Quebec's incumbent Legault ahead in next week's election polls

By Allison Lampert

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Francois Legault, the nationalist leader of Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), is favoured to stay in power with a bigger margin in the Canadian province's election next week, promising to cut middle class taxes and protect the province's official French language.

Legault, 65, a former airline executive, swept CAQ to power for the first time in 2018 through plans to preserve the French language in an English-dominated North America, cut immigration and balance budgets.

He has vowed this year to keep annual immigration capped at 50,000, compared with two rivals who would bring in more newcomers.

A recent analysis showed centre-right CAQ is poised to win a possible 98 seats in a 125 member house, ahead of the Liberals, Conservatives, Parti Quebecois (PQ) and left-leaning Quebec Solidaire, according to election projection site qc125.com.

The projected range of 84 to 105 seats is more than the 74 seats CAQ won in 2018.

A Leger poll this month showed CAQ would win 38% of the vote compared with 18% for the Liberals, 17% for Quebec Solidaire, 15% for the Conservatives and 11% for the PQ. CAQ won in 2018 with around 37% of the popular vote.

IMMIGRATION TOP OF MIND

While Quebecers have cited the economy and inflation as key priorities ahead of the Oct. 3 vote, the election has cast a spotlight on identity politics and the integration of non French-speaking immigrants.

Quebec, which accounts for a fifth of Canada's overall GDP, has struggled with labour shortages due to its restrictive immigration policies, an aging population and comparatively low unemployment. Quebec's unemployment rate is 4.5%, below Canada's 5.4%.

Legault has urged companies facing staff shortages to improve productivity, pointing to automation as one solution.

"It's not true that the only solution is immigration," Legault, also a former PQ cabinet minister, told a leaders' debate on Thursday.

ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY

Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS), said Quebec voters may be sticking with CAQ given current economic uncertainty.

"This may not be a time for change," he said.

Legault has faced pressure over CAQ's imposition of a curfew and vaccine mandates at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic from Quebec Conservative leader Eric Duhaime, who built up right-leaning support over "freedom of choice."

Surging inflation has prompted CAQ, the Liberals and Conservatives to propose tax cuts. Legault has pledged to hand out one-time payments of C$400 ($297) or C$600 for those earning less than C$100,000.

For details of other proposals and promises:

($1 = 1.3472 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Josie Kao)