MONTREAL - Corruption in Quebec is not only stealing taxpayer dollars, but continuously taking headlines away from other issues in the province's nine-day old election campaign.
And if the trend continues, Quebec's third party, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), stands to benefit massively at the expense of the Liberals and Parti Quebecois (PQ), said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research.
Forum's latest poll showed a 10-point jump for the CAQ in Quebecers' voting intentions.
Bozinoff said the increase is due to the announcement last Sunday that the province's well-known anti-corruption crusader -- former Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau -- will run in a riding north of Montreal for the CAQ.
"Corruption is the motherhood issue in the campaign and the CAQ got the mother," Bozinoff told QMI Agency in a phone interview Thursday.
CAQ's eight-seat jump in the Forum poll came exclusively at the expense the Liberals, while the PQ stayed the same at 65 seats, putting them on track to win a slim majority in the Sept. 4 election.
Poll results show the Liberals would get 46 seats, down eight from 54, and the CAQ would get 13 seats, up eight from five.
However, the PQ cannot fight off the CAQ forever, Bozinoff said.
"Just a little bit more growth from the CAQ - if they gained just five more points, for instance - and the seats could start tumbling like a landslide," Bozinoff said.
And corruption headlines keep flowing.
Early Thursday, four people, including Tony Accurso, one of the biggest names in Quebec's construction industry, were arrested and accused of allegedly running a $3-million dollar tax-evasion scheme.
It was Accurso's second arrest in four months for fraud and corruption.
None of the four have direct ties to the Liberals or the PQ.
However, a media report revealed that Accurso's companies received $1 billion in public contracts since 1990 - during both Liberal and PQ administrations.
Later in the day, Quebec Premier Jean Charest continued to defend himself against a Wednesday French CBC news report that a secret 2009 provincial police surveillance operation was immediately halted after the suspect met briefly with Charest at a Montreal hotel.
He accused the CBC of a lack of ethics in its reporting and denied having anything to do with the halt in the surveillance operation.
Quebec's association of journalists, however, said it was "stunned" that Charest criticized the CBC.
Bozinoff said that as long as corruption headlines keep coming, it will only hurt the Liberal party.
"Corruption is not a left-right issue," Bozinoff said. "Everyone is against it."
However, messaging from political parties is often tailored to suit polling data and while corruption might be important, it is by no means the most important issue for Quebecers, said Howard Chorney, professor of political economy and public policy at Montreal's Concordia University.
Unemployment, education and health care are all equally if not more important to Quebecers, and polling questions should better reflect that, he told QMI Agency Thursday.
"Elections are fought by what pollsters are telling people," Chorney said. "It's kind of like selling cough medicine."
He said political parties should be spending more time discussing election finance reform.
If politicians were really interested in fighting corruption, they would make elections financed by taxpayers so that parties aren't "harvesting donations from people who might be influence-peddling," he said.
Chorney said he would like to see polling firms ask Quebecers about how families are hurting financially after the recession, about unemployment and how Quebecers think the government has done with regards to job creation.
Bozinoff said that Quebec politicians have so far not focused heavily on the sustained effects of the worldwide recession because "maybe they don't have the solutions."
But he admitted polls could focus more on the day-to-day lives of Quebecers.