Quebec’s ‘post-COVID’ election campaign makes little mention of deaths and emergency powers

The French phrase « walkaboutregularly appears on the agenda of the major Quebec party leaders during the provincial election campaign.

The term, which translates directly into English as « walkabout », is used to describe walks in public places such as markets, regional fairs and busy shopping streets, during which politicians shake hands with voters , pose for photos and sometimes hold babies.

Politicians bathing in the crowd are a sign of the post-pandemic atmosphere of the Quebec election campaign: masks are scarce, candidates are getting closer to supporters and political rallies are back.

“We are in a completely post-COVID campaign,” said Éric Montpetit, professor of political science at the University of Montreal, in an interview on Tuesday.

Quebec’s campaign, which ends on election day Oct. 3, stands in stark contrast to campaigns during the pandemic in other provinces, such as New Brunswick in 2020, where there were no rallies and where some parties have stopped canvassing.

During the spring election in Ontario, candidates wore masks and the leaders of the New Democratic Party and the Green Party were forced to suspend their campaigns after testing positive for COVID-19.

For some health experts, however, the lack of discussion in Quebec about the pandemic represents a missed opportunity to talk about lessons learned over the past two years.

The leader of the Conservative Party of Quebec, Éric Duhaime, has often criticized the CAQ’s approach to the pandemic before the election campaign. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

“I am both surprised and disappointed,” said Dr Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Center, referring to the lack of discussion of the pandemic during the election campaign.

He said Quebec had not done enough to prepare for a possible future wave. The incumbent Coalition Avenir Québec party, he added, does not want to talk too much about the pandemic due to the high death toll in the province – 16,754 deaths have been attributed to the disease, the highest number in Canada .

The deaths are « a reflection not only of a virulent pathogen and a population at risk, but (they) also tell us that our healthcare system is extremely fragile, » Vinh said in an interview on Tuesday.

He says that Quebec’s health network remains seriously understaffed and that the number of vulnerable people is increasing as the population ages.

Pandemic audience fatigue is a contributing factor

Vinh said political parties in Quebec are probably not talking about the pandemic because voters are ready to move on. « I think most people don’t want to hear about COVID anymore and that’s why there’s no outcry. »

Daniel Weinstock, a professor at McGill University’s Institute of Health and Social Policy, said he agrees that public opinion is probably part of the reason why the pandemic is not a top topic during countryside.

While the vast majority of eligible Canadians received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, uptake of the third and fourth doses was much lower, a sign, Weinstock said, that people want to live in a post-war world. -pandemic.

« It could be that at the end of the day that’s the main reason why everyone in this race, the opposition parties, has decided that, even if there is a rational reason to question the management of the pandemic by the government – especially in its early stages – it’s just not something the people want to hear. It’s not a source of a vote, » he said.

Weinstock, however, said he was disappointed that campaigning CAQ leader Francois Legault didn’t really have to defend his government’s use of emergency powers during the pandemic.

« I was disappointed in the lack of bandwidth taken up by this government’s relatively cavalier manner with liberal democratic rights and freedoms, » he said.

Lack of criticism from other parties

Only the leader of the Conservative Party of Quebec, Éric Duhaime, has regularly criticized Legault’s handling of the pandemic. But Montpetit said that criticism was primarily aimed at appealing to Duhaime’s base – and much of it predated the election campaign.

Duhaime has focused less often on pandemic measures in recent weeks as he seeks to broaden his appeal, Montpetit said.

Legault standing in front of party candidates with a massive waterfall backdrop.
The outgoing premier and leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec party, François Legault, launched his campaign in front of the popular Montmorency Falls. (Mathieu Potvin/Radio Canada)

Legault has managed to remain popular throughout the pandemic because his health orders have followed public opinion, Montpetit said.

During the first waves of the disease, the government’s strict measures were widely popular. But public sentiment changed in December 2021 and January 2022, when opinion polls began to show the measures – including the curfew – losing support. In response, Legault quickly changed course.

« Most people feel like Legault did what he could, he did a good job, (that) it was hard work and someone else wouldn’t have done it. better than him, » Montpetit said.

« So in this context, it’s clear that François Legault’s opponents have absolutely no interest in raising this issue and I think that’s why we don’t talk about it during the campaign. »


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