2 per cent

Of those who completed the survey in French, support worked out to:

  • PQ - 38 per cent
  • Liberals – 29 per cent
  • CAQ – 18 per cent
  • Quebec Solidaire – 12 per cent
  • Option Nationale – 2 per cent
  • Other – 2 per cent

Meanwhile, as the parties court voters it would seem Liberal supporters are the most keen to hit the voting booth. Of the 64 per cent of respondents who said that “nothing short of an emergency could stop me from getting to the voting booth and casting my vote,” Liberal support is 40 per cent, compared to 33 per cent for the PQ. Support among this group for the CAQ is 14 per cent, the Quebec Solidaire at 9 per cent, and Option Nationale and other parties at 2 per cent each.

When looking at voters’ second choice, however, it would appear that the CAQ has the most room to grow. The party was the second choice of 32 per cent of respondents, while Quebec Solidaire was the second choice of 21 per cent. The Green Party is the second choice of 18 per cent of respondents, the Liberals 13 per cent, the PQ 9 per cent and Option Nationale 7 per cent.

“With only 9 per cent choosing the PQ as their second choice, their ability to grow in the polls appears to be somewhat stifled,” the poll says.

“This is exacerbated by the fact that only 4 per cent of Liberals would choose the PQ as their second party, while 14 per cent of PQ voters would chose the Liberals as their second party -- suggesting that the Liberals would be the primary beneficiary of any vote swapping between the two leading parties.”

Peladeau a drag on PQ fortunes

Peladeau’s entry into the race as a candidate for the PQ was heralded as a game-changer for the Quebec election, but may have a negative impact on the sovereigntist party’s fortunes.

Fifty-four per cent of respondents said they “disagree” (27 per cent “strongly,” 27 per cent “somewhat”) that “the entrance of Pierre Karl Peladeau into the election is a good thing for Quebec.” Forty-six per cent said they “agree” (15 per cent “strongly,” 31 per cent “somewhat”).

Only 11 per cent of respondents said that Peladeau’s candidacy makes them “more likely” to vote for the PQ. Twenty-six per cent said it makes them “less likely” to vote for the PQ, while 63 per cent said it would have no impact on their vote.

Limited referendum support

Barely two in 10 respondents, or 18 per cent, said that if the PQ forms the next government, the party should hold a referendum within its mandate. Some 64 per cent said “no,” while 18 per cent said they are unsure. About 40 per cent of PQ supporters said they were in favour of a referendum.

If a referendum was held today, 30 per cent would vote “yes” to a “sovereign Quebec, accompanied by an offer of partnership with the rest of Canada.” Fifty-one per cent would vote “no,” while 19 per cent said they were unsure.

In 1997, 36 per cent of Quebecers told Ipsos that the PQ should hold a referendum if elected, and 55 per cent said they would vote “yes.”

In today’s poll, 27 per cent would vote “yes” to “Quebec becoming an independent country, separate from Canada,” while 57 per cent would vote “no” and 15 per cent don’t know. In 1997, 38 per cent said they would vote “yes.”

Meanwhile, 75 per cent of respondents said they would definitely stay in the province if the PQ wins a majority on April 7, while 6 per cent said they would “leave Quebec” under those circumstances, and 19 per cent would consider leaving.

As for the potential economic impact of independence, 69 per cent said they “agree” (44 per cent “strongly,” 25 per cent “somewhat”) that “Quebec sovereignty would entail significant economic disruption in Quebec,” while 31 per cent “disagree” (12 per cent strongly, 18 per cent “somewhat”).

‘Deliberate strategy to antagonize minorities’

Months after the PQ unveiled its proposed charter of values, which would ban overt religious symbols from most public institutions, some Quebecers believe the PQ is trying to push ethnic minorities out of the province.

About 33 per cent of respondents said they believe that the party’s policies are “part of a deliberate strategy to antagonize minorities so they will leave the province.” Sixty-seven per cent, however, said they believe the policies designed “principally to protect and promote the viability of the francophone majority and its language and culture.”

The leaders

Finally, respondents were asked which leader is best described by each of six different character traits. In five of the six cases, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard came out on top.

How the three main party leaders (Marois, Couillard, and CAQ Leader Francois Legault) fared in each category:

  • Someone you can trust: Couillard, 29 per cent; Marois, 24 per cent; Legault and David, 19 per cent.
  • Someone who is best to work with the federal government: Couillard, 48 per cent; Marois, 21 per cent; Legault, 17 per cent.
  • Someone whose values are closest to your own: Couillard, 29 per cent; Marois, 24 per cent, Legault, 23 per cent.
  • Someone who is best to manage Quebec’s economy: Couillard, 33 per cent; Marois, 27 per cent; Legault, 24 per cent.
  • Someone who can get the job done: Couillard, 31 per cent; Marois, 28 per cent, Legault, 21 per cent.
  • Someone you most want to share a beer with: Legault, 26 per cent; Couillard, 22 per cent; Marois, 18 per cent.