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2003 Quebec general election

2003 Quebec general election

The 2003 Quebec general election was held on April 14, 2003, to elect members of the National Assembly of Quebec (Canada). The Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ), led by Jean Charest, defeated the incumbent Parti Québécois, led by Premier Bernard Landry, in a landslide.

In Champlain there was a tie between PQ candidate Noëlla Champagne and Liberal candidate Pierre-A. Brouillette; although the initial tally was 11,867 to 11,859, a judicial recount produced a tally of 11,852 each. A new election was held on May 20 and was won by Champagne by a margin of 642 votes.


In January 2001, Lucien Bouchard announced that he would resign from public life, citing that the results of his work were not very convincing. In March 2001, the Parti Québécois selected Bernard Landry as leader by acclamation, thus becoming premier of Quebec. In 2002, the Parti Québécois (PQ) government had been in power for two mandates. It was seen as worn-out by some, and its poll numbers fell sharply. It placed third at its lowest point. An important part of its support was going to the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) and its young leader, Mario Dumont. Some PQ supporters had left for the Liberal party.

Landry, leader of the PQ, undertook a revitalization of the party and its image. As the ideas of the conservative nature of ADQ's platform became more apparent, that party's popularity declined. Social democratic measures taken by the PQ government, like the passing of the "Law against poverty" helped improve the PQ's standing in the public opinion polls. PLQ leader Jean Charest initially continued to be unpopular with voters.

The 2003 election happened against the backdrop of the war in Iraq. The battles of that war took place during the first half of the campaign, diverting the attention of the media and the population. Landry became known for his custom of wearing the white ribbon (which in 2003 was worn by people in favour of peace). This custom was shortly followed by the two other main party leaders, Charest and Dumont. Landry was the most outspoken critic of the war. The other two were more discreet on the matter. Charest once stated that it was an opportunity to reaffirm his "belief in peace". Dumont acted in a similar way, while also addressing criticism to Landry, saying that Quebecers should refrain from criticizing Americans too harshly since Americans were historical friends of Quebecers.

The desire for change was considered an important factor of the campaign (see "Change", below). However, while reminding voters that the fundamental change was at the core of its primary ideal, sovereignty, the PQ focused its message and publicity not on change, but on stability. Its campaign slogan emphasized this (see the Campaign slogans below). Landry also tried to portray the vote as being a choice between the left wing PQ and two parties of the right. The PLQ portrayed itself as centrist. The PLQ produced dynamic ads and material, and released a new, younger logo. The ADQ put forward its young, underdog leader, and denied being too much to the right. It first broadcast a negative advertisement (a bleak television spot speaking of deaths in the hospitals) that backfired substantially, with criticism from opponents and citizens. It shortly released a brighter, more positive advertising.

Despite the PQ's recovery of support, Charest appeared as a viable alternative for people in desire of change, especially during the Leaders' Debate. Also, the Parizeau Affair sparked by Charest is said to have harmed Landry's campaign up to election day. The PQ lead in the public opinion polls vanished by mid-campaign.

The Parti Libéral won the election, while Parti Québécois won a respectable number of seats. The ADQ won four seats, which was a considerable improvement from previous general elections. It was nonetheless a disappointment for the party since it had five sitting members as a result of by-election victories in the previous year. It had also had a high standing in the polls of that same year. This was the first general election for the new left-wing Union des forces progressistes.

A documentary about Bernard Landry's point of view of the campaign was released in 2003 called À Hauteur d'homme. It was directed by Jean-Claude Labrecque.


Health care

Jean Charest and the PLQ focused their campaign upon the issue of health care and reducing waiting lists. The other major parties criticized Charest for planning to invest only in health care and education, while freezing other budgets. Landry argued that money for health care would be available when the fiscal imbalance was solved by sovereignty. He vowed to fight for money from Ottawa until then, as he had done earlier that year (see the "Fiscal Imbalance", below). Charest portrayed Landry as putting sovereignty ahead of health care, and presented his party as the one that would make health care its first priority. He also accused Landry's government of using waiting lists as an administration procedure for hospitals.


The desire for change was considered by the media to be a major deciding factor of the vote. The media were criticized by the PQ and some citizens as "wanting change for the sake of change", since the government had ended its term with an economy doing well and high satisfaction polls for an outgoing administration. Landry reminded voters that, while voting for his party did not change the government right away, the first ideal of the PQ, sovereignty, was "the greatest of changes". At the Leaders' Debate, Charest told viewers that those wanting change should vote for the PLQ since "A vote for the ADQ is a vote for the PQ". At the time, the ADQ was considered to be too low in the polls to be a potential victor. Charest's reminder of the spoiler effect is said to have been partly responsible for his victory on election day. The results on election day appear to have demonstrated the voters' desire for change.

Income tax

Charest presented a plan of major reduction of income tax, which Landry opposed. Quebec's income taxes are the highest in North America, but its social programs are also relatively generous, and the gap between rich and poor is the lowest of the North American continent. The ADQ presented a flat tax plan in 2002. This proved to be highly unpopular, and contributed to the image of the party as being too conservative. This plan, in its pure form, was dropped in the beginning of 2003. The ADQ claimed that, after further examination, the Quebec government did not have the resources to implement it. This, again, hurt the party further by giving it the image of flip flopping.

State size and intervention

The PQ government was criticized by the two other major parties for being too interventionist, maintaining an overly large government, and for practising statism. Dumont spoke of Landry and the PQ's "Social bureaucracy", a pun on the Social democracy the PQ defends. Landry responded to Charest and Dumont that "Quebecers do not want less state, they want better state". Dumont had previously proposed a drastic reduction in the size of the civil service, but this was also softened before the campaign.

Family-work conciliation

The conciliation famille-travail became an important issue of the campaign as a result of Landry's "Four day work-week" plan. This proposal would have required Quebec employers to offer the option of a four-day work week to parents. This was presented by the PQ as a way to enhance family life, lower the stress on parents, and of counteracting the fall in Quebec's birthrate since the Quiet Revolution. The plan was attacked by the PLQ and ADQ as being "improvised" since it was only presented near the beginning of the election. It attracted some interest and support from voters, enough for Charest to declare, days before voting day, that he could consider implementing a four-day week, although the PLQ has not mentioned this since the election.

Fiscal imbalance

The theory of a fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and Quebec City was maintained and denounced by all major parties. Charest argued that the co-operative approach of a federalist party like the PLQ would be more effective solving the problem. As proof that the PQ would be able to solve the fiscal imbalance, Landry pointed to his success of early 2003, when he, along with the English Canadian Premiers, managed to come to an agreement with Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chrétien for more money to finance health care. He promised to continue the "battle" to solve the imbalance until independence is achieved.

City mergers

The PQ government, during the premiership of Landry's predecessor Lucien Bouchard, had merged the major cities of Quebec. The government argued that the mergers would allow a better division of the wealth and responsibilities between richer suburban communities and poorer parts of the main cities. The mergers occurred despite widespread opposition in some municipalities. Many Quebecers were still disgruntled, especially in wealthier and anglophone communities. The PLQ proposed to allow referendums on de-amalgamation in communities where there was sufficient support. The PQ and the ADQ strongly opposed the idea.

Sovereignty and autonomy

While the PQ continued to promote sovereignty for Quebec with its usual arguments (dignity, culture, globalization, etc.), it was also presented by the PQ as a way to solve the fiscal imbalance problem. The ADQ made great efforts to avoid taking a position on the subject of independence in order to attract both sides of the National Question spectrum. The ADQ positioned itself as a "third way" to Quebecers between what Dumont called "radical separation" and "knelt down federalism". The ADQ had worked in favour of sovereignty during the 1995 Quebec referendum, but had been equivocal on the subject since then.

The PLQ criticized the PQ for using the politics of confrontation because of its sovereignty position, and argued that a PLQ government would restore Quebec's "leadership role" in the federation. Landry promised a third referendum on independence "in 1000 days", confirming the plan he had set out in the Declaration of Gatineau, with support for independence running very low and support for a referendum running even lower in opinion polls; this did not prove to be a popular position. An argument of Landry for this timetable was that he wanted Quebec to be present at the Summit of the Americas in Buenos Aires in 2005. Representation for Quebec had been denied by Ottawa at the previous summit held in Quebec City, an act that angered many Quebecers. At the same time, Landry kept the door opened to federalist support for the PQ and stated that he would only hold a referendum if he had the "moral assurance" of winning it. This lead Charest to accuse him of having a "hidden agenda", during the Leaders' Debate.

Parizeau Affair

On the day of the leaders' debate, Charest's advisors gave him an article from the website of the Trois-Rivières newspaper Le Nouvelliste that spoke of past PQ leader Jacques Parizeau restating his controversial remarks about "money and the ethnic vote" which he had made in his 1995 referendum concession speech. The truth of the article was later disputed, yet despite the uncertainty surrounding this article, Charest surprised Landry with it during the leaders' debate on live television. This created a new controversy that ran for some days following the debate, and was said to have hurt Landry's campaign. The PQ denounced Charest for launching an "immoral attack" on Parizeau's reputation and dignity, saying that the article was incorrect in concluding that he had repeated his comments, but this method of response was not enough to defuse the controversy. The aftermath of the leaders' debate is thoroughly treated in the À Hauteur d'homme documentary, and became known as the Parizeau Affair.

Day care

The "five dollar-a-day child care" program implemented by the PQ government of Lucien Bouchard was one of the most appreciated achievements of the recent PQ administration. Some parents still did not have access to it, however, because of a lack of sufficient places. Landry, who had been Minister of Finance when the plan was implemented, vowed to continue creating more spaces. Charest presented his team as the most capable for this task. He also vowed to keep the price at $5 a day. He broke this promise later that year. See Opposition to the Charest government.

Public debt

The Action Démocratique insisted that the Government of Quebec should pay down the public debt. The other major leaders did not see it as a priority.


Major parties

Action démocratique du Québec

Quebec Liberal Party

Parti Québécois

Minor parties

Bloc Pot

Union des forces progressistes

Campaign slogans

  • Action démocratique du Québec: L'avenir autrement (The future differently)
  • Quebec Liberal Party: Nous sommes prêts (We are ready)
  • Parti Québécois: Restons forts (Let us stay strong)

Incumbent MNAs not running for re-election

Collection James Bond 007

Redistribution of ridings

The Commission de la représentation électorale performed a redistribution in 2001, which maintained the number of seats in the National Assembly at 125 for the next general election, making the following alterations:


Synopsis of results

  = open seat
  = turnout is above provincial average
  = winning candidate was in previous Legislature
  = incumbent had switched allegiance
  = previously incumbent in another riding
  = not incumbent; was previously elected to the Legislature
  = incumbency arose from byelection gain
  = other incumbents renominated
  = previously an MP in the House of Commons of Canada
  = multiple candidates

Summary analysis

See also

  • Politics of Quebec
  • List of premiers of Quebec
  • List of leaders of the Official Opposition (Quebec)
  • National Assembly of Quebec
  • 2007 Quebec general election
  • Timeline of Quebec history
  • Political parties in Quebec
  • 37th National Assembly of Quebec



Further reading

  • Mutimer, David, ed. (2009). Canadian Annual Review of Politics and Public Affairs, 2003. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802099853.

External links

  • Results by party (total votes and seats won)
  • Results for all ridings

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: 2003 Quebec general election by Wikipedia (Historical)