Category Archives: Canada
Kyle Hutton is an avid reader of World Elections, and a Liberal blogger from Ontario, who runs a partisan blog at Blunt Objects, as well as a blog looking at historical elections in Canada at Canadian Psephos. You can follow him on Twitter here.
A federal by-election was held in Labrador, Newfoundland and Labrador (also known as the “Big Land”) on May 13th, 2013, following the resignation of that riding’s Conservative MP Peter Penashue, who won the seat from the Liberals in a close race in 2011’s federal election.
Before we get into why the by-election was called, we must first understand some of the history and demographics that make up the Big Land.
Labrador is the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, taking up the eastern seaboard of the huge Labrador Peninsula, the large span of land that covers northern Quebec and Labrador, from the Hudson Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. It is sparsely populated, with no more than 30,000 permanent residents, and only two towns of significant size (Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Labrador City, both between 7,000-8,000 residents). Despite the small population, there is extensive industry in Labrador, ranging from large-scale iron-ore mining and hydro-electric projects in the west, to extensive logging and fisheries in the east. There is also a Canadian Forces air base located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, though its importance to the military has declined significantly since its heyday in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when it served as a training base for several European air forces. Though 5-Wing Goose Bay and Search & Rescue services still use the base, Canadian Forces personnel there number under 100.
While Labrador is a mostly Anglophone and dominated by whites (who make up just over 62% of the population), there exists a large Aboriginal population that numbers around 38% according to the 2006 Census. Around 15% of Aboriginals lay claim to Inuit ancestry, while the rest are either Métis (15%) or undefined First Nations (7%). The Innu Nation is probably the largest and most well-known of the First Nations groups, representing many of the First Peoples communities in northern Quebec and Labrador (Nitassinan, or “Our Land”). Most of their members live in central Labrador, near Happy Valley-Goose Bay, though are spread throughout the district.
The Inuit of Labrador are somewhat split into two groups. The first live in the north of Labrador, in an area recognized by the Canadian and Newfoundland governments as an autonomous area known as “Nunatsiavut,” governed by their own council and somewhat similar to what Nunavut would have been like had it not become its own territory. The major settlement in Nunatsiavut is Nain, which numbers just under 2,000 people, though the claimed regions go as far south as Rigolet, which is at the mouth of Hamilton Inlet (that which feeds Lake Melville, the large basin in the middle of Labrador).
The second group of Inuit are actually a Métis group with heavy roots in Inuit culture, known as the NunatuKavummiut. Unlike their cousins in Nunatsiavut, however, their claimed territory of NunatuKavut, which takes up most of southeastern Labrador from Lake Melville to the coast, is unrecognized by either the federal or provincial government. Though they have a council and a President (led by former MP Todd Russell), they do not enjoy the same status as the northern Inuit. The largest town dominated by NunatuKavummiut is Cartwright, which has under 1,000 residents.
Labrador joined in Confederation in 1949 as a part of the province of Newfoundland, previous to which it had been a somewhat neglected northern district in a semi-independent British Dominion. Like the rest of the province, both the MHAs and MPs elected from Labrador for the first couple of decades after ‘49 were Liberals. This was mostly due to the phenomenon known as Joey Smallwood, who had led the province into Confederation and dominated its politics for years, though federal Liberals also heaped federal money on the region during their terms in power. Labrador was represented by Liberals continuously since 1949 to 2011, except for the brief stint of Ambrose Peddle between 1968-1972. In 1988, Labrador was molded into its own district despite being the least populated riding in Canada, which it remains to this day with only 27,000 residents, falling underneath the “distinct region” clause of Elections Canada’s redistribution rules.
Set amongst the background of the Liberal collapse, NDP rise, and Conservative majority built elsewhere in the country, Newfoundland and Labrador stuck out like something of a sore thumb on any map, returning four Liberal MPs from Central Newfoundland, two New Democrats from St. John’s, and of course, Peter Penashue in Labrador. Much of the reason for the lack of major Conservative momentum in the province was due to how damaged the Harper government had been damaged by former Premier Danny Williams’ – himself a Conservative – “Anything But Conservative” campaign, which encouraged voters in 2008’s federal election to reject the party for reneging on equalization payments to Newfoundland. The Conservatives, previously the main challengers to the Liberals in the province, dropped like a stone to only 16% support province-wide. The effects were pretty clearly felt in Labrador, where the Conservatives dropped from just under 40% in 2006 to 8% in 2008. Todd Russell, the Liberal MP since 2005, won with a whopping 70% support, though mostly on the back of low turnout (38.6%, or just 7,787 voters).
Enter in Peter Penashue, the former Grand Chief of the Innu Nation for a dozen years between the 1990’s and early 2000’s, as well as holder of various other leadership roles. The recruitment of Penashue by the Conservatives was a major coup, representing a major voting bloc in the riding and having an extremely high profile even amongst non-Innu. He had a profile equal to that of Russell’s, plus the backing of a Conservative establishment really pining for a win in the province. As we’ll see in a minute, he may have had too much backing for Elections Canada’s liking.
On May 2nd, Penashue battled in a tight race for the riding with Russell, with it being called for the latter prematurely by some media until they saw they had a race on their hands. In the end, Penashue won with a mere 79 votes, or roughly 1.7%, over Russell. Much of his win came from voters in Lake Melville region (basically, Central Labrador), where much of the Innu population lives, as well as support from the northern Inuit communities. He won 88% in the two Innu-dominated polls, and his support in those polls provided him with his margin of victory. Russell’s support ballooned in NunatuKavut polls, but came in second (or third) everywhere else. Finally, the NDP dominated in Labrador West – basically around Labrador City and Wabush (iron ore mining is important in the area), the NDP’s traditional base of support both provincially and federally.
Penashue’s Resignation and Re-Candidacy
Peter Penashue was named Intergovernmental Affairs Minister in the majority cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing Conseratives, as well as being Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative in the government (by virtue of being the only Conservative from the province!). However, he ran into trouble following revelations that his 2011 campaign had taken nearly $28,000 in illegal campaign donations, usually in the form of free airplane trips (you need a plane to cover Labrador’s large and sparsely populated interior), as well as a $5,500 donation from a local construction company. This money was on top of roughly $44,000 that the Conservative Party had given Penashue’s campaign, as well as a loan from a local Innu business, run by his brother-in-law, interest-free, which is illegal under Canadian law.
Despite paying back Elections Canada for the illegal donations (and then some), as well as laying the blame at the feet of his rookie campaign manager in 2011, Penashue resigned from cabinet and his seat on March 14th. In a somewhat different twist, he also announced his candidacy for the by-election as a Conservative, hoping for redemption from Labrador’s electorate.
Penashue faced no opposition from the Conservative establishment in either Ottawa or Labrador, with Prime Minister Harper even calling the by-election rather quickly than in the past (for example, the last by-elections in Calgary Centre, Durham, and Victoria weren’t held until three months after the last resignation). The date was set for May 13th, a day before the previously-announced date of the general election in British Columbia, causing some speculation that Harper was hoping to drown out a possible loss in Labrador to the expected NDP victory on the other side of the country.
Penashue, despite the issues surrounding his candidacy, was a fairly obvious choice for the Conservatives. He remains the highest profile federal Conservative in the Big Land, if not in Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole. Even if the Conservatives wanted someone else, they would ne unable to match Penashue’s popularity.
The main challengers to Penashue were expected to be the Liberals, based mostly upon the race back in 2011. The New Democratic Party, while posting an impressive 19.8% and 2,120 votes in that election, were not seen as a threat unless they ran a star candidate, or the vote split in the riding in a big way. The Greens, for their part, decided not to run a candidate in order to avoid “splitting the progressive vote” (they managed 1.3% in 2011), while going so far as to ask the NDP not to run a candidate and give the Liberals a free pass. Suffice to say, the NDP rejected this proposal.
The race also came at an opportune time for the Liberals, who had recently concluded a leadership race just the month before. Papineau MP Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had won a resounding victory in that race (including over 90% support from Liberals in Labrador). Many in the media, rightly or wrongly, said the Labrador by-election would be Trudeau’s first big “test” as leader.
Todd Russell, the former MP and re-elected President of NunatuKavut, was originally expected to run but was pre-empted by the extremely popular Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair MHA Yvonne Jones, which apparently shut down Russell’s hypothetical run (he was none too happy about it, though he didn’t raise too much of a stink as the campaign went underway). Jones, whose provincial district covers southeastern Labrador and the majority of NunatuKavut, was formerly the leader of the provincial Liberals before stepping down to undergo successful treatment for breast cancer. She was quickly acclaimed as the candidate, resigned her seat in the House of Assembly, and started campaigning early. Labrador received visits from both Interim Leader Bob Rae, and then permanent leader Trudeau, as well as a slew of Liberal MPs and personalities. In other words, the Liberals really wanted this riding back, seeing it as the first big step towards rebuilding the party.
The NDP for their part had a contested nomination, with Harry Borlase, an analyst for an environmental research and development agency based out of St. John’s, coming out on top. Borlase was born and raised in Labrador, though some sources I’ve seen said that he lives in St. John’s (who knows). Either way, he was far from the big name that the NDP probably wanted to elect, which is odd considering they have a strong base in Labrador West, even winning those communities in 2011. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair made a high-profile visit to the riding – to Labrador West, specifically – in the early stages of the campaign. The provincial NDP also have big momentum, with the most recent poll placing them first in the province, ahead of the governing Conservatives. The extremely popular provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, however, did not pay a visit to Labrador for this campaign.
The Libertarians also nominated Norman Andrews, a local blogger (though he barely posts) and advocate for Labrador power for Labradorians… I think. Not really sure what he was about.
Aside from the ethics issues with Penashue’s 2011 campaign and resignation, the big questions for Labrador these days surrounds the Lower Churchill hydro-electricity projection, a series of proposed generating stations being built along the Churchill River that will put an estimated 16.7 Terawatts into the system per year. The project is supported by the provincial government and being built by energy giants Nalcor and Emera, with investments worth billions of dollars in order to route that power across the Straight to Newfoundland itself (then to Nova Scotia), rather than through Québec which has had a bad habit of ripping off Newfoundland and Labrador in the past.
The big contention currently is Phase I, located at Muskrat Falls just outside of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, is expected to be a huge job provider for the community (possibly totalling $1.9-billion in revenue), though at the same time there are concerns from residents of being “swamped” by the project, the thousands of new workers and mouths to feed, and the potential for the status-quo to be upset in their usually-calm community. There are also a whole slew of concerns about what effect Phase I will have on the environment, and protests from NunatuKavut members on the provincial government’s refusal to negotiate with them on the pace of, and revenues from, development. At one point near the start of the campaign, Todd Russell and other members protesting on the road to Muskrat Falls were arrested by the RCMP for disruption of the peace.
This all being said, all three major party candidates held similar positions in favour of Muskrat Falls, though drilling down on details such as getting more local workers or bringing in the NunatuKavut into talks, you see some slight discrepancies.
Issues also began to spring up in regards to Labrador’s representation in Ottawa. Penashue came out and basically said that without a federal Conservative representative like him, Labrador would be at the mercy of spending cuts – including for 5-Wing Goose Bay, Search & Rescue, and so on. At one point, Penashue came out and said that he had held up funding for some project in Newfoundland to get funding to complete the Trans-Labrador Highway, which is apparently gravel in some parts. Essentially, the question Penashue tried to build a campaign issue around was “who will get us the most pork?”
Finally, though not limited to Labrador alone, is the current unpopularity of the Conservative government. While not doing terribly in recent polls, the Conservatives have had to deal with several problems since the beginning of their majority term in 2011. The biggest to affect Labrador are the spending cuts by the government, which has resulted in the shutdown of Search & Rescue centres on the Atlantic Coast, vital to many Labradorian’s safety; as well as the government’s targeting of seasonal workers who use EI to supplement their income in the off-season, which affects thousands of residents. The phenomenon of Justin Trudeau may also have played a factor, as the new Liberal Leader has proven exceptionally popular according to polls – but as British Columbia showed us, maybe we need to take a grain of salt with polling these days.
Yvonne Jones (Liberal) 48.2% (+9.1%)
Peter Penashue (Conservative) 32.5% (-7.3%)
Harry Borlase (NDP) 18.8% (-1.0%)
Norman Andrews (Libertarian): 0.4%
Turnout was 59.5%, up over 6% from the 2011 federal election, and the best turnout since at least 2004, and the second-highest number of votes (about 12,000) since the riding was created in 1988.
Jones won with an easy 16-point margin, or nearly 2,000 votes over Penashue, with voters in Labrador turfing their cabinet minister in favour of a member of the third party. The turnout as well probably says more than the result does, as voters were clearly engaged in this race, and seemingly were more than happy to vote for the Liberals. While it is hard to say where the boost in turnout went to, it is interesting to note that Jones gained nearly 1,600 votes over Russell’s 2011 result, while Penashue only lost 334 votes.
It is hard to say where Penashue lost this race, though the entire reason for the by-election would certainly be enough for most voters. While Penashue did do the honourable thing in paying back the money to Elections Canada, as well as resigning in order to redeem himself, voters may not have bought his story and made him an example of what happens when you don’t keep an eye on your campaign expenses. Alternatively, it is possible that the unpopularity of the federal Conservatives could have made his campaign, no matter how good it was, dead-on-arrival.
However, the result is not as bad as some earlier polls suggested, including Penashue ending up third behind Borlase, so the Conservatives can rest easy knowing that they did not completely blow it.
For the NDP, the campaign result is, at best, “OK.” They lost some ground but gained about 100 new voters with their candidate Borlase, and likely maintained strong support in Labrador West, overall not doing terribly and not getting their vote squeezed into oblivion. However, failing to make a big impact in Labrador is an issue, given that of the five by-elections held since 2011, the NDP have fallen behind their previous totals in all but one (Durham). The Official Opposition, especially one the size of the NDP, should in theory be doing better than they have so far.
Finally, much can be said about Yvonne Jones’ campaign and personal popularity, and the fact that this is a traditionally Liberal riding. Though Penashue tried to take Jones down a notch with accusations that she held back from repaying expenses to the House of Assembly (something which Jones, who was on the board to review the rules surrounding expenses, adamantly denied), Jones did her best to keep the focus on Penashue and the Conservatives, on the ethics issues and on her previous record as a strong representative for Labrador in St. John’s. It is pretty clear that voters responded well to her campaign, and the spinsters in Justin Trudeau’s office are painting this as the first of many victories for the Liberals. Whether that is true remains to be seen.
Three federal by-elections were held in Canada on November 26, 2012. These three by-elections were to fill vacancies in the federal constituencies of Durham (Ontario), Calgary Centre (Alberta) and Victoria (British Columbia).
Durham is a large exurban constituency east of Toronto which includes the municipalities of Clarington, Uxbridge and Scugog (plus a small first nations community). Major communities include Courtice and Bowmanville, two major towns along the 401 east of Oshawa, and the smaller towns of Uxbridge and Port Perry in the north of the riding. Durham is nearly homogeneously white (95%) and predominantly Protestant (52.5%).
There are some local industries and employers in the constituency, including a nuclear power plant in Darlington, but the demographics of the constituency reflect a largely exurban population, which commutes to work in Oshawa or Toronto. The constituency has a large percentage of married individuals (57.2%, 31st in Canada), a lower percentage of people aged over 15 (79.9%), a fairly high median household income ($77,210 – 19th in Ontario) but a fairly low percentage of highly educated residents (12.7% of residents have a university certificate or degree) and a very high proportion of homeowners (88.2%). Only 22.5% of residents work in the municipality where they live, the 9th lowest in Ontario.
White, English and Protestant, Durham has historically been fairly Conservative. The Uxbridge and Scugog (Port Perry) areas, historically part of Ontario County, have a Liberal tradition while parts of former Durham County were more Conservatives. The Tories won handily in 1988, but throughout the 90s (from 1993 to 2004), the Chrétien Liberals held the seat with comfortable majorities although only because of the division of the right. The Liberals never won over 50% of the vote, and in all three elections the combined right-wing vote was higher than the Liberal vote. In 2004, Conservative journalist Bev Oda regained the seat, earning a small 2.5% majority over the Liberals. With the slow collapse of the Liberal Party in the exurban GTA in 2006, 2008 and 2011 Oda was reelected with larger majorities -17% in 2006, 31% in 2008 and 33% in 2011. In 2011, the NDP – which had placed fourth behind the Greens in 2008 – placed a distant second, ahead of the Grits.
Oda, who served as Minister for International Cooperation in the Harper government between 2007 and 2012, was compelled to resign in June 2012 after ethics scandals (in 2011, she had directed staff to add a handwritten annotation to a CIDA memo which resulted in a funding request from an NGO being ignored; in 2012, at a conference she turned down staying at the conference hotel and preferred a more costly hotel).
Oda won every poll in 2008 and she lost only one poll in 2011 (a mobile poll covering seniors’ residences). The Tories tend to perform best in the more rural parts of the riding, while the Liberals and NDP find some stronger support in urban areas – especially Courtice and Bowmanville, where the NDP broke 30% in a few polls in 2011 (including, interestingly, some newer middle-class subdivisions). The Liberals, in 2011, performed best in Uxbridge.
The Conservatives nominated Erin O’Toole, a local lawyer whose father is the incumbent PC MPP for Durham. The NDP unearthed a strong candidate, Larry O’Connor, the former mayor of Brock (a township which is outside of the riding) and a NDP MPP for the area between 1990 and 1995. The Liberals renominated their 2011 candidate, Grant Humes, while the Greens nominated Virginia Mae Ervin, who had run in 2006 and 2004.
Erin O’Toole (Con) 50.72% (-3.83%)
Larry O’Connor (NDP) 26.26% (+5.16%)
Grant Humes (Lib) 17.28% (-0.57%)
Virginia Mae Ervin (Green) 4.07% (-1.32%)
Andrew Moriarity (CHP) 1.28% (+0.49%)
Michael Nicula (OP) 0.39%
The Tories held Durham with a large, although slightly reduced, majority, as was expected. Turnout was 35.8%. The results in Durham are good for the Tories, who broke 50% and especially for the NDP, which maintained and improved on its second place showing in the riding. Prior to the Orange Crush in 2011, the NDP could only dream of finishing second in a riding like Durham (although it did have a few good results in the 70s and 80s). The next NDP breakthrough obviously won’t come from the exurban GTA, which remains a wasteland for the NDP; but that such ridings which had previously been Tory-Grit battles are becoming Tory-NDP places is good news for the NDP.
Calgary Centre (Alberta)
Calgary Centre covers downtown Calgary south of the Bow River. Major neighborhoods in the riding include the Beltine, Mount Royal and some surrounding suburban neighborhoods. Calgary Centre remains largely white (78.8%), with the largest visible minorities being Chinese (5.9%). Religiously, Protestants make up a narrow plurality (32.6%) of residents while 24.5% are Catholics and 30% claim no religion.
There is a fairly big contrast between the downtown core areas of the riding – neighborhoods such as Beltline, Cliff Bungalow, Connaught, Downtown East Village or Lower Mount Royal – and the suburban parts of the riding. The downtown, particularly the aforementioned neighborhoods, have a younger, more ethnically diverse and less affluent population. Most downtown residents are renters, living in apartments or some of the newer high-rise condos close to the Bow River. The downtown neighborhoods, particularly the Beltline, have pockets of deprivation and have struggled with poverty and social problems. On the other hand, the suburban portions of the riding tend to be more affluent. Upper Mount Royal, Scarboro, Elbow Park, Rideau Park, Britannia, Bel-Aire and Mayfair are all very affluent and educated residential suburban neighborhoods. Some of the riding’s outer suburban neighborhoods (Glenmorgan, Glenbrook, Rosscarrock, Killarney etc) are slightly less affluent, made up in good part of older post-war lower middle-class bungalow housing. The riding’s demographics reflect its diverse social makeup. It is the Albertan riding with the highest percentage of never married individuals (48.4%), there are not many households with children (only 14%, one of the lowest in all of Canada), it is highly educated (33.6% with a university certificate, diploma or degree) but not extremely affluent (median HH income is $49,042, the second lowest in Alberta) and a narrow majority of individuals rent their household (53.8%, the second highest in Alberta).
It has been said that a riding like Calgary Centre, if located anywhere outside of Alberta, would vote Liberal or NDP. In the context of Albertan federal politics, heavily dominated by the Conservatives (and their predecessors) due to the toxicity of the Liberal Party post-NEP, Calgary Centre is solidly Tory. The last time the seat went Liberal was in 1963, for a single term and the last time parts of the ridings were represented by a Liberal was in 1968. The Tories have held the seat with large majorities since then, taking over 50% of the vote in the 1970s and 1980s. The Reform Party won the seat in 1993 and 1997. The riding was closely contested in 2000, when former Prime Minister Joe Clark, a Red Tory who was the leader of the remnants of the PCs in the 2000 election, ran in Calgary Centre against the Canadian Alliance. The Liberal vote, which fell to only 9.8%, coalesced around Clark, allowing him to win 46-38.5 over the Alliance.
In 2004, former PC MP Lee Richardson won the seat for the new Conservative Party, with a 21% majority over the Liberals. Richardson, who had a moderate and pragmatic reputation as a Tory MP, retained the seat in subsequent elections with ever-larger majorities. In 2011, he won a 40% majority taking 57.7% against a paltry 17.5% for the Liberals and 14.9% for the NDP. The Greens have been strong in the riding, taking second with 16.6% in 2008 but dropping to right below 10% in 2011. At the provincial level, Liberals have been more successful - they hold the seat of Calgary-Buffalo. Richardson did very well in the suburban parts of the riding, especially the most affluent residential suburbs – where he took about 70% of the vote. The non-Tories (Liberals, NDP, Greens) have done best in the downtown area – the NDP won 2 polls there in 2011, the Greens won 3 polls in 2008 and the Liberals won a bunch of downtown polls in 2004 and a few in 2006 (and one in 2008).
Lee Richardson’s retirement to take up a job with Alberta Premier Alison Redford led to a crowded contest for the Tory nomination. Ultimately, Joan Crockatt, a journalist who was viewed as Prime Minister Harper’s favourite candidate and one of the more right-leaning candidates, won the Tory nod. For some reason, her choice went down pretty badly in Calgary Centre – was it because she was perceived as the candidate imposed by the PMO, because of her proximity to the Wildrose Alliance rather than the PCs in provincial politics or just other unsuccessful CPC nomination candidates who were particularly bitter? Polls showed the Liberal candidate, Harvey Locke (a conservationist and former provincial party president), within striking distance of the Tories and the Greens (their candidate was Chris Turner, a journalist and author) pulling over 20%. Crockatt retained a small lead in later polls, but this was the most closely watched by-election of the three. Liberals feared that their momentum might have been brutally halted late in the campaign, following the comments made by Liberal MP David McGuinty (he said that Alberta Tories should “go back to Alberta” and that they have a ‘protectionist’ view of the energy industry) and even Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau (in 2010, he said that Canada was not doing well because Albertans control “our community and socio-democratic agenda”).
Joan Crockatt (Con) 36.89% (-20.79%)
Harvey Locke (Lib) 32.67% (+15.14%)
Chris Turner (Green) 25.64% (+15.73%)
Dan Meades (NDP) 3.84% (-11.02%)
Antoni Grochowski (Ind) 0.51%
Tony Prashad (Libertarian) 0.44%
The Conservatives retained the seat, although with a 4.2% majority which is a very far cry from Lee Richardson’s 40 point margin in May 2011. However, what counts for them is that they retained the seat and averted a huge PR disaster – which the Harper government is always very keen on avoiding. Of course, the fact that they came within 4% of losing a seat which has been solidly Conservative for ages should be worrying for the Tories, though it would still be risky to extrapolate any provincial (let alone) national trends from this result. Crockatt was probably a bad candidate, despite being rather well known on the Calgary media circuit, and she is probably to the right of her fairly socially liberal and ‘Red Tory’ constituents. The Tories will need to dissect what happened, but I would wager that this by-election is one of those fluke by-elections which don’t portend any future trends.
The Liberals had a good result, but because they had focused their sparse resources on the riding to the exclusion of the two other ridings, a defeat – even if it is by a very close margin – will be disappointing for them. The Liberals have shown that, under particular circumstances and low turnout, they can come close to the Tories even in solidly blue Calgary. With such a close race, Liberals will be left wondering if they could have won the seat if McGuinty had not said what he said and the 2010 Trudeau tape had not been put back in the front light. However, no polls showed the Liberals actually leading in CC – even prior to the McGuinty/Trudeau comments – and their 32-33% of the vote on November 26 is basically where the polls had placed them.
Yet, the Liberals are not on the verge of breaking through Harper’s “Alberta Firewall”. Polls do show that Tory support has dropped from the 67% they won in the province in May 2011, but at 58-60%, it’s not really catastrophic for them and the fact that both the Liberals and NDP have definite problems in reaching out to Albertans makes it easier for the Harper Tories in Alberta. The Greens were the true winners, taking a very big 25% of the vote.
The NDP did very badly, which could be a reflection of the local unpopularity of Thomas Mulcair’s comments about the “Dutch disease” in relation to Alberta’s oil sands, but it is probably more a reflection of the fact that the NDP didn’t bother contesting the by-election, certainly not with a strong candidate like the Grits or the Greens.
Interestingly, turnout in CC was the lowest of the three by-elections at only 29.4%. As a urban core riding, it has always tended to see lower turnout levels, but one would have expected heavier turnout considering the high stakes and close contest. Did Tories unhappy with Crockatt choose to stay home? This seems likely a good explanation, considering the Tory raw vote dropped from 28.4k in 2011 to 10.1k in this by-election while the Liberals won about 400 more votes and the Greens took an extra 2.2k votes. The Greens, who have proven that they can attract ‘Red Tory’ voters with some success in the past, likely took votes away from the Tories and the NDP (they lost about 6.2k votes). This is one of those by-elections where poll-by-poll data will be warmly welcomed.
Victoria (British Columbia)
The riding of Victoria includes the city of Victoria, the provincial capital, the suburban district of Oak Bay and parts of the district of Saanich. The riding is predominantly white (85%) with the largest visible minorities being Chinese (4%). In Victoria, the largest religion is the lackthereof: in 2001, 40.5% of residents claimed no religious affiliation while 35.4% were Protestant.
Victoria is a popular tourist destination and an attractive city, with a growing lucrative high-tech sector. Home to the University of Victoria (UVic), the city has a large non-local student population. Like most of coastal Vancouver Island, the Victoria region is particularly attractive for affluent retireees who enjoy the temperate climate and the city’s usually relaxed pace. The city of Victoria itself has a diverse mix of unionized civil servants in neighborhoods such as James Bay and Fairfield, artists and students in Fernwood or downtown and young professionals who were drawn by the new high-tech sector in the city. Despite being a popular tourist destination and largely white-collar city, Victoria has pockets of deprivation and homelessness, loitering, panhandling and drug use continue to cause problem in some lower-income areas in downtown Victoria. Oak Bay, an old streetcar suburb, is wealthier and older. Parts of Oak Bay, notably Uplands and Ten Mile Point, are very affluent and popular with retirees. Some other parts of Oak Bay have some students, academics and public sector professionals. Parts of Victoria have seen pricey high-rise condo towers spring up, attracting more previleged retirees.
Demographically, this is a fairly old riding with the median age being 45 and the percentage of individuals over 15 being one of the highest in Canada (90%). Victoria has high percentages of widows and divorcees, but also a fairly large percentage of singles who never married (39%). There are relatively few households with children. The riding, unsurprisingly, falls in the upper tier of ridings in terms of education: 31% of residents have a university degree. In terms of income, however, the riding is generally ‘poor’ with a median HH income of $43,045, the second lowest in BC. 52% of residents rent their household.
Once upon a time, the famously monarchist and old English Protestant city of Victoria was a Tory stronghold. The Conservatives held both seats in the two-member riding between 1882 and 1902, in 1878 Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald won the seat (despite having never even been to Victoria) following his defeat in his native riding of Kingston. The Tories held the seat again between 1908 and 1937. In later years, the Liberals and Conservatives played back-and-forth over the seat, with the Liberals holding the seat from 1937 till 1957 and again between 1963 and 1972. The Tories held the seat under Diefenbaker and then between 1972 and 1988, when they lost it to the NDP.
In the space of six years, Victoria has become a solid NDP seat, but 1988 was the only time prior to 2006 that the NDP held the seat. Between 1993 and 2006, David Anderson, a popular Liberal who served as Minister of the Environment between 1999 and 2004 held the seat with comfortable majorities. In 2004, Anderson defeated David Turner (NDP), the former mayor of Victoria, by 4 points. However, the Liberals failed to hold the seat in 2006, when the NDP’s Denise Savoie won the seat with an 11% majority over the Liberals. Since then, the Liberal vote has collapsed in Victoria, bleeding votes left and right. Savoie was reelected in 2008 and 2011 (with a 17% and 27% majorities respectively) but in both elections, the Tories placed second while the Liberals were relegated to third (with only 14% in 2011). The Greens have polled strongly in Victoria since 2004, most recently winning 11.6% in 2011.
In the 90s and early 2000s, the Liberals were dominant throughout the quasi-entirety of Oak Bay, doing very well in the most affluent areas, but they also had strength in parts of Victoria – including Fairfield and parts of James Bay. The NDP’s base was and remains the lower-income neighborhoods of Fernwood or North Park. Since then, however, the Liberals lost votes to the Conservatives in the affluent parts of Oak Bay and in the condo polls along the coast, while the NDP has secured very strong support throughout Victoria. In 2011, the Tories won the Uplands and Ten Mile Point neighborhoods of Oak Bay along with a few condo polls, while the NDP won practically everywhere else.
This by-election followed Denise Savoie’s resignation for health reasons. The NDP candidate was Murray Rankin, an environmental lawyer. The Liberals nominated Paul Summerville, who had ran for the NDP in St. Paul’s (Toronto) in 2006. The Conservative candidate was Dale Gann. Victoria is next door to Saanich-Gulf Islands, held since May 2011 by the Green leader, Elizabeth May. The Greens nominated Donald Galloway, a UVic professor. The Greens have targeted Victoria as a potential riding for a “second Green MP” in the 2015 election, and ran a strong campaign in this by-election.
Murray Rankin (NDP) 37.23% (-13.55%)
Donald Galloway (Green) 34.28% (+22.67%)
Dale Gann (Con) 14.44% (-9.19%)
Paul Summerville (Lib) 13.06% (-0.92%)
Art Lowe (Libertarian) 0.50%
Philip Ney (CHP) 0.49%
The NDP held the seat, but with a 2.9% margin it is too close for comfort. The NDP had been expected to retain the seat despite a strong Green challenge, but the Greens got closer to actually winning the seat (on election night, early results had the Greens leading) than anyone had expected. The NDP had likely not invested as much in this campaign as it should have, while the Greens – boosted by the presence of their colourful and energetic next door in SGI – targeted the seat and apparently ran a very strong campaign locally. The Conservatives and Liberals, who in the past had fought for the seat, fought for distant third and fourth place in this by-election. We should not read too much into the horrible Conservative result, given that the Tories generally see their vote share collapse in by-elections which they do not bother seriously contesting all while being able to poll very strongly in by-elections which they invest significant resources in. The Liberals should be worried by their result, but they too did not run a very active campaign.
Victoria had the highest turnout of the three seats contested, at 44%.
We hoped that a clear message could be drawn from these 3 by-elections on November 26, but as in so many by-elections it ended in an inconclusive night and mixed messages for all parties.
The one thing which is clear is that the Greens won the by-elections. Their vote share dropped in Durham, but they did extremely well in both Calgary and Victoria. Since 2011, the Greens have abandoned their old strategy of contesting every single seat and spreading their sparse resources across Canada. In the 2011 federal election, the Green Party’s campaign was basically all about electing Elizabeth May in SGI, and they were successful – but it was at the cost of losing support in almost every single other riding in the country. That strategy worked in 2011, and the Greens have opted to prioritizing and focusing their resources in the seats where they feel that have a solid shot at winning, even if that means seeing Green support drop even further in the other seats which they do not seriously contest. The Greens ignored Durham – their vote dropped – but they focused on Calgary Centre and especially Victoria. In both of these cases, their investments paid off. Victoria is now a prime Green target in the 2015 election, and Calgary Centre could potentially be promising. These by-elections will not lead to a sustained Green surge in the polls (besides – there’s no federal election until 2015), but the fact that the Greens have chosen to focus their efforts in a few ridings could be bad news for Harper’s opponents, who could see the centre-left/anti-Harper vote divided even further.
Could we count the Tories or the Liberals as ‘winners’ in these three by-elections? On the one hand, the Tories did well in Durham (showing that Fortress Rurban Ontario is still very solid) and they averted a PR disaster in Alberta but on the other hand, their vote collapsed in Victoria and CC was unacceptably close for them. Similarly, while the Liberals can pride themselves in a (very) strong result in CC, but on the other hand they did horribly in the other two seats and considering that CC had turned into a must-win for them, a loss stings. The Conservatives remain in a relatively solid position, even if Harper’s government is fairly unpopular and Tory support nationally is only a bit above their traditional floor (30-33%). The Liberals have lots of work ahead of them if they want to regain second place, let alone win power.
The NDP had a tough night. Victoria almost created a PR disaster for them, while their support fell off in CC. On the other hand, they did do quite well in Durham – maintaining a respectable second in a seat where second place for the NDP would have been unimaginable prior to the 2011 Orange Crush.
By-elections were held in the provincial constituencies of Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan on September 6 in Ontario (Canada), following a by-election in the provincial constituency of Fort Whyte in Manitoba (Canada) on September 4.
In the 2011 Ontarian provincial election, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals were returned to power for a third straight term but they won a minority government with 53 seat, one short of the “magic” 54 seats needed to form a majority government (the speaker is a Liberal, giving the Liberals an effective 52 votes against 54 votes for the opposition).
Governing in a minority environment for the first time, the Liberals have been forced to work with the other parties. With a struggling economy and huge deficit, the government introduced an austerity-minded budget earlier this year which includes a two-year pay freeze for public sector employees, including teachers and doctors. The budget also included cuts in government spending and government services.
The opposition Progressive Conservatives (PCs), led by Tim Hudak, rejected the budget out of hand, claiming the Liberal budget did not do enough to curb “runaway spending” and debt. The New Democrats were more open to compromise, and in April the NDP agreed to prop up the government in return for the inclusion of a tax on high incomes proposed by the NDP. However, Ontario was almost thrust into a snap election in July when the NDP – unexpectedly backed by the PCs – started voting down key planks of the budget in June. McGuinty threatened to call an election until the NDP finally blinked and abstained from the final vote on the budget, allowing it to pass in late June.
The PC MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, Elizabeth Witmer, resigned on April 27 following her appointment to head the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Her resignation created a vacancy in the riding which she has held since 1990. Witmer was a fairly high-profile moderate “Red Tory” who served in Premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eve’s cabinets. As a moderate and fairly consensual Tory, she built up a strong personal vote which allowed her to win reelection in her fairly swing-y riding in 2003, 2007 and 2011 despite the PCs losing at the provincial level.
Kitchener-Waterloo was created in 1996 and is composed of the northern parts of the city of Kitchener and the entirety of the city of Waterloo in southwestern (or midwestern) Ontario. Waterloo forms part of a larger urban conglomeration which includes the slightly larger cities of Kitchener and Cambridge.
Historically, Waterloo County had a large German population – the city of Kitchener was known as Berlin until World War I and was the centre of the German population in Ontario during the first decades of Confederation. According to the 2006 census, 27% of Kitchener-Waterloo’s population claimed German ancestry. Politically, this German influence in Waterloo County made Waterloo North a Liberal stronghold, at least at the federal level. The federal riding of Waterloo North was held by the Liberals between 1917 and 1958. With a few short exceptions, the provincial riding of Waterloo North was held by the Liberals between 1929 and 1990.
While Kitchener and Cambridge were historically major industrial centres, the city of Waterloo does not have a blue-collar industrial past. Today, Waterloo has developed a strong high-tech and knowledge-based economy. It is home to the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, but also high-tech giant Research in Motion (RIM), the developer of the Blackberry. The riding’s has a predominantly middle-class, white-collar professional population. Median household income is in the upper tier provincially and nationally and 29% of the population has a university education.
In the past two decades, the Liberals have had the upper hand in Kitchener-Waterloo. Federally, K-W was represented by Andrew Telegdi, a maverick-y Liberal, between 1993 and 2008. In the 2008 election, Telegdi was surprisingly defeated by Conservative Peter Braid by a tiny 17-vote margin (36.1% to 36%). The 2011 results in Kitchener-Waterloo were skewed by the fact that Telegdi ran a strong campaign which coalesced the anti-Tory vote around his name. Even if the May 2011 election was a disaster for the federal Liberal Party, Telegdi, who hadn’t stopped running since his 2008 defeat, managed to increase his vote share to 37.6% but Braid simultaneously increased his vote share to 40.9%.
Provincially, Witmer won by relatively tight but still quite comfortable margins in the past three elections. Her most decisive victory was in 2007, she took 40.8% against 31.2% for the Liberals and 17.5% for the NDP. In 2011, she won by a slightly tighter margin, 43.8% against 36% for the Liberals and 16.7% for the NDP.
The NDP represented the federal riding of Waterloo (which included the city of Waterloo but also surrounding areas) between 1964 and 1979 with Max Saltsman. Provincially, however, the last time the riding had a New Democrat MPP was in 1943, when the present-day NDP was known as the CCF. That being said, the riding in its current incarnation would likely have been won by the provincial NDP in the 1990 election.
The NDP has usually been confined to a range of 15-17% support in the riding in the past eight years. The Greens have a strong potential in the riding, they took 9.3% in the 2007 provincial election and 12.1% in the 2008 federal election. However, their vote fell to only 2.6% and 4.8% in the last provincial and federal elections respectively.
The Liberals are usually strongest in downtown Waterloo and around the University of Waterloo in the centre of the riding. The downtown part of Waterloo is a largely middle-class young professional, highly educated and relatively affluent area. Telegdi dominated there in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections, and the Greens usually placed strong seconds or thirds in most polls in downtown Waterloo in the 2008 federal election. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have been strong the outskirts of the riding – largely upper middle-class suburban neighborhoods, a mix of both older developments and newer subdivisions. Federally, it was strong Tory inroads in these neighborhoods which had previously been reliably Liberal (until 2006) which allowed them to defeat Telegdi in 2008 and again in 2011. At the provincial level, Witmer won these areas easily in 2011 and certainly in 2003 and 2007. The New Democrats have found their strongest support in more blue-collar and lower-income neighborhoods of north Kitchener which are included in the riding, along with a handful of polls around social housing projects or apartment blocks.
Given the riding’s swing-y nature, Witmer’s resignation got the provincial Liberals excited at the opportunity for a gain, which would have given them a working majority of sorts in the Legislative Assembly. However, the by-election came in a tough climate for the governing Liberals. According to polls, the Liberals are languishing in the 26-28% range, in third behind the NDP (at roughly 28-30%) and the PCs (36-38%). In the past few weeks, the Liberal government has crossed swords with teacher unions, who have fought against the government’s two-year pay freeze for provincial employees, including teachers.
The Liberals had a contested nomination fight in the riding, but eventually re-nominated Eric Davis, a lawyer and their 2011 candidates. The PCs nominated Tracey Weiler, a local businesswoman. The NDP nominated their strongest possible candidate, Catherine Fife, the chair of the local school board and the president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. Fife had run for the NDP in the 2007 provincial election, running a strong campaign and placing a decent third with 17.5%.
This election turned out to be a close three-way battle in which all three parties invested lots of resources. The Liberals heavily targeted this riding in order to win a working majority, the NDP fancied its chances with a strong candidate and favourable provincial circumstances while the Tories needed to maintain their hold on this key swing seat.
Forum Research polled the riding thrice. Right when the seat became vacant, they saw the Liberals ahead. A few months later, they showed the PCs on top with a 4% edge over the NDP and the Liberals, who were tied at 30% apiece. Right before September 6, their last poll showed the NDP surging way ahead of both the Tories and the Liberals.
The results were as follows:
Catherine Fife (NDP) 39.84% (+23.17%)
Tracey Weiler (PC) 31.82% (-11.95%)
Eric Davis (Liberal) 24.05% (-11.99%)
Stacey Danckert (Green) 3.25% (+0.61%)
Allan Detweiler (Libertarian) 0.33%
David Driver (Freedom) 0.2% (-0.05%)
Elizabeth Rowley (Communist) 0.19%
Garnet Bruce (Ind) 0.17%
Kevin Clarke (People’s) 0.1%
John Turmel (Pauper) 0.05%
The result was a major upset, one of those memorable by-elections which will be (or ought to be) remembered down the road. The NDP, usually weak in this riding, came out of a distant third place to win by a large 8% margin, handing both the Tories and Liberals disastrous results.
The NDP upset in Kitchener-Waterloo is the result of a number of factors, some local and others more general. At the local level, Catherine Fife was undeniably a strong candidate and she ran a strong campaign. The provincial NDP organization invested tons of resources into the contest, NDP leader Andrea Horwath visited the riding numerous times over the past few months and Fife’s campaign received the enthusiastic and influential backing of the teachers’ unions, which are locked in a fight with the Liberal government over the government’s controversial two-year pay freeze. The union apparently bused down tons of volunteers to help out with Fife’s campaign.
Fife was further boosted by ‘national’ factors. Premier Dalton McGuinty is unpopular and voters were in no mood to give him a majority, but PC leader Tim Hudak hardly has a better image with the wider electorate. During the budget shenanigans, the PCs received negative media coverage, highlighting their steadfast opposition to the budget (and their refusal to work with the government), while their decision to back the NDP in voting down key planks of the budget was fairly hypocritical given that in doing so they went against parts of their own platform.
Hudak is also a fairly mediocre leader. He could easily have won the 2011 election, but the PC campaign derailed as Hudak allowed McGuinty to paint him as a radical. Hudak lacks the charisma or political talent of his federal counterpart, Stephen Harper. During the campaign, Hudak tried to downplay expectations for his party, saying that K-W was more of a “Witmer seat” than a “PC seat”, which is correct but which isn’t a very savvy thing for a party leader to say during a by-election campaign. Following the by-election, Hudak blamed the defeat on “union bosses”.
While both Hudak and McGuinty have terrible approval ratings, NDP leader Andrea Horwath has, by far, the strongest ratings of the three leaders.
K-W is not weak territory for the NDP, but it is not easy ground for them either. While the NDP’s base in K-W is likely larger than recent election results might indicate, K-W kind of fits the “too rich to vote NDP, too smart to vote Tory” mold (the phrase has been used since 2011 to describe residual pockets of Liberal strength, primarily federally). However, Kitchener-Waterloo and similar ridings are the kind of places which the NDP must win if they are to form government, both federally and provincially.
To win in a what is traditionally a really longshot riding for the NDP, Catherine Fife likely assembled a coalition of core NDP supporters in lower-income areas, left-leaning Liberals (middle-class young professionals, students) in neighborhoods such as downtown Waterloo and around the universities and certainly some moderate “Witmer Tories”. Fife might have been helped by local economic concerns about the future of Waterloo’s top employer, RIM, which has recorded major financial loses in recent months.
The result is an unmitigated disaster both for the PCs and the Liberals, perhaps more so for the Liberals. Tim Hudak has been placed under some pressure to step down following this embarrassing defeat for the PCs, and at any rate it is unlikely that the PCs will be as eager to force a snap election following this disaster. The Liberals clearly invested tons of energy, resources and manpower into this campaign and they presented this as their top chance to win a majority government, but voters resoundingly rejected the idea of giving McGuinty a working majority. While this isn’t quite the end of the road for the Liberal government, McGuinty and his government are in really dire straits. They have been hit by scandals, the budget has generally been unpopular and his fight with the teachers’ union doesn’t seem to be doing them any favours. A snap election anytime soon for the Liberals would certainly be tough for McGuinty, especially given that Horwath and the NDP would have momentum. The Liberals, after nearly 10 years in power, are really starting to be hit by voters’ fatigue.
There was another by-election on the same day in Ontario, in the provincial riding of Vaughan. Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara resigned his seat on August 1.
The riding covers most of the municipality of Vaughan, one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Ontario located just outside Toronto. Vaughan is a very affluent suburban community – it has one of the highest household incomes in Canada. It has a fairly young population made up, in very large part, of middle-class families. On the 2006 census, Vaughan topped all Canadian federal constituencies on the percentage of houses which are owned (94.3%) and built within the last 20 years (80.5%). It also had the highest national percentage of married couples (87%) and second generation immigrants (37.3%).
Vaughan (especially the neighborhood of Woodbridge) is notable for its large Italian population. In the 2006 census, a full 54.4% of the riding’s population claimed Italian ancestry, and the riding had the highest Catholic population of all ridings in Ontario in 2001 at 77%. However, the riding’s character is changing somewhat. A quarter of the population are visible minorities, including a significant South Asian population (9.3% of the total population).
Politically, Vaughan has traditionally been a Liberal stronghold both at the provincial and federal level. However, since 2011, politics in Vaughan have been marked by a stark contrast between the federal and provincial levels. After longtime Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua resigned his seat in 2010, former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino gained the seat for the federal Tories in a 2010 by-election. In May 2011, he was reelected with a huge majority (26.5%), painting the entire riding Conservative blue. At the provincial level, Greg Sorbara has held the seat since 2003. Sorbara, who served in the David Peterson and later the McGuinty governments had originally represented the Vaughan region between 1985 and 1995, when he was defeated by the PC’s Al Palladini. Sorbara staged a comeback in the 2003 election, taking back the seat with 56% of the vote. He took 61.9% in 2007 and won 53% in the 2011 election. At the provincial level, the riding is still solidly Liberal red.
The seat’s voting patterns are rather homogeneous. In 2011, Fantino basically swept the entire riding, with the Liberals barely holding on to some decent showings in Woodbridge and Maples. In the provincial election, Sorbara, in contrast, painted almost all of the polls in Vaughan Liberal red.
The Liberal candidate was Steven Del Duca, director of public affairs for the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario. The PC candidate was Tony Genco, the PC candidate in October 2011, who had previously run for the federal Liberals in the 2010 by-election and for the provincial Liberals in 1999. The NDP candidate was Paul Donofrio.
The results were:
Steven Del Duca (Liberal) 51.2% (-1.82%)
Tony Genco (PC) 33.39% (+2.15%)
Paul Donofrio (NDP) 11.32% (-0.01%)
Paula Conning (Green) 1.78% (+0.37%)
Paolo Fabrizio (Libertarian) 0.96% (-0.92%)
Bart Wysokinski (Family Coalition) 0.45%
Stephen Tonner (Ind) 0.37%
Erin Goodwin (Freedom) 0.28%
Phil Sarazen (People’s) 0.24%
In contrast to the disastrous Liberal rout in K-W, the Liberals held up very well in Vaughan, holding the seat by over 17 points and losing only 1.8% off their October 2011 vote. However, the Vaughan by-election was much lower on the radar for all parties (besides, maybe, the Liberals, who in the closing days saw Vaughan as a good opportunity to save face). Tony Genco is pretty much a terrible candidate, and it does not seem as if the PCs invested much resources into this contest.
Affluent Toronto suburbia is still very difficult ground for the NDP, and it ignored this by-election to focus all it had on Kitchener-Waterloo. Therefore, considering that this is a by-election in a constituency with zero NDP groundwork and that the NDP ignored this by-election, the NDP can certainly be very pleased that it held on to its 2011 vote share. However, maybe, just maybe, this indicates that K-W was a result influenced primarily by local circumstances and that there is not (yet?) a massive Orange Crush in the works at the provincial level.
The greater 905 region is must-win country for Tim Hudak (as it was for Harper) if he wants the Tories to win the next provincial election, but Vaughan itself is not a must-win constituency. It remains, despite Fantino’s popularity federally, a structurally Liberal riding which is, at best, a long-shot target for the PCs unless they get some star candidate and the Liberals have a crummy candidate.
The overall results of these two by-elections in Ontario is a major victory for the NDP and a defeat for both the Liberals and the PCs. While the Liberals can be pleased by their very strong resistance in Vaughan, the result in K-W is still an unmitigated disaster for them which they can difficultly spin. The PCs had a terrible showing in K-W and a very underwhelming, mediocre result in Vaughan, two results which will place Tim Hudak’s hold on the PC leadership in question, even if he himself shows no willingness to step aside.
Fort Whyte (Manitoba)
A provincial by-election in the constituency of Fort Whyte was held in Manitoba on September 4. Fort Whyte’s incumbent MLA since 2005, former provincial Progressive Conservative (PC) leader Hugh McFayden, stepped down from the PC leadership and resigned his seat earlier this year.
Fort Whyte is located in southwestern Winnipeg, covering the suburban neighborhoods of Linden Woods, Linden Ridge, Bridgwater Forest, Fort Whyte and Whyte Ridge. The seat was created in 1999 from parts of Fort Garry and St. Norbert, the result of strong population growth in suburban southwestern Winnipeg. The riding is made up quasi-exclusively of newer affluent upper middle-class suburbs of Winnipeg. The riding has the second highest average family income in the province and some 30% of the population hold university degrees, once again one of the highest in the province.
Fort Whyte has been a PC stronghold since its creation in 1999, and this part of Winnipeg has been represented by PC MLAs since at least 1958. Between 1999 and 2005, Fort Whyte was held by John Loewen, a moderate Red Tory who resigned in 2005 to run for the federal Liberals in the 2006 federal election. In a by-election he was succeeded by Hugh McFayden, who became the leader of the PCs and leader of the opposition in 2006. McFayden led the PCs into the 2007 and 2011 provincial elections, but both times the PCs were defeated by the NDP, which has been in power since 1999. Following his defeat in the 2011 election, in which the PCs failed to increase their representation, McFayden announced his resignation from the party leadership.
In the absence of any other candidates, former provincial cabinet minister and federal Conservative MP Brian Pallister was acclaimed as the new PC leader. Brian Pallister served in Gary Filmon’s provincial Conservative government as Minister of Government Services between 1995 and 1997, resigning to run in the 1997 federal election for the federal PCs. A “Blue Tory” within the federal PCs, Pallister ran for the PC leadership in 1998 on a right-wing platform aimed at appealing to Reform Party supporters, placing fourth on the first ballot. In 2000, he left the party to run for the Canadian Alliance in the 2000 federal election in the constituency of Portage-Lisgar. He held that seat until 2008, and was a fairly unremarkable Alliance and later Conservative backbencher.
Pallister was the PC candidate in Fort Whyte. The Liberal candidate was Bob Axworthy, who is apparently the brother of former federal foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy. The NDP candidate was Brandy Schmidt. The results were:
Brian Pallister (PC) 55.18% (-7.29%)
Bob Axworthy (Liberal) 31.56% (+23.64%)
Brandy Schmidt (NDP) 11.25% (-18.36%)
Donnie Benham (Green) 1.72%
Darrell Ackman (Ind) 0.29%
There isn’t much to say about this by-election, except that Pallister, as everybody expected, held a Tory fortress by a landslide and that the Liberals did really well. Pallister did considerably worse than McFayden in the 2011 election, though he still beats the 52% which McFayden won in the 2005 by-election and 2007 election. Pallister doesn’t strike me as a particularly wise choice for the PCs, given that the NDP probably don’t like anything better than running against a guy who served in the government they always love to criticize.
The Liberals did really well, winning their best result on record in the riding since its creation in 1999. In the 2011 election, the Liberal vote had taken a major hit in the riding compared to previous elections, when the Liberals had managed to pull in around 15-20% of the vote in Fort Whyte. McFayden seemingly gained a good part of the 2007 Liberal vote in his 2011 reelection bid in his seat. Some of this vote likely returned to the Liberal fold, but given that Axworthy – a starlet candidate given his last name – likely was the most visible anti-Tory candidate in the by-election and managed to coalesce most of the anti-Tory vote around his name. In this vein, I don’t know how to interpret the NDP’s pretty terrible result. Is this a bad sign for the Greg Selinger government, or is it, as I suspect, because the NDP really didn’t put any effort in this by-election?
The NDP has been in power for 13 years, since 1999. Since 2009, Manitoba has been governed by Premier Greg Selinger. In the 2011 election, the NDP won reelection with a huge majority – 37 seats against only 19 for the PCs and a lone Liberal holdout – but the popular vote was relatively narrow, the NDP winning over the PCs by only 2%. The PCs’ problem is that their votes are homogeneously concentrated in a handful of rock-ribbed conservative rural ridings, especially those German Mennonite rural areas south of Winnipeg where the PCs win with majorities well over 40-50%. In contrast, the PCs have found themselves nearly shut out of Winnipeg, taking only four seats in the city in the last two elections. If the PCs are to win the next election (after 16 years in power in 2015, the NDP might be hitting voter fatigue), they will need to make some significant gains in urban Winnipeg, notably in more middle-class suburban ridings in the south of the city which have voted for Harper’s Conservatives by solid margins but narrowly reelected NDP incumbents in 2011. If they are not able to make some gains in Winnipeg, then they will confined to the opposition benches for another term. It is, of course, too early to say if Brian Pallister will the good leader to lead them to government, 16 years after Gary Filmon lost reelection in 1999.
Tired of Canada? The Netherlands votes on Wednesday, September 12.
Provincial general elections were held in Quebec on September 4, 2012. All 125 members of the provincial legislature, the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), were up for reelection in single-member constituencies (often known as ridings in Canadian English, or comtés/circonscriptions in French). I covered Quebec’s history, political parties and this campaign in a preview post last week.
Premier Jean Charest and his Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) were seeking a fourth straight mandate from the voters, having been originally elected with a majority government in 2003 and reelected in 2007 with a minority and in 2008 with a majority. Charest was up against great odds, given that his approval rating was as low as 30% with his government had been battling very damaging accusations of corruption and collusion since 2009 and was struggling with a large student movement, which has been protesting the government’s proposed tuition fee hike since February.
Charest’s third term in 2008 was already a remarkable achievement, given that no Quebec Premier since the Quiet Revolution (1960) has won more than two straight terms in office. Jean Charest is a long-timer in politics – he was first elected in 1984 and has served in both federal and provincial politics, and he is one of the most skilled and talented politicians in contemporary Quebec politics. The running joke is that he is a cat with many lives, denoting his fantastic ability to bounce back when nobody expects it or to survive against the toughest odds. He is a very strong debater and a very effective orator. In the end, however, Charest’s shine might have worn off during his third term, in good part due to the lingering stench of corruption in his government. Despite the weaknesses and the very poor campaign of the opposition sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ), the PLQ was unable to turn the tide during the campaign, which remained a close three-way contest with François Legault’s new centre-right Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) throughout.
Léger’s last poll out (August 31) had the PQ at 33% against 28% for Legault’s CAQ and 27% for the PLQ, terrible numbers for both the PQ (which won 35% in the 2008 election – which they lost) and the Liberals (their previous all-time low had been 33% in 2007), but enough for a PQ minority or narrow majority. Two pollsters from English Canada, Forum and Ekos weighed in on September 3, and both pollsters showed a somewhat odd last minute bump for the PQ (up to 36%). Forum had the Liberals in second with 29%, ahead of the CAQ which they had down at 25%. EKOS pegged the CAQ at 24.5% and the PLQ at 23.2%, with left-wing Québec solidaire (QS) taking 10% in Ekos’s poll.
Going into the election, the PQ’s objective was to win a majority government, regardless of their share of the vote. According to most predictions, a majority was within reach for Pauline Marois’ party. Marois led a very poor campaign, and she was almost always in a defensive position by clarifying her positions, backtracking from previous statements, contradicting things she said in the past or correcting the pronouncements of other people in the PQ.
Jean Charest promised his supporters that he would win a fourth term with a majority government, which was never really within reach within this campaign and certainly not in the final stretch. Perhaps the PLQ’s secret objective was to salvage official opposition status and place a strong second to the PQ?
The CAQ’s objective was certainly to place second in terms of votes and seats, hence out-placing the PLQ for the official opposition job. When the CAQ was born in November last year, Legault’s objective was becoming Premier, but as the party’s numbers collapsed starting in January of this year, the CAQ’s hopes were dampened somewhat. Legault’s strong campaign allowed him to become a serious major player during the campaign, rather than an also-ran.
For the small parties, QS’ campaign was all about winning a second seat – Gouin, where co-leader Françoise David was running for the third time. QS really placed David rather than her co-leader, Amir Khadir (who already has a seat – Mercier – since 2008), on the forefront, notably by placing David in the first leader’s debate (where she scored a strong performance). For Option nationale (ON), the ‘hardline’ sovereigntist party led by former PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant, the sole objective was clearly to reelect Aussant in his riding of Nicolet-Bécancour.
Turnout reached an all-time low in 2008, 57.4%. Turnout – both advance voting and election day voting – saw a major surge in 2012, with turnout reaching 74.5%, the best level since 1998. The 2008 election was called by Charest as the most opportune time as he wanted to convert his paltry 2007 minority into a majority, and the result was a foregone conclusion throughout the campaign. It had failed to excite voters (who didn’t want an election to begin with), and the result was terrible turnout. However, this campaign interested and even excited (somewhat) voters (who, this time, wanted an election). The stakes were pretty high, the outcome was up in the air and the climate was one of deep dissatisfaction with the PLQ government and politics in general; all factors which contributed to the surge in turnout.
Tragically, the PQ’s election night rally was marked by a shooting, which killed one man (a 48-year old technician) and seriously injured another. The suspect is a 62-year old man, Richard Bain, who entered the Métropolis theatre in Montreal during Marois’ victory speech shortly before midnight and opened fire. Bain, who is an Anglophone, allegedly shouted “the English are waking up”, but he appears to be suffering from mental health issues.
The results were as follows:
PQ 31.94% (-3.23%) winning 54 seats (+3)
Liberal 31.21% (-10.87%) winning 50 seats (-16)
CAQ 27.06% (+10.69%) winning 19 seats (+12)
QS 6.03% (+2.25%) winning 2 seats (+1)
ON 1.9% (+1.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green 1.00% (-1.17%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.91% (+0.47%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Quebec’s 2012 election was one of those elections where the top three parties have good reasons to be pleased with their results, but also a lot of reasons to be displeased by their party’s results. The PQ won the election, as was widely expected. However, the PQ won only 54 seats and fell far short of the 63 seats needed to form a majority government. Furthermore, on 31.9% of the vote, the PQ can hardly claim to have received a strong mandate from the people. On these numbers, Marois’ campaign certainly did not convince many swing voters but rather managed to hold the core PQ electorate, which had already voted PQ in 2008 (and probably 2007 and 2003 as well).
Pauline Marois did not lead a good campaign largely because she was forced to tack too much towards traditional sovereigntism. Marois herself is a fairly bland centrist technocrat who has no particular personal penchant towards hardline sovereigntism, an immediate third referendum and fanning the flames of linguistic nationalism. However, the PQ’s purs et durs have been remarkably successful at holding all previous PQ leaders (except Parizeau, fairly pur et dur himself) hostage and forcing them to move towards more radical positions in return for their continued backing. Those leaders who strayed from the pur et dur line, most notably René Lévesque himself in 1985, found their hold on the party untenable and were eventually forced out. A similar fate almost befell Pauline Marois last summer, when she faced a major caucus revolt which almost cost her the leadership. In order to hold her leadership, she was clearly forced to make concessions to the party’s ‘hardliners’, including the controversial “popular initiative referendum” (voters themselves could spark a third referendum on sovereignty if they gathered signatures), which she personally opposed but which was inserted into the PQ’s platform. Similarly, her ill-advised forays into the territory of linguistic nationalism (the extension of Bill 101 to CEGEP but particularly the kerfuffle over barring those Anglo or allophone candidates with poor French language skills from running in elections) were likely the result of pressure from the purs et durs.
Running on such a platform, which hardly appealed to that third of swing soft-nationalist voters who are apathetic on the issue of sovereignty and more focused on bread-and-butter issues (economy, jobs, healthcare, pensions), she only held the core PQ electorate, composed in good part of that third or so of voters which quasi-unconditionally support Quebec sovereignty and vote for the PQ. Additionally, however, the PQ faced some fairly tough competition in the left-nationalist arena from QS and Aussant’s ON, two parties which fish largely in the same pond as the PQ. ON took away part of the pur et dur sovereigntist vote from the PQ, while QS was quite successful at appealing to predominantly urban left-wing Francophone voters.
Going forward, the PQ will need to rationally analyse its own results, and look specifically at what went wrong for the party, because at 32% of the vote and missing out at a majority government, this certainly wasn’t a good election for the PQ. The question of what to do with QS will be posed, given that it might have “spoiled” some seats for the PQ (even on the assumption that only 50% of QS voters would vote PQ in the absence of QS, rather than all of them). In this regard, Marois will need to decide whether she moves to the left or whether she tacks towards the centre. There is room for growth for the PQ on both the left and the centre, but perhaps a bit more room in the centre. However, the PQ government’s behaviour on the national question (does it go for a referendum quickly? does it follow through on its proposed changes to linguistic policy? how does it act vis-a-vis Ottawa?) will also be important for the PQ’s electoral chances in another election which will certainly come quite quickly – Marois has made no secret that she intends to call another election in a short timeframe, perhaps after only one year.
Ironically, the PLQ might have the most reasons to be pleased by its results. Certainly, with only 31.2% of the vote, the Quebec Liberals won their worst popular vote result since Confederation (their previous low, 33%, was also set by Charest in 2007). However, they have not only held on to second place and official opposition, their seat count (50 seats) is very healthy – extremely good considering how tough this election was for the PLQ. In the final stretch, with almost all pollsters showing the PLQ averaging third with only 26-28% support, there was a very real chance that the PLQ would be decimated on September 4 and reduced only to its Anglo/allophone rump on the West Island and isolated strongholds in the regions. However, the PLQ resisted spectacularly well on election night. The big story, besides the predictable PQ win, was the PLQ’s unexpectedly strong result, even if Jean Charest himself lost his own seat.
There was certainly a kind of “shy Liberal” factor at work on September 4. It might not actually be a shy Liberal factor but rather a fairly commonplace “shy incumbency” factor, whereby fairly unpopular incumbent governments underpoll and overperform their polling numbers on election night. In the 2008 and 2011 federal elections, the federal Tories (the incumbent government, who have never been wildly popular) underpolled while in the 2006 federal election, the federal Liberals – an unpopular incumbent governing party – underpolled as well.
Furthermore, there is also the issue that a lot of the CAQ’s support, even in the final stretch, was very feeble and could certainly have switched, in small part, back to the Liberals. The PLQ are a well-oiled political machine, with a strong GOTV operation and strong grassroots in many regions of Quebec, while the CAQ is a new party with much less resources, weak grassroots, weak candidates and an untested GOTV operation.
Finally, it might not be worth much in a big picture look at things, but consider the fact that the Green Party polled 2-3% in pre-election polls but it had candidates in only 66 of Quebec’s 125 ridings. Polls did not take differentiate between the ridings with and without a Green candidate, and potential Green voters who identified as Greens to pollsters but who had no local Green to vote for must have voted for another party, and some certainly voted for the Liberals given how the Greens are a more or less federalist party.
The PLQ’s strong finish shows the persistent relevance of the national question as a defining cleavage in provincial politics. If the Liberals had indeed finished at 26-27% support on election night, then the national question’s continued relevance as the cleavage in Quebec politics might have been questioned. However, the PLQ has not lost its place as the big-tent federalist party, and remains the PQ’s most serious rival in the province taken as a whole. For some voters, fears of a third referendum and associated concerns might have pushed some undecided voters to vote for the “safe” federalist option, the PLQ, against the institutional uncertainty which necessarily accompanies the PQ.
The CAQ, finally, had a fairly underwhelming and disappointing result. On the strong side, with 27% of the vote, the party is in the top leagues and on the level of popular vote, it is a serious rival to both the PQ and the PLQ. However, the popular vote tally doesn’t crown the winner(s) in the FPTP system. In the seat count, which is what matters most, the CAQ won only 19 seats, a far cry from the 25-30+ seats it could have realistically won and a long way away from the Liberals’ 50 and the PQ’s 54. With 19 out of 125 seats, it won only 15% of the seats. FPTP has played tricks on all parties in Quebec before, and both the PQ and Liberals (but also the ADQ, the CAQ’s predecessor) have had their share of fortunes and misfortunes wrought by the workings of FPTP.
The CAQ did not really underperform, with 27% it was in the lower range of both Léger and Crop’s margin of error (both pollsters placed it at 28% in their final poll) and it was even underestimated if you take into account Forum and Ekos’ last minute polls. What seems to have doomed the CAQ – we will come back to it when I crunch the results by region – was a fairly homogeneous distribution of its vote. It performed strongly in some regions, but it didn’t really have any dead zones (even in the West Island Liberal country, it put up very honourable results) nor did it have many core strongholds besides a few of the old ADQ strongholds. Nonetheless, 27% is still quite a distance from the record 30.8% and 41 seats won by Mario Dumont’s ADQ in the 2007 election.
Should the CAQ’s result be interpreted as a largely ideological vote prompted by voters who agreed with it on most issues, or rather a vaguer vote for “change” and a “third way”, which was, when the CAQ was created, the main reason why so many voters were originally quite excited about it. In part, by holding what is probably a solid share of the ADQ’s 2008 vote, the CAQ has won the centre-right electorate in Quebec politics. However, Legault’s campaign for “change” and his creed of “faire le ménage” (roughly: clean up politics) likely appealed to some more apathetic and ideologically undefined or uncertain voters who liked Legault’s message of “change” and his strong stance against corruption. To many voters, who disliked Charest’s Liberals but didn’t feel too hot about Marois’ PQ, Legault’s CAQ was the acceptable third option. For many others voters worried about economic issues, jobs, corruption, healthcare, pensions and so forth but probably not too keen about a third referendum and reopening the old debate, the CAQ was, again, quite attractive. Polls showed that the CAQ’s electorate in the polls was very fragile and fluid, while the PLQ and PQ had solidified their base of support.
Quebec’s electorate is remarkably fluid, and there is a good numbers of voters in almost every election who are up for grabs by nearly all the main parties. In 2007, the ADQ must have caught a good part of that fluid electorate, which probably overlaps well with that third or so of voters who are more apathetic about the national question and do not have a clearly defined and stable position on the question. In the 2011 federal elections, that same fluid electorate likely was behind most of the Orange (NDP) Crush in Quebec. In May 2011, the NDP attracted a very, very diverse and heterogeneous coalition which came from almost all sides: a very sizable share of federal Tory, Liberal, Bloc and Green voters from 2008 were behind the spectacular NDP surge. The CAQ likely took a good part of this electorate, but the fluidity of this electorate makes the CAQ’s standing more tenuous than that of the PLQ or the PQ.
However, the CAQ has not hit its ceiling. It has not even hit the 31% benchmark set by the ADQ in 2007, and at one time last year, the CAQ was polling up to 42%. The CAQ can still pull a good number of voters away from the PLQ and the PQ, though it has the trouble of having a good part of its existing 2012 electorate which is not solidly anchored politically, unlike the PLQ and the PQ.
The fourth party, QS has good reason to be pleased with its pleased with its result. It won 6% of the vote, but above all it doubled its representation, now holding two seats – and both of them with a fairly comfortable margin. 6% is certainly not what QS was polling in the pre-campaign season, where it peaked at 8-10% support, but considering how soft some of that support was and how vulnerable QS’ support was to a well-run PQ campaign, it must count as a success that they maintained their support throughout the campaign.
David’s strong performance in the first leaders’ debate likely accounts for her fairly impressive victory in Gouin, where she went up against a 9.3% majority held by a rising-star PQ incumbent, Nicolas Girard, and won a 13.6% majority with 46.2% of the vote (up 14% from her 2008 result). It is quite certain that David has gained a sizable personal vote, similarly Amir Khadir in Mercier improved his margin as well (he now has a large 23% majority). In addition, QS ate into a large PQ majority in Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques (down to 10%, from 31%) and came third in Laurier-Dorion, but within 9.8% of the first-placed Liberals.
6% is a very good result for QS, but is it slowly starting to hit its ceiling? In its present form, the party is too ideologically ‘radical’ and its electorate far too narrow for it to realistically hope to become a major political player, but it still has some room for growth on the left. The presence of the party’s two co-leaders in the National Assembly will be a major advantage for QS, just like Amir Khadir’s election in 2008 likely helped the party build up its stature and stand where it stands today (and it is quite a remarkable standing for a third party which is only 6 years old!). It will be interesting to see how the party fares with an expanded caucus in the legislature and under a new government. If the PQ seeks to expand its support by moving slightly to the left, it could feasibly eat into QS’ support, but if the PQ governs at a more centrist or even centre-right (Bouchard-like) level, QS would have room to grow.
The new party on the block, ON, lost its bet. It had laid almost all of its hopes in the reelection of its leader, Jean-Martin Aussant, in Nicolet-Bécancour. Aussant placed a good second with 25.9% in his riding, but lost his seat (to the CAQ) by a bit over 6%. That ON, a brand new party, managed to field candidates in almost every single riding (121 out of the province’s 125 ridings, in Gouin it had already agreed not to run a candidate against David in return for QS’ support in his seat), should count as a success for them, but unsurprisingly no other candidate won a significant share of the vote – I haven’t counted, but they perhaps won 1-3% or something. Out of the 82,857 votes cast for ON candidates, a full 9.5% (!) of them were cast in a single riding – for Aussant.
What will happen to the party after this disappointing finish remains to be seen, but it is doubtful that they have much room to grow without a voice in the National Assembly.
ON, however, can find solace in the fact that they beat out the Green Party in the popular vote. The PVQ had its brief moment in the sun during the 2007 election, when it won 3.9% of the vote, but it has since collapsed back into utter irrelevance. It has shifted through three leaders, its 2007 leader (Scott McKay) is now a PQ MNA (since 2008). The PVQ nominated only 66 candidates this year, and did not manage any media coverage besides a terrible report by La Presse about how one of its journalists managed to become a Green candidate without any background checks. Green leader Claude Sabourin managed to win only 6.3% of the vote in the Montreal riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the strongest seat for the Quebec Greens, where they won about 15% in the last two elections.
The PVQ’s potential base of support has already been eaten up by QS and, to a lesser extent, the PQ, and this year it lost a good part of its remaining ‘actual’ base of support – disgruntled Anglophones who didn’t vote Liberal – a group to which the CAQ had some success appealing to.
The battlegrounds of this election were suburban Montreal – Laval and the greater 450 belt in Montérégie (south shore), Laurentides and Lanaudière (north shore); the national capital region (Quebec City and its north and south shore suburbs and greater region); the Eastern Townships (Estrie) and the ‘remote’ regions of Gaspésie, Saguenay and Abitibi. The results in these regions explain why the PQ won, why it failed to win a majority, why the Liberals performed better than they did and why the CAQ fell flat on its nose seat-wise.
In Montreal proper, the PQ failed to win any of the four Liberal-held seats it was thought to have a serious shot at winning. Ultimately, the Liberals resisted comparatively well in Verdun (held with a 1.6% majority), Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne (held with a 6.4% majority), Laurier-Dorion (held with a 7.7% majority, QS was likely a major “spoiler” here, winning 24.3%) and Anjou-Louis-Riel (held with a 9.2% majority). Rather, the PQ lost a star incumbent in Gouin with the defeat of Nicolas Girard, a close ally of Pauline Marois, and saw its strongholds (notably Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques) become more vulnerable to QS. Perhaps the PQ’s only success (of sorts) in Montreal was holding the disputed riding of Crémazie by nearly 10 points against the PLQ candidate, former federal Liberal MP Eleni Bakopanos, even if the PQ’s raw vote share took a big hit there too.
The Liberals resisted fairly well in their West Island, easily holding on to well over 60% of the Anglophone and allophone vote. The PLQ’s best riding was, as always, the predominantly Jewish riding of D’Arcy-McGee, where Liberal incumbent Lawrence Bergman won 84.72% of the vote, down only marginally from the 88.8% he won in 2008. The CAQ had some success in appealing to non-Francophone voters on Montreal island, placing distant seconds (ahead of the Greens and also the PQ) in almost every West Island riding in Montreal.
I have not yet compiled a map of the percentage change in the share of the vote for the four main parties since 2008, but from cursory observations, it appears as if QS’ gains were far heavier in Montreal – its stronghold – than in the regions. David increased her personal vote share by a full 14 points, Khadir by nearly 9 points. It was more than just a personal vote for David and an incumbency boost for a well-liked incumbent like Khadir, given that the QS vote jumped by over 10 points in Laurier-Dorion, Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.
The pattern of support for QS in Montreal follows, ironically, the orange line of the Montreal subway, concentrated in the Plateau-Mont-Royal district but also extending a bit into core downtown Montreal to the south and Villeray to the north. After all, QS’ old website (archived here) listed one of the top “myths” about QS was that it was the “party of the Plateau” (another of the myths they list – that they’re a bunch of ‘granolas’ also tells us something about the popular conception of the QS electorate). The Plateau is a gentrified and very trendy/hip neighborhood in central Montreal with a large multicultural concentration of students, young professionals, artists and a social mix of upscale bobos and more deprived inhabitants. Parts of Villeray, where QS certainly did very well (24.3% in Laurier-Dorion, which means they probably won some 30-35% in the Villeray parts of the riding), have also become the next gentrified trendy neighborhoods of Montreal. The student movement, which QS actively supported, found strong support in the Plateau and Villeray during the student protests earlier this year.
In suburban Laval, the Liberals resisted fairly well altogether although they lost two seats to the PQ. The most significant PQ victory was in the closely-fought riding of Laval-des-Rapides, where 20-year old former student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin defeated PLQ incumbent Alain Paquet and CAQ star candidate Maud Cohen with 37.9% against 32.8% and 21.7% respectively. The PQ also gained Sainte-Rose, but the Liberals were successful in Mille-Îles, Vimont and Fabre, three key marginals. The CAQ performed very strongly in Laval, taking 29.6% in Vimont and 27.7% in Fabre.
In terms of winning seats, the CAQ failed in the north shore suburbs (northern 450 belt). This crucial battleground region propelled the ADQ into official opposition in the 2007 election, when Mario Dumont’s party swept almost all of the north shore suburbs, but they returned to their traditional péquiste roots in the 2008 election. This is a swing region of predominantly middle-class Francophone suburbs, which gave the OUI some very solid margins in 1995, but which has generally shifted away from active sovereigntism towards some vaguer brand of soft-nationalism and relative apathy on the national question. After all, in the 2011 federal election, the federal NDP swept nearly everything here (and this part of Quebec was likely where voters flirted with the Harper Tories in 2007-2008).
The north shore suburban ridings were must-wins for the CAQ, and their failure to gain many seats here on September 4 doomed their attempt to become the official opposition. The matter is not that the CAQ did surprisingly poorly here, according to this breakdown of votes by region, the CAQ won 35% to the PQ’s 42% in Laurentides-Lanaudière, but they got screwed over by the workings of FPTP. In these two regions combined, the PQ took 11 seats to the CAQ’s mere 4. François Legault won in L’Assomption (with 42.3% against 39.6% for the PQ), PQ-turned-CAQ incumbent Daniel Ratthé held on in Blainville (with 41.2% against 35.6% for the PQ), former Montreal police chief and star whistle-blower Jacques Duchesneau won in Saint-Jérôme (with 40% against 37.7% for the PQ) and the CAQ won Groulx (38% against 34% for the PQ).
However, it came up short in Terrebonne (44.5% for the PQ against 36% for CAQ star candidate Dr. Gaétan Barrette) and Deux-Montagnes (38.8% for the PQ against 35.2% for PQ-turned-CAQ incumbent member Benoit Charette). Despite putting up some very solid results in Masson (35.7%), Repentigny (37.7%) and Mirabel (36.4%), it fell short of the PQ. That being said, while the CAQ’s performance on the north shore taken only in terms of winning seats was a failure, its actual level of support was quite solid and it has established itself – for now – as the only serious rival to the PQ in this region. Indeed, the PLQ was utterly crushed throughout the northern 450 belt, falling well below 20% in every single riding in the Laurentides and Lanaudière (besides Argenteuil, the old PLQ stronghold which the PQ gained in a by-election earlier this summer and held on September 4 by a solid margin). The Liberals had sizable support in parts of Rosemère and Lorraine in the 2008 election (ridings of Groulx and Blainville), they were totally flattened by the CAQ, which likely ate up a good number of Francophone upper middle-class Liberal voters in the 450.
The CAQ’s performance in the non-suburban parts of Laurentides and Lanaudière were far more underwhelming. This includes ridings such as Joliette and Berthier which the ADQ had won in the 2007 election and which could potentially have been long-shot targets for the CAQ. In Berthier, the PQ won 47% to the CAQ’s 32.3% and only 30% against 47.1% for the PQ in Joliette. Oddly, however, the CAQ with a 21-year old candidate managed to give high-profile PQ incumbent Nicolas Marceau (the party’s finance critic) a close race in Rousseau (39.2% for the CAQ, 41.6% for Marceau), a seat which was held until 2009 by none other than François Legault.
On the south shore suburbs of Montreal (Montérégie), all three parties had their share of good results. The Liberals easily held La Pinière (Brossard, a suburban community with a large non-Francophone population) but also held Laporte and Châteauguay by comfortable margins. The PLQ also held Vaudreuil, a riding with a large English minority (in Hudson) easily and held The PQ easily held its own strongholds, notably Marie-Victorin, Taillon and Vachon and handily defeated PQ-turned-CAQ incumbent François Rebello in Sanguinet (41% against 32.4% for Rebello). The CAQ, however, was successful in La Prairie (an affluent middle-class suburban riding, it won 32.7% to 32.4% for the PQ) and in Montarville (36% against 31.5% for the PQ, a surprise gain by the CAQ). Montarville, a significantly redistributed riding which includes Boucherville and Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, was notionally Liberal on 2008 results, but the PLQ won only 24.4% this year. Once again, it appears as if the CAQ made major inroads with upper middle-class Francophone voters who had leaned towards Charest’s Liberals in 2008.
The CAQ was unsuccessful in its attempts to topple PQ incumbents in the exurban regions of Montérégie. Once again, the CAQ certainly did post some strong numbers, again referring to the breakdown of votes by region, the CAQ apparently won 29.5% in the region (ahead of the Liberals, who won 26%, but far behind the PQ which won 36%) but it took only 2 seats against 12 for the PQ and 6 for the Liberals. The Liberals had the advantage of incumbency but also benefited from the concentration of their votes in certain ridings, while the CAQ posted fairly homogeneous numbers throughout the region. In terms of seats, this meant that while the CAQ did well in key ridings such as Chambly (34.2%, 40.1% PQ), Saint-Jean (33%, 40.6% PQ), Iberville (33.3%, 38.8% PQ), Sainte-Hyacinthe (31.6%, 36.3% PQ) and Huntingdon (26%, 26.7% PQ and 39.6% PLQ), it was still no cookie for them.
The Liberals’ resilience in the Eastern Townships was remarkable, with the very notable exception of Sherbrooke where Premier Charest himself was defeated. However, with the exception of Sherbrooke and Saint-François, the Liberals were triumphant in every other closely contested riding they held in the region, ridings which the PQ and/or CAQ had seriously targeted. In Brome-Missisquoi, Liberal incumbent Pierre Paradis, who has held this seat since 1980, was narrowly reelected with 33.1% against 32.3% for the CAQ when most had assumed that he would go down to defeat after 32 years of incumbency. In Orford, the Liberals fended off a strong PQ challenge with 36.6% against 30.6% for the PQ. In Mégantic, the Liberals held on with 35.1% against 31.2% for the PQ. In Richmond, finally, the daughter of retiring PLQ incumbent Yvon Vallières defeated PQ incumbent Etienne Alexis-Boucher (elected in 2008 in Johnson, redistricting moved him to Richmond) with 35.5% against 34.9% for Boucher. In Johnson, the CAQ was narrowly defeated by the PQ.
The big race on election night was Sherbrooke, a riding which Jean Charest has represented both federally and provincially since 1984 (he has held the provincial riding since 1998). Sherbrooke, a largely Francophone seat with a large student population drawn to a local university, has never been a safe seat for the PLQ and Charest never won by overwhelmingly large margins, and come close to defeat in 2007. This year, the PQ fancied their chances against the unpopular incumbent Premier and got a star candidate, former Bloc MP Serge Cardin. The contest was fairly close, but Cardin prevailed by a strong margin with 42.4% against 34.6% for Jean Charest. It is clear that Cardin managed to coalesce the anti-Charest vote: the PQ vote in the riding increased this year compared to 2008 (from 37.6% in 2008), the QS vote was nearly flat at 7% and the CAQ won only 11.8%.
The fact that Serge Cardin had less trouble running against the incumbent Premier of Quebec (and a longtime local incumbent) than the 19-year old rookie federal NDP candidate who defeated him in 2011 does tell volumes about either Charest’s personal unpopularity or the bizarre nature of Quebec politics. Charest’s defeat makes him the first incumbent Premier to lose reelection since Bourassa in 1976.
The CAQ was successful in central Quebec, gaining Aussant’s seat of Nicolet-Bécancour but also PQ-held Drummond-Bois-Francs and notionally PLQ Arthabaska, where ADQ/CAQ incumbent Sylvie Roy defeated Liberal incumbent Claude Bachand easily, with 42% against 30.5% for the Liberal.
The Mauricie region was a close three-way battleground on September 4, even though all ridings eventually returned their incumbent or incumbent party. In the very closely contested riding of Trois-Rivières, PLQ incumbent Danielle St-Amand narrowly defeated the PQ’s local star candidate, Djemila Benhabib with 35% against 32% for Benhabib, with the CAQ taking 23.3%. In Maskinongé, the close three-way fight ended up favouring the incumbent Liberals, who won 32.1% against 30% apiece for the CAQ and PQ. The PQ fended up strong CAQ challenges in Saint-Maurice and Champlain. There was, however, no suspense in Laviolette, where Liberal incumbent Julie Boulet was reelected with a large majority (on that note, somebody will need to explain to me why Boulet has such a large personal vote in a Francophone rural riding which was over 55% OUI in 1995 and was a PQ stronghold in the past).
In Quebec City, the CAQ, as expected, dominated the match, but the Liberals did not come out too bruised. The ADQ-turned-CAQ incumbents in La Peltrie and Chauveau won huge majorities, but the CAQ – as expected – also gained exurban Portneuf (40.7%, 33.5% PLQ) and the urban/suburban ridings of Vanier-Les Rivières (37.9%, 35% PLQ), Charlesbourg (37%, 34.2% PLQ) and Montmorency (38.2%, 33.2% PLQ). The Liberals held Jean-Talon, Louis-Hébert (two seats with incumbent cabinet ministers) but also Jean-Lesage, a close three-way marginal where the PLQ took 30.6% against 28.6% for the PQ and 27.3% for the CAQ. The PQ placed a distant third in the capital region as a whole, but Agnès Maltais held the downtown PQ bastion of Taschereau (37.1% against 25.8% for Liberal cabinet minister Clément Gignac) and Pauline Marois herself won reelection handily in Charlevoix-Côte-de-Beaupré).
Many have sought to explain Quebec City’s “paradoxical” voting patterns – a major capital city which is conservative and well-known for its popular and very right-wing talk-radio. The PQ (and its federal counterpart) has performed poorly in Quebec City in almost every recent election, while the Liberals and the ADQ (and now the CAQ) have usually crossed swords in most of the city’s riding. Certainly, in contrast to Montreal, Quebec City is not extremely polarized and certainly not predictable. The federal Tories performed strongly in Quebec City in 2006 and 2008, but the NDP defeated all Conservative (and Bloc) incumbents in Quebec City in the May 2011 federal election. Provincially, the PLQ did well in 2003 and then again in 2008, but the ADQ had done very well in the capital in 2007.
Many have attempted their own explanations of the Quebec City “paradox”, including this Yahoo.ca article in English. The political mood in Quebec City is an interesting mix of economic conservatism and fairly right-wing attitudes on government spending, some opposition to public servants (who, while important in the provincial capital, do not account for a majority of the jobs) and a feeling of resentment (and perhaps superiority) to Montreal, Quebec’s economic capital. As the CAQ’s results show, this centre-right brand of politics is strongest in the city’s suburban outskirts, while the lower-income and more trendy downtown Vieux-Québec area is quite left-wing. Quebec City’s politics are, in the end, not all that mysterious.
The CAQ’s results in the Chaudières-Appalaches and Bas-Saint-Laurent were, however, surprisingly mediocre. The Chaudières-Appalaches, Quebec’s most conservative region and the ADQ’s old stronghold, was a region where the CAQ was widely expected to do very well and easily root out vulnerable PLQ incumbents in Beauce-Sud, Bellechasse or even Lotbinière-Frontenac. The CAQ was able to gain Lévis, a south shore suburb of Quebec City with 39.9% and 31% PLQ and it held the ADQ seats of Chutes-de-la-Chaudière and Beauce-Nord by huge margins. However, in Beauce-Sud, probably one of the biggest Liberal upsets of the night, PLQ incumbent Robert Dutil was narrowly reelected with 42.4% against 40.5% for the CAQ. The CAQ was also unable to gain either Bellechasse, Lotbinière-Frontenac or Côte-du-Sud.
The CAQ had been expected to perform very well in this rural region, a part of heavily Francophone Quebec distinct for its conservatism and federalism. This region formed the ADQ’s backbone and it is where the federal Conservatives find their last base of support in Quebec. The CAQ’s poor results in this region combined with similarly weak results in rural parts of Lanaudière (a conservative region, but a very sovereigntist one, in contrast) where the ADQ had been triumphant in 2007 could indicate that more right-leaning and conservative-minded voters in rural and small-town areas of the province remained more reluctant to vote for the CAQ, whose appeal this year was first and foremost suburban.
The PQ made its most significant gains in Gaspésie, Saguenay and the Abitibi.
In the Gaspésie, the PQ was able to score a grand-slam, gaining three seats from the Liberals. They gained the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, a traditional bellwether until 2003, taking 51% against 38.5% for the PLQ incumbent. On the mainland, it was a phenomenal PQ landslide in both Gaspé (56.6% against 28.4% for the Liberal incumbent) and even in Bonaventure (47.5% against 34.9% for the Liberal incumbent). Considering that the Liberals were resilient in almost all of their traditional strongholds besides Argenteuil, their defeat by such a large margin in Bonaventure – even if somewhat predictable – was surprising. The Liberals had held the seat in a November 2011 by-election with 49.5% against 37.2% for the PQ.
In the sovereigntist hotbed of the Saguenay, the Liberals had only one defending incumbent, cabinet minister Serge Simard in Dubuc. Simard was badly defeated, winning only 27.6% against 42.2% for the PQ. In the Abitibi, the PQ easily gained the open Liberal-held seat of Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue (36.8% vs 26.5% for the Liberals) and narrowly defeated incumbent PLQ cabinet minister Pierre Corbeil in Abitibi-Est (38.4% against 34.9% for Corbeil).
The Liberals held all their seats in their traditional Outaouais stronghold, including Hull and Papineau, two seats which the PQ was thought to have a serious shot at. The PQ has not won any seats in this region, which has a significant Anglophone minority and a large population of federal public servant, since 1981.
This legislature is not widely expected to last for a very long time, though in the short term, neither the Liberals – who are left without a leader for the time being – or the CAQ have reasons to quickly bring down this government. Legault has backtracked on his prior statement that he would not cooperate with either party and has said that he stood ready to work with the PQ government on a case-by-case basis on certain issues.
It is in Legault’s interest to let the PQ minority government serve its time a bit and evaluate how voters react to the Marois government before seriously trying to force an election on her. The CAQ still needs to build itself as a party, and while it has much room to grow it also has a fairly fluid electorate which could feasibly switch to the PQ or the Liberals given appropriate circumstances. It needs to recruit star candidates, gain financial resources (the party’s campaign this year was far more modest in size and reach than the PQ and PLQ campaigns) and develop solid political machines.
It is hard to say how Pauline Marois will end up governing – will she be a fiery sovereigntist and engage Stephen Harper in a bloody tug-of-war contest as the PQ has promised (on top of that, will she hold or be forced to hold a referendum in the near future?), or will she prefer a more wait-and-see approach to sovereignty and govern as a technocrat? It is a certainty that a PQ government will be far more belligerent in its relations with Ottawa than Jean Charest’s Liberals were, even if Harper and Charest weren’t the best buddies in the world.
It is likely that the economic policy of a PQ government will be more left-wing than Charest’s economic policy was, given that Marois has talked about stuff like tax-the-rich and has been a bit ambiguous on the debt and deficit issues (beyond the usual platitude of being ‘fiscally responsible’). The PQ is on better terms with the student movement than Charest was, but that isn’t saying much. The PQ has only promised a a temporary freeze in tuition fees at their 2012 level and talks about holding some big conference on education in the near future, but Marois could quickly be forced to increase tuition fees and risk the continued ire of the student movement.
Jean Charest has stepped down from politics after a 28-year long career in federal and provincial politics, leaving the Quebec Liberals, the party which he has led for 14 years, without a leader. Jean-Marc Fournier, the outgoing justice minister, would have been the frontrunner but he seems to be interested only in taking the interim leadership and not in running for the permanent leadership. It is important that the PLQ has a strong interim leader who can be a strong and vocal opponent to the government, and it is also important that the PLQ picks a new leader fairly quickly, given that minority parliaments mean that the election campaign begins right after the actual election.
With Fournier down, the main contenders for PLQ leadership are Pierre Moreau (transports minister), Yves Bolduc (health minister), Raymond Bachand (finance minister), Lise Thériault (labour minister), Sam Hamad (economic development minister) and long-time MNA Pierre Paradis (who ran for the leadership against Bourassa in 1983 and has been a backbencher critical of Charest since 2003). All of them have been named as potential contenders and most appear openly interested. None of these candidates appear particularly strong, especially not the likes of hapless Sam Hamad. The Liberals are fortunate to have come out with a large caucus which is not only a West Island Montreal caucus, but they still have a very tough road to climb, even if they’re only bruised and far from mortally wounded.
Marois will certainly wait for the Charbonneau Commission on corruption to come out with its report, which will likely hurt the Liberals considerably, before considering calling another election herself. Her obvious goal is to use the commission’s report to cripple the Liberals, call an election and hope to win a strong majority government from voters.
The election of a PQ government shakes up Quebecois and Canadian politics in a major way. Regardless of one’s political opinions, this election proved to be a rather interesting one.
A post on provincial by-elections in Ontario and Manitoba is upcoming
Provincial elections will be held in Quebec (Canada) on September 4, 2012. All 125 members of the provincial legislature, the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), are elected in single-member constituencies (often known as ridings in Canadian English, or comtés/circonscriptions in French). Quebec’s political system, like that of every other province in Canada, is built on the Westminster system. The Premier of Quebec (called Prime Minister in French) and his government are responsible to the National Assembly and must retain its confidence in order to govern. With only two exceptions since 1867, all provincial elections in Quebec have resulted in majority governments, allowing the leader of the largest party to form a stable government.
These elections will be disputed on a new map, following a provincial redistribution in 2011. While the National Assembly retained 125 seats, there were changes in the regional distribution of seats with the elimination of some seats in less populous regions (Gaspésie, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Chaudières-Appalaches and Centre-du-Québec) and the creation of new seats in demographically vibrant regions (the suburban regions of Montérégie, Laval and Lanaudière). Other constituencies saw their borders altered somewhat, but there were no major changes to the look and layout of the electoral map otherwise. The DGEQ has maps of the new districts here, and has a very handy historical atlas (in Google Earth format) which shows the constituency maps since 1965.
Political History of Quebec since 1867
Quebec’s political history since Canadian Confederation in 1867 has been significantly influenced by the province’s unique place in Canada and North America. In a country where only a quarter or so of the population is Francophone, around 85% of Quebec’s 7.9 million inhabitants are Francophones. The issue of Quebec’s place within confederation has been one of the most important political issues in Quebec and Canada, and since the 1970s provincial politics are driven by the so-called “national question” – simply put, whether or not Quebec should be a sovereign, independent nation-state.
Quebec nationalism is predominantly territorial or civic nationalism, even if the issue of language and Quebec’s ’difference’ from the rest of Canada is indisociable from the national question. Furthermore, by and large, the Quebec nationalist movement is a largely secular, left-wing and progressive movement. However, when Quebec joined confederation as one of the founding provinces in 1867, there was no notion of Quebec as a secular community. What defined Quebec in 1867 was its heavily Roman Catholic and French-speaking population, who identified not with their province bur rather with their correligionists and fellow Francophones, including large French-speaking Catholic minorities in the Maritimes, Ontario and especially Manitoba.
The idea that Quebec should separate from the rest of Canada was inexistent prior to the Conscription Crisis of 1917, and it would not be until the 1960s that separatism would find significant public support. The leaders of the Lower Canada Rebellion in 1837-1838 was the work of liberal reformers and nationalists who defined themselves as Canadian (canadiens) in contrast to most English-Canadians who defined themselves as loyal British subjects – and would continue doing so until at least the 1930s. Progressively, the liberal civic (Canadian) nationalism in Quebec would be replaced by a far more conservative brand of nationalism, sometimes styled clerico-nationalism. Until the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church held tremendous religious but also social and political power in the province. Separation of church and state did not become a reality until the 1960s in Quebec.
Following confederation and until at least the 1880s, Quebec politics both federally and provincially were dominated by the Conservative Party, which had the favours of the powerful clergy and Montreal’s protectionist business interests. At the provincial levels, the Conseratives ruled the province until 1887 (with the exception of a short-lived Liberal (PLQ) government between 1878 and 1879). However, the Conservatives’ stranglehold on provincial politics weakened under the weight of their own internal divisions, between a moderate faction close to Georges-Étienne Cartier (John A. Macdonald’s Quebec partner and fellow ‘Father of Confederation’) and an ultramontane clerical faction. External factors also precipitated the Conservative Party’s decline in Quebec in the late nineteenth century. Cartier’s death in 1873 was not a mortal blow but with his passing, the party lost its dominant figure. In 1885, the execution of Métis rebellion leader Louis Riel by Macdonald’s federal Tory government was deeply unpopular in Quebec and contributed to the victory of the PLQ, led by Honoré Mercier, in the 1886 provincial election.
In contrast to the bland Conservative Premiers, Honoré Mercier was the first Premier of Quebec who had the stature of statesman. His government, although still close to the Catholic Church, represented the first expression of Quebecois demands for provincial autonomy. He was not alone in this movement for provincial autonomy. The terms of confederation in 1867 had created a very centralized federation, and several prominent Premiers including Oliver Mowat of Ontario demanded more provincial powers.
A railroad scandal brought down Mercier’s government in 1891 and returned the Conservatives to power in 1892, but it proved to be the Conservative Party’s last hurrah in Quebec. Once again, it was largely external factors which hastened the provincial Conservatives’ final downfall. Macdonald’s death in 1891 severely weakened the federal Conservatives, and the Manitoba Schools Question (1890-1896, dealing with the public funding of separate religious schools including French Catholic schools in Manitoba) would fatally divide the party. Given that the Quebecois still identified primarily with their faith and language rather than their province, the Manitoba Schools Question was perceived as an affront to French Catholics and severely hurt the Conservatives at both levels. Federally, the Liberals led by Quebec’s native son Wilfrid Laurier used the divisions of the federal Tories on the Manitoba Schools Question to win the 1896 federal election. In 1897, the provincial Liberals handily defeated a divided and severely wounded Conservative government.
After 1897, the PLQ would rule with only token opposition for the next 39 years, winning ample majorities in ten successive elections. In 1917, the federal Conservative government’s decision to implement conscription during World War I would be the fatal blow to whatever remained of the provincial Conservative Party. The Liberals abated their historical anti-clericalism and come to a silent agreement with the Catholic clergy, focusing rather on the economic development of Quebec and abandoning ambitious plans for education reform (education was heavily controlled by the Church). The two main avatars of the nearly four decades of Liberal dominance were Lomer Gouin (Premier, 1905-1920) and Louis-Alexandre Taschereau (Premier, 1920-1936). Both led laissez-faire policies favourable to businesses and particularly foreign investors (opponents accused the PLQ of selling the province to foreigners, mainly Americans), resulting in a strong economy and healthy finances in the years before 1929. Both Gouin and Taschereau toyed with the notions of provincial autonomy and would sometimes flex their muscle against Ottawa.
Taschereau’s response to the Great Depression was slow and tepid, and the economic crisis proved to be his government’s downfall. In 1934, a group of PLQ dissidents led by Paul Gouin formed the Action libérale nationale (ALN). The ALN, influenced by the conservative nationalism of Lionel Groulx, was a corporatist and fairly nationalist party which supported an interventionist response to the economic crisis including the nationalization of electricity. In the 1935 election, the ALN allied with the Conservatives, led by Trois-Rivières lawyer Maurice Duplessis, to form a coalition styled Union nationale (UN). With 48 seats against 26 for the ALN and 16 for the Conservatives, Taschereau’s Liberals came close to defeat.
Inevitable defeat was what awaited the PLQ government after Duplessis, a particularly cunning politician, revealed the extent of corruption in the government. Taschereau was forced to resign in June 1936 and replaced by Adélard Godbout, who was steamrolled by Duplessis’ UN in the August 1936 election (14 PLQ against 76 unionistes). Maurice Duplessis had won power by allying with the ambitious reformists of the ALN, and had adopted a similarly ambitious and reformist platform (fighting corruption and patronage, major economic reforms). However, as soon as he won power, the deceitful Duplessis quickly forgot any reformist drive he may have had, and in doing so dashed the hopes of most of his ephemeral reformist allies (most of the ALN’s leaders quickly left the UN).
Duplessis adopted a much more assertive position in federal-provincial relations, and became known as a forceful defender of provincial autonomy against federal encroachment. As World War II erupted in September 1939, Duplessis – who opposed the Canadian war effort – quickly called snap elections for October 1939, hoping to profit from Quebec’s opposition to the war. However, Mackenzie King’s federal Liberal government – led by his Quebec lieutenant Ernest Lapointe – directly intervened in the provincial campaign by playing a slick game of the carrot and the stick: Ottawa promised that it would not implement conscription, but warned that if voters reelected Duplessis, the province would risk major political isolation as the Quebec federal Liberal caucus would withdraw from cabinet. The game worked, and Godbout’s Liberals staged a major comeback, taking 69 seats against only 15 for the UN.
Godbout was a reformer who implemented a number of major reforms including giving women the right to vote (Quebec was the last province to do so, in 1940), making education for 6-14 years old mandatory and nationalizing a Montreal-area electricity firm to create Hydro-Québec. However, Godbout was much less vindicative than Duplessis in his relations with Ottawa. He did not oppose the federal government’s moves to take over provincial responsibilities (collecting the income tax) and he was hurt by the conscription crisis in 1944. Although they won the popular vote in the 1944 election, the PLQ lost the 1944 election to Duplessis and the UN, which won 48 out of 91 seats against 37 for the PLQ.
Maurice Duplessis would rule Quebec until his death in 1959, winning three successive majority governments in 1948, 1952 and 1956. Duplessis’ fifteen year rule is referred to as la grande noirceur (the ‘great darkness’). Even if Quebec slowly inched forward with urbanization, the development of urban middle-classes and the rise of a more liberal intelligentsia, Duplessis’ government remained obstinately traditionalist, conservative (if not reactionary), authoritarian and clerical. He built an extremely powerful political machine, which acted as a powerful vehicle of graft and patronage.
In the tradition of clerico-nationalism, his government took an assertive stance against the federal government, officially to defend provincial powers against federal centralization, in practice as a tool to consolidate his own political power. Duplessis is at the root of Quebec’s separate provincial income tax and the adoption of the current provincial flag.
On economic matters, Duplessis favoured a laissez-faire approach and opposed the Keynesian welfare states which were taking root in Europe. He had no interest in developing social programs, and was stridently opposed to trade unions, suspecting them of being communist (a big anti-communist, his government passed the famous padlock law to ‘counter communist influence’).
Somewhat in contradiction of his soft-nationalism against Ottawa, Duplessis aggressively developed the province through a close alliance with American investors (leading many to say that he was ‘selling the province’ to foreign investors). The provincial economy, especially in Montreal, was largely dominated by the powerful Anglophone minority, while the Francophone majority faced discrimination and socio-economic marginalization. Faced with mounting labour opposition to the alliance of local and American capital, the UN government broke up a number of strikes, the most memorable of which was the 1949 Asbestos Strike.
Duplessis ruled in tandem with an omnipotent clergy which controlled education and healthcare. Together, the church and the UN state formed a tremendous bulwark against any kind of political evolution or ‘liberalization’. Duplessis died in September 1959 and was succeeded by Paul Sauvé, who promised major reforms. However, Sauvé, a man of some stature who could have modernized Quebec on his own terms, died only a few months after taking office, in January 1960. The hapless Antonio Barrette replaced him and led a divided party into the 1960 election, in which he struggled to measure up to Jean Lesage’s Liberals, who vowed to dramatically change the province.
Even though the 1960 election was fairly close – the PLQ won 51 seats against 43 for the UN – Lesage had received a fairly clear mandate. The new Liberal governemnt was stacked with talented academics, intellectuals and reformers (including a young René Lévesque as public works, and later natural resources minister), and quickly set the tone for what would come. Lesage’s government passed a series of spectacular reforms including the creation of a modern public education system, the bases for Quebec’s public health insurance, and later the creation of the province’s distinct pension plan. The government grew as it assumed new roles such as education, healthcare but also the promotion of Quebec culture.
At the cultural level, Quebec experienced a revolution – the so-called Quiet Revolution – with the Catholic Church seeing its power and influence collapse overnight. The largely rural, marginalized and morally traditionalistic French Catholic society was replaced by a new secular civil society, more progressive but also much more confident than the Catholic society of yesteryears. Quebec’s new society largely embraced the moral and sexual liberalism of the 1960s, while at the same time began to affirm its distinctiveness more forcefully.
Indeed, Jean Lesage’s government was influenced by a strong nationalist tendency, which was not afraid of standing up to the federal government and enhancing Quebec’s image at the national and international level. The old tradition of provincial autonomy, defended by past PLQ and UN governments, was gradually transformed into a true nationalism. In retrospect, Lesage’s most nationalist action was certainly the nationalization of electricity. Godbout’s government had taken the first step in the 1940s with the creation of Hydro-Québec to replace a corrupt and inefficient private utilities company in the Montreal region. In 1962, René Lévesque urged an originally lukewarm Lesage to push through a full nationalization of Quebec’s hydro-electric resources, by consolidating all private electricity firms (a lot of them being owned by Anglophones) into a single public electricity monopoly (Hydro-Québec). Lesage called a snap election in 1962 on the issue, in which the Liberals ran on a clearly nationalist platform with the emblematic slogan, maîtres chez nous (masters in our own home). The PLQ received a decisive mandate from voters, with over 56% of the vote and 63 out of 95 seats.
Inadvertently, however, Lesage’s bold reforms and the transformation of Quebecois society would encourage the growth of a nascent movement which demanded the independence of Quebec from Canada. In 1960, a group of left-leaning sovereigntists led by André D’Allemagne and Pierre Bourgault founded the RIN (Rassemblement pour l’indépendance nationale), which would become a political party in 1963. That same year, a group of young radicals founded the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a revolutionary movement which sought to win the independence of Quebec through violent means.
The forces of nationalism unleased by Lesage during the Quiet Revolution are credited for the PLQ’s defeat in the 1966 election. Daniel Johnson Sr., the leader of the UN, adopted a very nationalist slogan during the 1966 election which seduced many nationalist voters: égalité ou indépendance (equality or independence). Even though the PLQ actually ran away with the popular vote in 1966 (47.3% against 40.8% for Johnson’s UN), the UN returned to power with 56 seats against 50 seats for the incumbent government. Bourgault’s RIN obtained 5.6% of the vote and a centre-right sovereigntist party (RN) won an additional 3.2%. Neither party won seats.
Johnson’s election did not usher in a return to the Duplessis-UN darkness. In fact, Johnson continued and built on Lesage’s reforms, and he further enhanced Quebec’s standing on the national and international scene. Relations with Ottawa became frosty, especially after the election of Pierre Trudeau in 1968 (the day after violent clashes between police and sovereigntist activists in Montreal, on June 24 – Quebec’s national day). It was during Johnson’s short two-year tenure that Montreal hosted the successful Expo ’67 and that French President Charles de Gaulle pronounced his famous Vive le Québec libre speech in Montreal. However, Johnson’s death in 1968 and his replacement by Jean-Jacques Bertrand, a far less nationalist leader, marked the end for the UN. Bertrand was not as bold or ambitious as his predecessor, and he faced dissent within his own party.
The 1970 elections were fought with the emergence of a new political party, the Parti québécois (PQ) founded by René Lévesque in 1968 after he had quit the PLQ in 1967, when they rejected his “sovereignty-association” project. Lévesque’s vision of independence (styled as sovereignty in traditional parlance) included a proposal for political and economic association with Canada, to create some sort of customs and possibly monetary union with the rest of Canada after the independence of Quebec. Following the party’s founding congress in 1968, Pierre Bourgault’s far more radical RIN gradually dissolved itself into the new party, providing the PQ with its ‘hardline’ wing (purs et durs).
The PQ won 23.1% of the vote in the 1970 election, but managed only 7 seats. The PLQ, led by the young Robert Bourassa, staged a comeback by winning a huge majority (72/108 seats, 45% of the vote) while the UN collapsed, winning only 17 seats and 19.7% of the vote. The social credit movement, on the heels of success in conservative rural Quebec at the federal level (SoCred won 26 seats in Quebec in the 1962 federal election), won 11% of the vote and 12 seats.
Months after his election, Bourassa was confronted with Quebec’s biggest political and institutional crisis in its history. On October 5, a FLQ cell kidnapped British diplomat James Cross and, five days later, another FLQ cell kidnapped Pierre Laporte, the labour minister and one of the new cabinet’s highest ranking members. Bourassa, an inexperienced rookie Premier in 1970, was in way over his head in the October Crisis, and it was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who would take the forefront of the reaction to the October Crisis. On October 16, Ottawa invoked the War Measures Act, which gave authorities exceptional powers to suspend habeas corpus and civil liberties and arrest suspected FLQ sympathizers. Though James Cross was released after 60 days in captivity, Pierre Laporte was executed by his captors a week after his kidnapping. Laporte’s execution would destroy any base of public support for the FLQ and seal the fate of the terrorist organziation. Some of its leaders were granted safe passage to Cuba, while Laporte’s captors were later found and arrested by authorities.
The development of hydro-electric resources in James Bay in northern Quebec was perhaps the most memorable achievement of Bourassa’s first government. His government kicked off the development of the province’s hydro-electric capacity in the north, through the construction of huge dams which remain the main source of electricity for the province to this day. In the social sphere, Bourassa’s government also passed Quebec’s current public health insurance law in 1970. Bourassa was reelected in 1973, winning all but 8 seats out of the 110 seats in the National Assembly. The PQ won 30.2%, but only 6 seats, though the UN’s collapse (the party lost all seats) allowed Lévesque’s party to form the official opposition (in the absence, however, of its leader, who did not win his riding).
However, Bourassa’s second term was marked by a declining economic situation, major labour unrest in the public sector, the beginnings of language discord (the loi 22, which made French the official language of Quebec, went too far for the tastes of Anglophones and allophones, but did not go far enough for Francophone nationalists) and the debacle of the 1976 Montreal Olympics. In opposition, the PQ had moderated its rhetoric. In 1974, the party had adopted a resolution which stated that independence would be declared only after a referendum, and not unilaterally by the government after a PQ electoral victory. Bourassa called a snap election for November 1976.
In one of the most famous provincial elections in Canadian history, René Lévesque’s PQ won a shockingly large majority. The PQ won 41.4% of the vote against 33.8% for the PLQ, but won a huge majority in the National Assembly with 71 out of 110 seats. The PLQ won only 26 seats. The UN made a modest recovery, winning 18% of the vote and 11 seats, and made major inroads with Anglophone voters. However, it would be the old beast’s last hurrah, like the Titanic’s stern sticking out of the water for a last time before plunging underwater.
Lévesque’s victory sent a shockwave across Canada, raising fears in the rest of Canada that Quebec would separate. However, the PQ’s strategy was to prove its worth as a government before going to the people with the question of separation. The PQ had won on a platform of “good government” and turned immediate attention to fulfilling this pledge, with the introduction of a new law on party financing, an anti-scab law and the introduction of car insurance. That being said, the new government’s most memorable legislative achievement was the famous loi 101, the Charter of the French Language. Bill 101 replaced Bourassa’s Bill 22, making French the sole official language of Quebec. French became the official language of work in the public and private sector, in education, in advertising and in courts. The new bill restricted access to English schools to those children whose father and/or mother had received instruction in English.
Federal-provincial relations in the 1970s and 1980s were marked by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s vision of federalism and his ambition to patriate the constitution (Canada’s founding document, the BNA Act, was British legislation). Pierre Trudeau was the most vocal opponent of the Quebec sovereigntist movement, and was a strong advocate of centralized federalism. He rejected the idea that Canada was the result of the union of two nations, the English nation and the French nation, instead viewing Canadian confederation as the federation of ten equal provinces. In Quebec City, Trudeau faced provincial governments which were strong advocates of provincial autonomy and, after 1976, Quebec’s outright independence. Already in 1971, Bourassa had rejected Trudeau’s first attempt to patriate the constitution.
Lévesque announced the organization of a referendum on his proposal for sovereignty-association in May 1980. While the YES had momentum at the campaign’s outset, the return of Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals to power in Ottawa following the 1980 election changed the cards. Trudeau took the lead of the NO campaign and promised Quebecois voters to reform the constitution if the NO won, an ambiguous message interpreted by some as a message that Ottawa was ready to satisfy Quebec’s demands. His promise certainly had some impact on the results, which saw the NO win handily with 59.6% of the vote.
Despite the loss of the referendum, Lévesque’s government remained popular and was reelected with a stronger majority in the 1981 election, in which the PQ increased its share of the vote to nearly 50%+1 (49.3%). In the aftermath, Trudeau did live up to his promise of renewing the constitution, but certainly not in the way which some soft-nationalists might have hoped for. Trudeau’s goal in the patriation of the constitution had always been to adopt an amending formula (the basis of patriation itself – to make the BNA Act amendable by Canada only) and the addition of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Eight provinces, including Quebec and Alberta, opposed the inclusion of a charter and wanted an “opt out” clause. Trudeau threatened to patriate the constitution unilaterally, over the heads of the provinces. The Supreme Court ruled, in two judgements, that unilateral patriation was legal but at the same time ruled unilateral patriation was not in accordance with constitutional convention.
The decision led to a conference of Premiers and Trudeau in November 1981. Trudeau, always the sly fox, broke up the so-called ‘gang of eight’ by luring Lévesque with an alternative proposal before the federal government reached an alternative compromise with all other provinces – except Quebec, which was kept (literally) in the dark – during the so-called “kitchen meeting” or “night of the long knives” (in Quebec). The other provinces agreed to a compromise which would take out their “opt out” clause in return for the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause in the Charter. Lévesque was not informed about this compromise until the next morning, and he refused to sign the deal. To this day, Quebec has not ratified the Canadian Constitution.
Constitutional issues remained at the forefront of Canadian federalism during the 1980s. In 1984, Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives came to power in Ottawa, after a landslide victory which had been built, in part, on huge Tory inroads in Quebec, a province where the federal Conservatives had been dead in the water since 1967 (with the exception of the 1958 Diefslide). Mulroney had built his winning coalition with an appeal to Quebec nationalists, by promising to renew the constitution to include Quebec. Following Mulroney’s victory in September 1984, Lévesque declared that he was ready to negotiate with the federal government and put independence on the backburner in the meantime. This strategy, the so-called beau risque, proved controversial within his own party, with a sizable base of PQ purs et durs refusing to endorse Lévesque’s beau risque. Several cabinet ministers resigned in disagreement with the Lévesque strategy.
In June 1985, crippled by the internal dissent in PQ ranks, an economic crisis and ongoing labour unrest in the public sector, Lévesque announced his resignation and was succeeded in September 1985 by Pierre-Marc Johnson, the son of the former UN Premier. A few weeks later, Johnson called an election. Even if the PQ dropped its focus on independence and shifted its campaign to economic issues, he was unable to salvage the sinking ship. Robert Bourassa, who had reclaimed the Liberal leadership in 1983, reclaimed his old office after a landslide victory in December 1985. The Liberals won 56% of the vote and 99 out of 122 seats – even though Bourassa was defeated his own riding (which he had won in a 1985 by-election).
Bourassa’s primary objective was economic growth and healthier finances, and he led a fairly liberal economic policy. However, his government soon found itself at the core of Mulroney’s constitutional negotiations. In 1987, a major constitutional reform – the Lake Meech Accord – was reached after the other provinces and the federal government accepted Bourassa’s 5 preconditions. Meech Lake recognized Quebec as a ‘distinct society’, gave Quebec and the other provinces a veto power over future constitutional amendments, allowed provinces to ”opt out” of federal programs, increased provincial powers over immigration and gave Quebec three judges on the Supreme Court who would have been chosen on the recommendation of the provincial government. The deal required the unanimous consent of all provinces within three years. The provincial legislature of Manitoba did not ratify Meech Lake, and Newfoundland subsequently receded its ratification.
In 1989, Bourassa’s PLQ won reelection with a reduced majority (92/125 seats against 29 for the PQ). The 1989 election was marked by the remarkable success of the Equality Party, which won only 3.7% but elected 4 members from Montreal’s largely Anglophone West Island. In 1987, the Bourassa government had angered the Liberal Party’s Anglophone base with Bill 178, which enforced French unilingual advertising outside private businesses. Three Anglophone PLQ cabinet ministers had resigned in protest against Bill 178.
Constitutional negotiations were given a second chance in 1992. The provinces came in agreement with the federal government in August 1992, signing the Charlottetown Accord. The Charlottetown Accord would have reinvented federal-provincial relations in Canada by reducing federal powers (most significantly, its spending power would have been limited and it would not have been able to attach conditions to fund transfers to provinces used for things such as education or health). The Senate would have been reformed to the West’s likings on a Triple-E model, but Quebec was compensated by a few goodies: distinct society, the 3 Supreme Court judges requirement and a clause which guaranteed Quebec a quarter of the seats in the House of Commons. The project was submitted to a nationwide referendum. In Quebec, sovereigntists such as PQ leader Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, the former Tory cabinet minister who had left the cabinet to form the federal sovereigntist Bloc québécois (BQ), opposed the deal. The Quebecois opponents of the Accord claimed that it had not gone far enough to address Quebec’s grievances against the 1982 Constitution and had taken the form of a grocery list to please all sectional interests. In Canada, 54% of voters rejected the deal. In Quebec, the NO won 56.7%. The rejection of Meech Lake in 1990 and the unpopularity of the Charlottetown Accord relit sovereigntist feelings, after having been considered dead in the early 1980s.
Bourassa became unpopular, and he announced his resignation in 1993, a short time after the BQ won a landslide in the province during the 1993 federal election. He was replaced by Daniel Johnson Jr., the son of the former UN Premier and the brother of the former PQ Premier. Quebec’s economic situation worsened in the early 1990s, and the province was faced with a large deficit which required the government to make major spending cuts and continue its privatization of state-owned companies.
The 1994 election was closely fought – less than one percentage point separated the PQ and the PLQ (44.8% vs. 44.4% for the PLQ), but Jacques Parizeau’s PQ won a majority of the seats – 77 out of 125 against 47 Liberals. A new party, the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), won 6.5% and one seat. The ADQ had been founded in March 1994 by Jean Allaire, the Liberal architect of the Allaire Report which proposed a very decentralized federal model. The PLQ had sidelined Allaire’s plan, leading Allaire and a few others to found the ADQ, which supported the “autonomy” of Quebec within Canada and had right-wing positions on economic issues (balanced budget, reducing the size of the state). Allaire stepped down from the ADQ’s leadership a few months before the September 1994 election and was replaced by the young (25-year old) Mario Dumont, the former leader of the Liberal Party’s youth wing. Dumont was the ADQ’s only MNA after the 1994 election.
Parizeau, a London-trained economist and passionate believer in the sovereigntist cause, had made no secret of his intention to organize a second referendum on independence if the PQ won. On October 30, 1995, the second referendum was held. Unlike in 1980, it was the NO which started out with the momentum, but the YES staged a major comeback, engineered in good part by Lucien Bouchard, who was a more popular campaigner than Parizeau. Support for independence surged to around 55% in the final week(s) before the vote, but the margin narrowed to a dead heat in the final days, including after a massive NO rally on October 27. In the end, the NO won – but by the skin of its teeth – with 50.6% of the vote. Parizeau resigned the next day, claiming that independence had been defeated only by “money and the ethnic vote”.
Parizeau was succeeded by Lucien Bouchard in January 1996. With independence on the backburner for a while, the objective of the new Bouchard PQ government became deficit reduction, with the aim of attaining the fabled balanced budget (déficit-zero) before 2000. Traditionally a social democratic party, the PQ took a major turn to the right under Bouchard’s leadership. The government made sharp budget cuts including deep cuts in healthcare and controversial education reforms. In 1998, the PQ government won reelection with 76 seats against 48 seats for the Liberals and one seat for the ADQ. In April 1998, Jean Charest, the former leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives (Charest had been a Mulroney-era cabinet minister and one of two PC MPs to win reelection in the 1993 disaster), became the leader of the provincial Liberals. The PLQ actually won the popular vote (43.6% vs. 42.9% for the PQ, the ADQ won 11.8%) in the 1998 election.
Bouchard’s government implemented very unpopular municipal amalgamations in 2000, which included the amalgamation of all muncipalities on the island of Montreal into a single municipality (the reforms also concerned, among others, Quebec City, Longueuil and Sherbrooke). Bouchard resigned in 2001 and was succeeded by Bernard Landry. Landry reoriented the PQ on a more social democratic course, notably with an anti-poverty law, and became a more vocal advocate of sovereignty than Bouchard had been. The government remained quite unpopular, but in 2001 and 2002, its unpopularity mostly benefited the ADQ, which won impressive victories in a string of by-elections in 2001 and allowed Mario Dumont to become a serious contender for Premier in 2002 and 2003.
In the 2003 election campaign, however, the ADQ’s support collapsed, with voters uncomfortable with Dumont’s conservatism and inexperience as they learned more about him (courtesy of the PQ and Liberals). Jean Charest campaigned on reducing wait times in healthcare, major income tax cuts, a reduction in the size of the state and a promise to hold referendums on deamalgamation. The PLQ won the election with 46% of the vote and 76 seats, against 33% and 45 seats for the PQ. Dumont’s party increased its support to 18.2%, a gain of over 6.4% on the 1998 election, but the ADQ elected only three additional members to the National Assembly (for a total of 4 seats).
Charest quickly became unpopular. His government did not follow suit on its promise to cut taxes, but the Charest government made major spending cuts, including controversial reductions in student loans and scholarships. The government also aimed to reduce the size of the state, by contracting out in the public sector and experimenting with public-private partnerships in areas such as healthcare. Charest faced the opposition of organized labour in the public sector, students, environmental groups and social movements. However, later in his term, Charest was able to benefit from the troubles of the new leader of the PQ, André Boisclair.
The 2007 election was a very closely fought affair, opposing a fairly unpopular incumbent government to a mediocre opposition leader. Immigration was a major issue in the 2007 campaign, with the controversy over so-called “reasonable accommodations”. It is likely that Mario Dumont’s ADQ benefited from voters’ concerns over immigration, given that the ADQ surged – almost out of nowhere – to win 31% of the vote and 41 seats, placing a close second behind a severely weakened PLQ (48 seats and 33%) but placing ahead of the PQ, which won a calamitous 28% of the vote and only 36 seats. Charest was reelected, but for the first time in over 100 years, the new government was a minority government.
Charest, a shrewd politician, was able to reinvent himself in a bit over a year. He improved his personal image, and his government finally passed those income tax cuts. Charest called a snap election for December 2008, arguing that he was best suited to govern the province during the economic crisis. Charest, proving his remarkable ability to bounce back from defeats, was reelected to a third term (unprecedented for any government since Duplessis) with a majority mandate. The Liberals won 42.1% and 66 seats against 35.2% for the PQ, which won 51 seats. The ADQ, propelled to official opposition with an untested team of paper candidates and rookies, performed badly in opposition – appearing as young amateurs – and it was badly defeated at the polls, winning only 16.4% and 7 seats. Québec solidaire (QS), a sovereigntist party to the PQ’s left, won its first seat with the election of the party’s spokesperson, Amir Khadir.
Recent Developments: Quebec since 2009
The economy, corruption, post-secondary education and northern economic development have been the top issues in Quebec politics.
Quebec has weathered the post-2008 economic crisis fairly well. The unemployment rate stood at 7.6% in July 2010, only 0.3% above the Canadian average. The government’s infrastructure projects, with much-needed work on roads and bridges, has helped to create jobs in the province and keep the provincial unemployment rate comparatively healthy (Quebec has historically tended to have higher unemployment than the rest of Canada).
The province has had budget deficits since 2009, but the Charest government targets a balanced budget by 2013-2014. In the latest budget, the provincial deficit sat, better than expected, at $3.3 billion, representing 1% of the GDP. Quebec could be one of the first provinces to eliminate the deficits which have raked up since 2009 if it balances its budget by 2013-2014. The Charest government’s deficit reduction efforts meant fiscal restraint - job cuts in the provincial public sector and spending cuts – but also some revenue raising measures, notably an increase in the provincial sales tax in 2011 and again in 2012. The tax burden in Quebec remains the highest in the country, proponents would argue that this high tax burden is needed to finance the province’s very generous social programs including subsidized $7-per-day daycare and drug insurance.
While Quebec’s deficit picture is better than that of other provinces – only Saskatchewan (which has a surplus) and Alberta had better government budget balances in 2010-2011 – the rising concern in Quebec is the provincial debt, which is the highest of all provinces (over 51% of the GDP). The Charest government created a “generations fund” to pay off the debt in the long term, and the last budget allocated some funds to this generations fund to help alleviate the provincial debt.
While Charest’s economic record might be one thing which he has going for him, his government has been crippled by an unending flow of corruption allegations. The major allegations began in 2009 and have continued since then. In 2010, Charest’s former justice minister Marc Bellemare came out with allegations that the judicial nomination process was rife with political interference from PLQ fundraisers and cadres. The government created a public inquiry into the judicial appointments process, which in 2011 concluded that Bellemare had not received “collosal pressures” in his nomination of judges, but warned that the appointment process remained permeable to political interference.
The government itself was rocked by the Tomassi scandal, after it was revealed that family minister Tony Tomassi had been granting permits for subsidized daycare places to PLQ donors and activists. Tomassi was expelled from cabinet and caucus in May 2010 before he was forced to resign from the National Assembly.
The main corruption cases, however, involve Quebec’s construction industry. The construction industry in Quebec has long been known to be corrupt and infiltrated by organized crime, and construction costs in Quebec are higher than in any other province. The industry is ridden with corruption, graft, juicy kickback schemes and collusion. The corruption has a major political twist, given the close links which seem to exist between major construction contractors, engineering firms and the PLQ. Contractors and private companies, through various means, have been contributing substantial sums of money to the PLQ’s warchest, a practice which is illegal under Quebec law. Politicians – at all levels of government (the municipal level is particularly corrupt) – take illegal donations from major construction contractors; while organized crime maintains links and contacts within the construction industry, notably the FTQ-Construction (the main union for construction employees). The opposition parties called for a public enquiry into the construction industry and illegal party financing for months, but Charest refused to heed to their demands and preferred alternative routes. The PQ accussed Charest of being unwilling to bite the hand which fed him. Finally, in October 2011, the government announced a public enquiry into the construction industry.
Since spring 2012, Quebec has been rocked by a major student strike which was sparked by the Liberal government’s decision to increase tuition fees by nearly 75% in five years. Tuition fees in Quebec were frozen at $1,668 between 1994 and 2007, at which point they grew by $100 per year to reach $2,168 in 2012. The government announced its intention to increase tuition costs by $256 per year over a five year period to reach $3,793 in 2017. Quebec currently has the lowest tuition fees of all provinces in Canada, and even after the planned fee hike, Quebec would still place in the lower tier of provinces in terms of tuition fees. The government claims that this tuition increase is required to alleviate the underfinancing of the province’s universities. However, student unions found the hike unacceptable, in part also because of serious concerns about the rising burden of student debt.
Student strikes and protests began in February and intensified throughout the spring, but have died down somewhat during the summer and the election campaign. In some cases, protests turned violent as demonstrators attacked private businesses or police forces. Some 20 or so individuals have been injured and over 2,500 persons have been arrested. Neither side have been able (or willing) to come to an agreement or even move past meeting each other, turning the student movement into a widespread political and social crisis. The government’s inability to deal with it and some apparent divisions in government ranks, as evidenced by the recent resignation of the education minister and deputy prime minister, likely forced Charest to call early elections. In May, the government adopted a controversial law – Bill 78 – which restricts freedom of assembly and protest without prior police approval. Some have questioned the constitutionality of the law.
One of the government’s most ambitious projects is the Plan Nord, a plan to develop the economy of northern Quebec and create jobs. This plan, presented by Charest as the “largest project in a generation” involves substantial public and private investments into the construction of mines, the development of renewable energy and the construction of new transportation infrastructures. The government claims that the plan would not only develop the economy of the largely barren but natural resource-rich northern regions of the province, but also created a large number of jobs. Opposition parties are concerned by the low royalties which the province would get from new mining companies, and there are concerns about “selling off” Quebec’s unexploited natural resources to foreign-owned mining companies.
At the partisan level, the PQ went through a major internal crisis in 2011 while the political right in Quebec got a face lift. The PQ has been led since 2007 by Pauline Marois, a long-time politician who has a record as a fairly technocratic cabinet minister (she has served in most high-profile cabinet portfolios). Marois is a strong-willed leader, but she is also a fairly divisive figure and has always faced some dissent from other péquistes. In June 2011, the PQ and her leadership were tested in a major internal crisis after four PQ MNAs quit the party to protest the party’s decision to support a government bill which immunized the controversial construction of a new hockey stadium in Quebec City from judicial proceedings. However, beyond this reason, these resignations also symbolized the unease of certain of the PQ’s purs et durs with Marois’ decision to put the national question on the backburner for a little while. The ranks of those who stepped down included Pierre Curzi and Lisette Lapointe (the wife of former Premier Parizeau, himself a critic of Marois), two well-known hardline sovereigntists within the PQ. Jean-Martin Aussant, another of those who stepped down in June 2011, went on to create his own party – Option nationale (ON), a hardline sovereigntist party, in October 2011.
After its collapse in the 2008 election, the ADQ lost its leader, Mario Dumont. Dumont had been the face of the party since 2008 and remained, even after the ADQ’s surge in 2007, the only prominent member of the party. The leadership contest to succeed him turned into a farce, leading the losing candidate to leave the party and force the party to hold a second leadership contest. The party’s numbers recovered somewhat in 2010 and 2011, returning to their 2008 levels, due to the PLQ’s decling popularity and the PQ’s internal wranglings. However, the fate of the ADQ and Quebec’s political right in 2010 and 2011 rested on one man, François Legault. Legault was in charge of Air Transat, a major airline, until 1997. He was elected as a PQ MNA in the 1998 elected and served as education and later health minister in the Bouchard and Landry cabinets until 2003. Reelected in 2008, Legault resigned from office in 2009. He had progressively disattached himself from the PQ’s raison-d’être, sovereignty. In October 2011, Legault ended speculation and created his own party, the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ).
Parties and Campaigns
The Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) is Quebec’s oldest political party. In the polarized field of Quebec politics, the PLQ is a big-tent federalist party which has opposed the independence of Quebec and supports Quebec’s continued place in Canada. However, despite being a federalist party, the PLQ’s vision of federalism has always been quite distant from the Trudeau-era federal Liberal vision of federalism. Robert Bourassa was not a sovereigntist, but he was clearly a nationalist. During the constitutional debates of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bourassa defended the recognition of Quebec as a ‘distinct society’ and he generally agreed with Brian Mulroney’s vision of decentralized federalism. In his first term in office, Bourassa’s relations with Pierre Trudeau were acrimonious, with Trudeau patronizing Bourassa. Under Jean Charest’s leadership, the PLQ has been slightly less affirmative against Ottawa and the PQ has often accussed Charest of poorly defending Quebec’s interests against the federal government. It is true that there were no constitutional debates during Charest’s term, and neither Quebec nor Ottawa had any interest in opening the Pandora’s box which is the Canadian Constitution. However, Charest’s relations with Stephen Harper (since 2006) have been fairly friend but not particularly warm. Furthermore, the PLQ has made no efforts to loosen the province’s language laws, passed by the first PQ government. Charest is often boasting about how his government has enforced language laws, and Bourassa alienated Anglophones in 1989 with Bill 178.
As a big-tent party, the PLQ unites right and left-wing federalists who might support either the federal Liberals, Conservatives or even New Democrats at the federal level. However, ideologically, the PLQ has a slight lean to the centre-right, especially under Charest’s leadership. Bourassa’s government led a fairly liberal economic policy which included many privatizations and early spending cuts. Charest’s economic policies have been even more right-wing. He won the 2003 election on a platform of tax cuts for the middle-class (which he would not implement until his second term) and vowed to reduce the size of the state. In office, he experimented with private-public partnerships in healthcare and the private sector now plays a significant role in healthcare in the province. He also implemented some concepts of New Public Management in office. That being said, for many on the right, the PLQ is not a ‘truly’ right-wing party. It has not shied away from government intervention in the economy, and it has raised taxes in the past.
The PLQ’s core electorate are minorities – linguistic and ethnic minorities. It receives well over 60-65% of the vote from Quebec’s English-speaking minority and allophones (those whose mother tongue is a non-official language), both groups who strongly oppose Quebec independence. The PLQ’s margins in constituencies with a large percentage of Anglo- or allophones is huge, even if voter turnout in these constituencies is very low. The PLQ’s strong base with these voters has advantages and disadvantages for the party’s electoral performances. The Anglophone and allophone vote for the PLQ is almost a given, which provides the PLQ with a good floor both in the popular vote and the seat county. On the other hand, this rock-solid base of support means that the PLQ suffers from an inefficient vote distribution. It can rake up 65-80% of the vote in constituencies with a very large percentage of linguistic or ethnic minorities, but in the case of a tied popular vote - like in 1994 or 1998, the PLQ tends to be at a disadvantage, unless, of course, the Francophone vote is particularly divided, like in 2007. Besides this federalist base, the PLQ also polls better with wealthier and/or older Francophones who tend to be cooler towards the idea of independence.
Jean Charest is campaigning with a very tough record to defend. Even if he might have an advantage on the economy and jobs, his record on healthcare or education is mediocre and he carries around a huge weight with him – the lingering suspicions of deep corruption within the Liberal Party. The PLQ’s numbers have tanked since the 2008 election, polling third with the Francophone vote and coming dangerously close to hit its floor. The PLQ could have capitalized on the social disturbances linked to the student movement this spring, and it originally did, but the controversial Bill 78 and its incapacity to respond to the student strikes destroyed any chance it had of gaining political capital from the movement. Beyond all this is the fact that Charest has been in power for 9 years, and there is major voter fatigue with his government. Even if Charest is a strong debater and a tested politician who has a knack for miraculously rebounding from the depths of hell, this is certainly one of Charest’s toughest races in his career and one where a huge rebound seems almost impossible.
At the core of Charest’s campaign is the economy and the Plan Nord. Charest has hammered in his “strong management” of the economy, boasting his record – even if it is not all that great – on job creation and public finances. He wants to create 250,000 jobs and reduce unemployment to 6% if he wins reelection. Charest says that his Plan Nord is the biggest project in a generation and he wants it to be the cornerstone of his political legacy. He claims that some 20,000 jobs a year could come out of the plan.
The PLQ had trouble finding prominent candidates, given the low standings of the party in opinion polls. It did dig out a few 2007 ADQ rookies, including Linda Lapointe (Groulx) and Pascal Beaupré (Joliette), and a former federal Liberal MP, Eleni Bakopanos (Crémazie). The PLQ’s candidacy news were rather marked by retirements: Michelle Courchesne, the latest education minister and Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, in office since 1985 and incumbent minister of international relations.
The Parti Québécois (PQ) is the main political representative of the Quebec sovereigntist movement. The party’s raison-d’être has always been the independence of Quebec, and the province’s sovereignty remains its top priority. PQ governments since 1976 have held two referendums on the independence of Quebec, the first in 1980 and the second in 1995, but both were defeated (the last one by less than 1%). The Quebec sovereigntist movement is a civil territorial nationalist movement, which means that the PQ’s project for independence is not overtly ethnic or linguistic based (even if critics may claim that it is), unlike some past nationalist movements in Quebec. The PQ’s project is the independence of Quebec as a territorial entity, not the independence of a French-speaking state in North America which would include more than just Quebec. However, linguistic and ethnic issues and independence are all interconnected, to the point where one might go with the other. The PQ has presented itself as the best defender of Quebec’s distinct culture and the French language. One of its most famous legislative achievement was Bill 101 in 1976, the law which still regulates the use of French and other languages in the province. At various times in its history, the PQ has taken controversial stances on linguistic or cultural issues which have led critics to accuse it of fanning the flames of intolerance and xenophobia. Within the party, there have been some divisions, most famously in 1984 (and 2011?), over the prioritization of independence. The party includes a sizable pur et dur faction which has always placed independence as its top priority, regardless of circumstances, and has rejected any attempts to put sovereignty in the backrooms for a little while.
Ideologically, the PQ is a social democratic, centre-left party. PQ governments are behind some of the province’s generous social programs, including car insurance or $5 (now $7)-per-day daycares. The first PQ government under René Lévesque followed a fairly clear social democratic orientation, but the party shifted quite far to the right (on economic issues) under Premier Lucien Bouchard. After the defeat of the sovereigntist cause in 1995, the PQ government reoriented itself to balancing the budget, which it did by major spending cuts including unpopular cuts and layoffs in the healthcare system. Under his successor, Bernard Landry, the PQ shifted back towards its centre-left origins, but Landry’s hapless successor, André Boisclair (2005-2007) was less social democratic. The party’s current leader, Pauline Marois, appears to be close(r) to the PQ’s centre-left, social democratic roots.
The PQ’s main base is, of course, with francophone voters, though it does not command the level of support that the PLQ commands with Anglo/allophone voters. In regional terms, the sovereigntist movement has been strong in the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region, in most of Gaspésie, Abitibi and large swathes of the north shore of the St. Lawrence (Laurenties, Lanaudière, Mauricie). In the 2007 election, one of the main factors behind the PQ’s spectacular collapse was its wipe out in the middle-class suburban and exurban commuter belt of the north shore of Montreal-Laval, where the ADQ swept nearly everything. The ADQ also made major gains in similar exurban middle-class commuter belt communities on the south shore of Montreal, where the PQ is traditionally strong. In the 2008 election, the PQ regained most of its old strongholds on the north and south shores. The PQ has traditionally been strong in heavily Francophone low-income urban areas.
As of today, there does not appear to be a realistic chance for Quebec to become an independent, sovereign country in the near future. Popular support for independence is low, at its floor (a bit over a third of voters), and there is certainly very little appetite for a third referendum in the foreseeable future. Voters are becoming increasingly tired of the old, divisive issues of independence/referendums/sovereignty, and while a large majority of Quebecois are keen on upholding their rights and values within Canada, comparatively few of them still actively support independence. The NDP’s sweep of Quebec in the 2011 federal election was indicative of this fairly widespread sentiment of soft-nationalism without accompanying sovereigntism. The 2011 federal campaign showed that the NDP started running away with the game in Quebec when the Bloc, desperate to turn a tilting ship around after the first signs of the Orange Crush, resorted to old sovereigntist rhetoric and in the process only sped up the NDP’s ascent.
The PQ is placed in a very fragile position with the declining appetite for sovereignty. It must satisfy the hardliners within the party and the sovereigntist movement who would not accept a péquiste campaign which places sovereignty on the shelves, but it must be careful not to overplay the old question of a referendum lest they fancy handing the Liberals a golden issue.
Marois’ campaign this year has been intentionally ambiguous and unclear on the issue of when a PQ government would hold a referendum. She officially states that she would hold one only when she would have “winning conditions”, a line already used by the PQ government after the 1995 defeat. On the other hand, to please the hardliners who threatened her leadership in 2011, she has promised an ambiguous “popular initiative referendum” which would allow for there to be a vote on the issue if 850,000 voters (15% of the electorate) signed a petition. The popular initiative referendum has turned into a nightmare for the PQ, with Marois hinting that there could be certain circumstances in which she would refuse to hold a popular initiative referendum even if 15% of voters asked for one.
In the meantime, the PQ has said that its strategy, if elected, would be to engage Ottawa in a game of tug-of-war. It wants to gain full control over programs such as employment insurance which are currently federal jurisdiction, and it would use a refusal on Harper’s behalf as a tool to boost support for sovereignty.
Language and identity have featured prominently in Marois’ campaign. The PQ wants to adopt a new, tougher Charter of the French Language which would subject businesses with over 10 employees (rather than 50 under the current law) to the law and which would bar Francophones and allophones from attending English-language CEGEPs. The PQ wants to adopt a charte de la laïcité which would ban the public display of any distinctive religious symbol by public employees, but Marois stepped into controversy when she said that she would not remove the crucifix from the National Assembly. Finally, her campaign created a firestorm when she said that she would prevent Anglophones and allophones who do not have an appropriate knowledge of French from running in elections. Critics have accused the PQ of playing on ethnonationalism and fanning the flames of intolerance.
The PQ’s economic platform includes the creation of 15,000 new places in daycares, a temporary freeze in tuition fees at their 2012 level and abolishing Charest’s controversial health tax. To compensate for these new expenses, the PQ wants to increase taxes on high incomes (over $130,000 per year) and limiting the growth in government expenditures to 2.4% a year.
The PQ attracted a number of star candidates this year including notably two journalists, Jean-François Lisée (Rosemont) and Pierre Duchesne (Borduas), and 2o-year old former student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin (Laval-des-Rapides).
The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) was created in 2011 by François Legault, a former businessman who served in PQ cabinets under Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry. Legault resigned from the National Assembly in 2009 and entertained suspense about his political ambitions for over a year afterwards, with much speculation as to whether or not he would create a new party. In February 2011, Legault laid the foundations for a new party, which was officially registered in November. Legault had distanced himself from sovereigntism, claiming that the national question had become outdated and archaic. The CAQ seeks a middle ground between doctrinaire federalism and sovereigntism, aiming to prioritize more urgent issues, such as the economy, while placing the national question on the shelves. The CAQ wants a ten-year moratorium on any referendum, and Legault recently said that he would vote NO in a future referendum (before backtracking and saying that he would vote NO but would not defend federalism). On economic matters, the CAQ generally lies on the centre-right.
The CAQ is in many aspects similar to Mario Dumont’s ADQ. The ADQ represented a similar ambiguity on the divisive national question, seeking an ‘autonomist’ or soft-nationalist middle ground between the PLQ’s doctrinaire federalism and the PQ’s doctrinaire sovereigntism. Both were populist and right-leaning on economic matters, the ADQ perhaps more so than Legault’s CAQ. The ADQ would have been squeezed out of existence by the CAQ, and there was little rationale for two ideologically similar parties to coexist separately. In January 2012, the ADQ officially merged with the CAQ. At dissolution, the CAQ held nine seats: the four remaining ADQ MNAs, two former ADQ MNAs sitting as independents and three former PQ members.
It is likely that most of the CAQ’s core electorate comes from the old ADQ, even though it is incorrect to assume that all 2008 ADQ voters are backing the CAQ. In terms of regional support, the ADQ was strongest in suburban Quebec City and the south shore of Quebec City, the Chaudières-Appalaches region. This conservative region, where the federal Conservatives have done well, has been described by one political scientist as the Québec mou (‘soft’ Quebec) or the Québec tranquille (the ‘quiet’ or ‘calm’ Quebec). It is a bit of an enigmatic region because it is one of the most heavily French-speaking regions in Canada, yet the sovereigntist cause has found only limited backing in this part of the province. The Beauce region, the most conservative part of Quebec , has a reputation for being an entrepreneurial and ‘pro-business’ right-wing region. Some have thought that this region’s sociological makeup – it is lily-white, older, more blue-collar, fairly poor and socio-politically marginalized from the rest of the province – might explain its voting patterns.
At the outset, the CAQ’s creation was greeted by a short-lived outburst of popular support, which was built on little else than a vague desire for “change” and a “third way” between two tired old parties. Leading the PLQ and PQ in the fall of 2011, the CAQ collapsed to third place as early as January 2012. Legault’s actual political platform, besides “change” and putting sovereignty on the shelves, was always very vague and proposed little of substance. His political opponents still accuse him of trying to play to all sides of the spectrum at the same time, and being intentionally vague about his policies. Despite proximity with some of the ADQ’s old proposals, many on the right still feel relatively uneasy about Legault.
Legault has led a “straight-talking” populist campaign, talking about the need to “clean up” politics. Voters have judged him to be the most competent leader on corruption and integrity issues, and he certainly made a splash when he managed to get the former Montreal police chief-turned-whistle blower Jacques Duchesneau to run for the CAQ (in Saint-Jérôme, a PQ seat). On economic issues, Legault strikes a more centre-right tone. He wants to devote 100% of the royalties from natural resources to pay off the province’s debt, he generally supported the government during the student strike on tuition fees, he has promised immediate tax cuts totaling $1,000 and supports private-public partnerships in healthcare. He has vowed time and time again that a CAQ government would “shake things up” and “clean up waste” by abolishing school boards , health centres and by cutting a lot of jobs in the public sector. His more confrontational attitude against trade unions have won him the ire of Quebec’s two main unions, the FTQ and CSN. He says that just as the PLQ is in cahoots with “corrupt business interests”, the PQ is tied to its “corrupt union” supporters.
Legault’s opponent, both Charest and his former cabinet colleague Pauline Marois, have accused him on several occasions of being an unreliable flip-flopper who besides seeking to pander to all ideologies has changed allegiances from sovereigntism to de facto federalism. To what extent, however, is Legault’s “big flip-flop” a negative for him? At its outsets, one of the CAQ’s main assets beyond being a vague vehicle for change, was that it represented a type of non-sovereigntist soft-nationalism which is quite attractive to a significant proportion of the Quebecois electorate which has grown tired of the divisive national question and the strict division between the doctrinaire federalism and sovereigntism of the PLQ and PQ. The federal NDP’s victory in Quebec in May 2011, as mentioned above, must be interpreted as being reflective of this state of mind rather than any huge NDP inroads with the core of the sovereigntist base.
Despite the original excitement which surrounded the creation of the CAQ, Legault had trouble attracting well-known candidates to his label. In the Argenteuil by-election, the CAQ had a star candidate with former Bloc MP Mario Laframboise. In this campaign, Legault boasts about his “trio” of incorruptibles candidates with a reputation for being anti-corruption crusaders: the whistleblower and former police boss Jacques Duchesneau (Saint-Jérôme), the former president of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec Maud Cohen (Laval-des-Rapides) and incumbent ADQ-CAQ MNA Sylvie Roy (Arthabaska). The other big CAQ star is Dr. Gaétan Barrette, the former president of the provincial specialist doctor’s union, running in Terrebonne. The party’s leader has chosen to run in L’Assomption, a traditionally péquiste seat in the growing exurbs on the north shore of Montreal.
Québec solidaire (QS) is a left-wing sovereigntist party founded in 2006 by the merger of two left-wing parties, including the UFP which was an electoral coalition made up of the remnants of the provincial NDP and the Communist Party. The party has no leader, but is defined by its two spokespersons, feminist activist Françoise David and Iranian-born Amir Khadir. Like the PQ, QS supports the independence of Quebec, which has opened QS to accusations of being a spoiler which divided the sovereigntist vote. However, while the PQ sees sovereignty as an end in itself, QS seems sovereignty as a mean to its ends. It believes that its platform of social justice, environmental protection, defense of women’s rights and upholding Quebec’s culture and language can only be achieved in an independent Quebec. QS also has a different method of reaching this ultimate goal. If elected, it would hold a constituent assembly, which would decide, among others, the political status of Quebec (while the QS would support independence, it would not necessarily result in independence). One or more proposals for a constitutional text for Quebec would then be submitted to the people in a referendum.
QS is the first major threat to the PQ from its left. While QS won a relatively modest 3.8% in the last provincial election in 2008, its profile received a major boost with Amir Khadir’s victory in the downtown Montreal constituency of Mercier. As a third party, QS has the benefit of having a part of its votes concentrated in two ridings – Mercier and Gouin – two gentrified bobo constituencies in downtown Montreal.
QS’ platform is clearly to the left of the PQ. It received attention during the student strikes, where it unambiguously supported the student movement and now supports free tuition. The party supports electoral reform (MMP), abolishing privatization in health care, reducing greenhouse gases by 40% by 2020, developing renewable energies and making income taxes more progressive. It is also concerned by issues such as the French language, Quebec culture, reducing poverty and women’s rights.
QS co-leader Françoise David participated in the main leaders’ debate, in which she performed very strongly. She was lauded for her clear, coherent and concise answers and for attempting to inject other issues, such as education and poverty, into the debate. The emergence of QS as a major political actor has worried the PQ, which has claimed that QS divides the sovereigntist vote.
Option nationale (ON) is a new party founded in 2011 by Jean-Martin Aussant, an ex-PQ MNA. Aussant left the PQ to sit as an independent in June 2011, contending that the PQ had abandoned the issue of sovereignty in favour of “electoralist groupthink”. ON places sovereignty as its first objective, and it considers that a ON government would be a mandate for Quebec to declare de facto sovereignty, at which point a constitution could be drafted and submitted to the people in a referendum to allow for formal, de jure sovereignty.
ON is not the first ‘hardline’ rival to the PQ which has criticized the PQ’s wait-and-see approach to independence, but it is the first of these ‘hardline’ groupings which has become a fairly significant minor threat to the PQ. Aussant received a major boost during the campaign when former Premier Jacques Parizeau, whose dislike for Marois is no secret, endorsed him. Parizeau’s wife, Lisette Lapointe, a retiring independent (ex-PQ) MNA, had already endorsed ON.
Besides independence, ON has a very left-wing platform. It wants to nationalize natural resources, free tuition (from preschool to the doctorate, with conditions) and supports limiting the role of the private sector in health care. To achieve the de facto sovereignty of Quebec, a ON government would seek to gain control over all taxes payed and all powers from Ottawa.
ON is ideologically similar to QS, despite certain differences between the two parties, notably on the prioritization of sovereignty. However, both parties agreed to a mini-deal for the elections. QS is not running a candidate against Aussant in his constituency of Nicolet-Bécancour, while ON is not running a candidate against David in Gouin. ON has managed to field 121 candidates (125 seats in total), a very impressive result for a young party with a limited organization.
The Green Party of Quebec (PVQ) is running only 66 candidates. The Greens were reborn in 2001 after a short-lived stint as a sovereigntist party in 1989 (2% of the vote). In 2007, the Greens ran 108 candidates and won 3.9% of the vote, but they ran only 80 candidates and won 2.2% in 2008. The Green Party’s position on the national question is very unclear. The PVQ’s potential electorate is naturally attracted to QS, meaning that the PVQ’s only real base is with Anglophone voters who do not vote Liberal. In 2007 and 2008, it placed a very distant second to the Liberals in a number of West Island Liberal citadels, winning about 15% of the vote in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
There are a handful of other parties, including a new Conservative Party led by former federal Conservative MP Luc Harvey. The PCQ is running only 27 candidates. The federal NDP does not have a provincial party in Quebec, though a provincial NDP with formal ties to the federal party existed between 1963 and 1989, at which point the NPDQ and the federal NDP broke all formal ties. The provincial NDP had become a left-wing sovereigntist party. However, after the success of the federal NDP in Quebec in May 2011, there has been some speculation about the recreation of a provincial party. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair recently announced that there would be a provincial party for the next provincial election. The left-federalist side of the spectrum is largely unrepresented in Quebec, given that the PLQ leans to the right. A new left-federalist party, the UCQ, is running 20 candidates this year.
Polling and Predictions
Polls in this campaign, thus far, have indicated a close three-way contest with the PQ maintaining a narrow but consistent advantage over its two major rivals.
The absence of consistent polling, most notably a daily tracking poll, is quite frustrating. We are dependent on three pollsters, of which only two are tested in the field of Quebec provincial elections. A poll from Léger, which has a long track record in the province, gave the PQ 33% support against 28% for the CAQ and 27% for the PLQ. QS received 7%, ON and the Greens were at 2% apiece. A new poll from CROP gave the PQ 33%, with the CAQ at 28% and the PLQ down to 26%. For comparison, in the 2008 election, the Liberals won 42.1% of the vote against 35.2% for the PQ and 16.4% for the ADQ.
On such a split of the vote, the PQ would be able to eek out a bare absolute majority in the National Assembly, but any margin smaller than 5% between the top two parties would likely result in a minority government. Too Close to Call’s projector, which can be modified, predicts 64 seats (majority: 63) for the PQ against 32 for the Liberals and 27 for the CAQ (+ 2 for QS) on the basis of the latest poll from Léger. Using the CROP data, the PQ would have 66 seats against 28 apiece for the CAQ and Liberals, with QS winning two seats and Aussant (ON) holding his seat.
Obviously the only thing which matters is the seat count, but an absolute majority on something like 33% of the vote would be a Pyrrhic victory for the PQ. While losing the 2008 election, the PQ had won 35% of the vote, which had been considered a strong showing. In the 2003 election, in which the Liberals won a convincing victory, the PQ won only 33% of the vote. In the 2007 disaster, the PQ was reduced to a mere 28% of the vote.
Pauline Marois is not an asset for the PQ. Even if she is a tough leader who managed to survive the onslaught of dissidence and polling disasters in the summer of 2011, she is not perceived favourably by most voters and she has failed to inspire many voters. Her campaign has been surprisingly weak and though she performed decently both in the all-leader debate and two individual “one-on-one” debates with Charest and Legault, she did not score any knockout punches. In the past week or so, the PQ campaign has gone from kerfuffle to kerfuffle: the “charter of laïcité“, the “popular initiative referendum”, the ban on Anglo/allophone candidates with poor French language skills or just recently with the mini-brouhaha about “conservative sovereigntists” (she told them to vote PLQ or CAQ, but later backtracked by saying that she misunderstood the question). She has been forced to clarify her positions, backtrack from previous statements, contradict things she said in the past or correct the pronouncements of other people in the PQ.
If Marois and the PQ wins, it will not only be with an unconvincing popular vote mandate but it will be in spite of Pauline Marois. Against Jean Charest, reviled by over 60% of voters, she weighs up as a good ‘least worst’ option, though Legault now poses a major threat to her for this dubious honour. A PQ government would not be a mandate for a third referendum within a short time frame, which is something which Marois understands quite well. Voters are more concerned about bread-and-butter issues in this election than they are with picking fights with Ottawa (even if Harper is hardly popular in the province) or talking about a third referendum.
Even if the PQ is performing quite poorly, the PLQ’s performance is set to be disastrous. In existence since confederation, the worst Liberal result was 33.1% of the vote in the 2007 election. It has never dropped below 30% of the vote, yet it is quite likely that the PLQ could be winning less than 30% of the vote on September 4. The Liberals are hitting their floor at a rapid pace.
Jean Charest’s extreme unpopularity is the top reason for the PLQ’s apparent decrepitude. Even if he is a good campaigner, a strong politician and winning debater, the lingering dark cloud of corruption which hovers over his head (added to his unpopular record in government and a botched response to the student crisis) have prevented him to bounce back for a final time. The race for first remains very close, and there is still a chance that if the PQ sheds support to its left and right, then the PLQ could stand a chance at bouncing back to win a minority government. The Liberals certainly hoped that the PQ’s decision to jump head first into the murky waters of linguistic issues and referendums would provide them with a golden opportunity to coalesce the federalist vote against the PQ, but thus far if there is any PLQ bump due to the PQ’s poor campaign, it has not been picked up by pollsters.
Even if the party places third in the popular vote, it could salvage official opposition status. At 27% or so support, the Liberals are very much relegated to their core non-Francophone/minority vote. Léger had the PLQ polling only 18% and distant third with Francophone voters, a number which would spell disaster for many PLQ incumbents in heavily Franco seats. With Anglo and allophone voters, the PLQ still retains over 65% support. The CAQ was making some inroads with this rock-solid Liberal electorate, and it now polls roughly 15-20% with these voters (clearly not insignificant) but the solid Liberal vote with this electorate is not in any sort of doubt or jeopardy. While in cases of a tied popular vote for first place, the PLQ’s vote distribution is inefficient, in the potential case of a tied popular vote for second-third place, the PLQ has an advantage over the CAQ because it can count on at least 20 seats off the bat from the West Island and the Outaouais. However, the PLQ would be swept out in most of central Quebec, the Eastern Townships, metro QC City and Abitibi.
Charest is seriously threatened in his own riding, Sherbrooke. His seat, which he has held since the 1998 election, is not a traditional Liberal stronghold and he has never won by fantastic margins. In 2007, the TV networks famously announced his defeat in Sherbrooke before doing a Florida 2000 and retracting the call. He won by 1,332 votes in 2007 (36.6% vs. 32.9% for the PQ) and increased his majority to 2,314 votes in 2008 (45.2% vs. 37.6% for the PQ). The PQ is running a strong and popular candidate against Charest, former Bloc MP Serge Cardin (defeated by a NDP rookie in 2009). Two riding polls in Sherbrooke have given Cardin a lead over 10% over Charest, with the anti-Charest vote apparently coalescing heavily behind Cardin.
Sherbrooke is notable for having the largest student population of any major city in Quebec, though with the election being held on September 4, student turnout across Quebec will likely be fairly low. Polls have shown that there is a strong generational cleavage in this election: the Liberals are still dominant with voters aged over 65, but their numbers with the youngest cohort have totally tanked (below 20%).
The major question mark in this election is the CAQ. To begin with, there is the unknown of to which extent the 2008 ADQ vote can be assumed to be a good predictor, universally, of the CAQ’s floor in this election. While polls have shown that most 2008 ADQ voters are backing the CAQ, the transfer between the two parties is not perfect at 100% and would be, at best, only 75%. That being said, the structure of the CAQ’s electorate seems similar to the ADQ/centre-right vote in Quebec. It has been strongest in metro Quebec City, where it is currently ahead of the PLQ and PQ, and it will likely perform as strongly as the ADQ in the Québec tranquille to the south of the capital.
There has been some disagreements as to where the CAQ’s “new voters” (besides 2008 ADQ voters) have come from. The June by-elections and polling trends would seem to indicate that the Liberals bled a considerable number of their 2008 voters to the CAQ, but others have contended that the CAQ has drawn more or less equally from the PQ and PLQ. I vaguely remember a second-choice poll not too long ago in which the CAQ’s voters split their second choices equally between the PQ and PLQ, while Forum Research (even though some of its number are often fishy…) told us that the CAQ drew 21% of 2008 PLQ voters and 15% of 2008 PQ voters, in addition to 58% of 2008 ADQ voters.
As mentioned above, public opinion greeted the CAQ’s creation last fall by placing it far ahead of the field with some 35% support, but the CAQ’s honeymoon with voters was short-lived. They dropped to the low 20s by the new year. However, Legault led a strong campaign, with his straight-talking populism and his tough talk of “shaking things up” and “cleaning up” likely striking a chord with many voters. The CAQ progressively started roaring back into serious contention, if not for power then at least for official opposition. Legault is the most popular of the three main leaders – though that only means that his approval and disapproval numbers are tied rather than being deeply in the red (like they are for Charest and Marois), and to most voters, the CAQ is the best representative of change and the best party to fight corruption.
While a week and a bit is definitely a short time frame for the CAQ to actually win the election, it is a real possibility. Quebec has a knack for surprising election results, with ADQ-2007 and NDP-2011 being the two most recent example. While at this juncture it would be very difficult for the CAQ to make further inroads with the Liberals, given how the Liberal vote is coming primarily from the Anglos and allophones, the CAQ can hope that QS grinds into PQ support to close the gap between first and second. Recently, the media narrative is that Legault is Marois’ main threat, and if this narrative holds on, it is not impossible to see the anti-PQ/anti-Marois/anti-independence vote coalesce behind Legault and the CAQ to defeat the PQ. That being said, the nature of PLQ support at this point means that it would require, on the CAQ’s behalf, major inroads with ethnic and linguistic minorities. Much ink has already been spilled on the CAQ’s potential with Anglophone voters and Legault has courted their votes somewhat, but Charest has been careful not to forget the PLQ base and reminded them of their beef with one of Legault’s top planks – abolishing school boards. Even if the CAQ can pull upwards of 20% with non-Francophones, it would probably not be enough to wrestle many seats away from the PLQ, especially on the West Island.
QS has been pulling 6-8% in this campaign, which despite being below the heights reached by the party during the pre-campaign (up to 10) are still excellent numbers. The party’s main objective in this election is to win a second seat. In Gouin, Françoise David is in her third attempt to take down PQ incumbent Nicolas Girard, who defeated her in 2008 by a 9.3% margin. QS’ changes in Gouin are on a knife’s edge, but with QS likely to score most of its gains on Montreal Island and David likely to receive a major boost from her strong performance in the leader’s debate, she might be the narrow favourite. Nicolas Girard is a fairly high-profile PQ incumbent, but David clearly built up her profile and notoriety tons with the debate.
While the road from one seat to two seats is fairly straightforward for QS, the road from a second seat to a third seat is quite difficult and would require a significant swing in QS’ favour, and 6-8% in the province would not be enough (unless the gains from 2008 are all on Montreal Island). QS’ third seat would probably be Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, where Manon Massé received 15.4% of the vote in 2008 (she had won 22% in a 2006 by-election). But the PQ won 46.6% in that seat, hence requiring QS to eat up a 31% PQ majority. Laurier-Dorion (13% QS, 30% winner-QS margin) and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (12.9% QS, 41% winner-QS margin) are the fourth and fifth strongest QS seats in the province, but even more out of reach for QS.
ON managed to field an impressive amount of candidates, nearly a full slate, but their only real objective in this election is likely to reelect their leader, Jean-Martin Aussant in his riding of Nicolet-Bécancour. When Aussant quit the PQ to create his new party, a majority of the local PQ riding association followed in his lead. There have already been two riding polls out of his riding (loads of salt and all that), one of them had him a close second behind the CAQ while the other had him leading the field. The unexpected public endorsement of Jacques Parizeau might boost Aussant’s chances to win reelection. Provincially, ON with 121 candidates will certainly easily beat the Greens and their 66 candidates.
This election is still very much up in the air because of the number of real three-way contests, and the high potential for many ‘fluke’ victories or holds because of the three-way tossups in some seats. The real battleground will likely be the 450 area code (the north and south shore suburbs of Montreal, excluding Laval) with a good number of three-way races, PQ-CAQ battles or PQ-PLQ contests.
The north shore (Laurentides and Lanaudière) will be make-or-break for the CAQ, which will need to match the ADQ’s impressive 2007 performance in these traditionally solidly PQ ridings if it wants to place second in the seat count or win the election altogether. The CAQ has three of its star candidates in these crucial ridings: Legault himself in L’Assomption, a PQ-held seat with a 28.6% margin in 2008 between the PQ and ADQ (on notional results) but which has no defending PQ incumbent; Dr. Barrette in Terrebonne, a seat with a defending PQ incumbent which had a 24% margin between PQ and ADQ in 2008; and Duchesneau in Saint-Jérôme, a seat with a defending PQ incumbent who had a 22% majority over the ADQ in 2008. The north shore also features two other key races for the CAQ in Blainville and Deux-Montagnes, where PQ-turned-CAQ MNAs Daniel Ratthé and Benoit Charette are seeking reelection for the CAQ.
The south shore is slightly less exciting in terms of close races, and the CAQ’s impact will be more limited. The Liberals will certainly hold La Pinière (Brossard, a seat with a very large non-Franco population) and might squeak through in Laporte (Saint-Lambert/Greenfield Park); the PQ is safe in Marie-Victorin, Taillon and Vachon. In the new constituency of Sanguinet, PQ-turned-CAQ incumbent François Rebello is running for reelection under the colours of Legault’s party, and the CAQ might have a shot in La Prairie as well.
In the exurban and rural reaches of south shore (Montérégie), the CAQ will definitely be a major threat to PQ incumbents in Iberville, Saint-Hyacinthe, Saint-Jean while it threatens the Liberals in Huntingdon.
CROP’s crosstabs showed a very close contest between the PQ and the CAQ in the 450, with the PQ (37%) leading Legault’s party by only two points (35%), with the Liberals out of the match entirely (21%). On these numbers, the PLQ would be dead in the water outside Brossard (La Pinière), Vaudreuil and probably Laporte; while a good number of both north and south shore suburban and exurban ridings would be on a knife’s edge between the PQ and CAQ, holding the keys to a PQ majority government or a CAQ official opposition/surprise victory.
Outside the suburban regions of the 450, the CAQ’s surge has likely placed the ridings of Joliette and Berthier (both in Lanaudière), previously assumed to be solidly péquiste, into serious contention between the PQ and the CAQ.
Laval could see some close (three-way) races in all but one of the island’s six ridings. Laval-des-Rapides is certainly the most closely fought battle, given that it pits a Liberal incumbent against PQ and CAQ star candidates. The seat has a thin 6.4% notional Liberal majority, but the CAQ’s Maud Cohen will certainly poll much better than the ADQ’s paltry 10% in 2008. Additionally, Fabre, Vimont, Sainte-Rose and Mille-Îles should all see some very closely disputed three-way battles, with PLQ incumbents in very tenuous positions.
Montreal itself is extremely polarized, meaning that despite the big number of seats up for grabs on the island, only a few (five at most) are even remotely competitive. Gouin, where the QS’ David faces the PQ incumbent for a third rematch, is the most closely disputed races in Montreal. The PQ has a shot at gaining Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne (8.8% PLQ majority), Laurier-Dorion (9.1% PLQ majority),Verdun (12.4% PLQ majority) or Anjou-Louis-Riel (16% PLQ majority) from the Liberals, but it is quite possible that the PLQ could still walk out with a win in these four seats even if it does poorly in the province as a whole. If the PLQ sinks below 30 seats, it is likely that a majority of the new Liberal caucus will hail from Montreal Island.
The CAQ, like the ADQ, has not made a breakthrough on the island. There are no ridings, as far as I know, on Montreal Island, where the CAQ holds a solid chance of winning or at least coming close to first place.
Central Quebec and the Eastern Townships will also be a key region with major contests to follow and three-way battles. Besides the Premier’s race in Sherbrooke, which will monopolize all attention on September 4, there is also Jean-Martin Aussant’s battle for reelection in Nicolet-Bécancour. For the CAQ, one of their top incumbents (and one of Legault’s trio of incorruptibles), Sylvie Roy, saw her constituency abolished by redistricting, forcing her to run in Arthabaska against Liberal incumbent Claude Bachand, who has a 14.3% majority over the ADQ on 2008 notional results. In the core of the Québec tranquille, the CAQ will be seeking to defeat two Liberal incumbents in Beauce-Sud and Bellechasse, two seats which the Liberals gained from the ADQ in 2008 with a thin majority.
Between the PQ and PLQ in the Eastern Townships, the contest in Richmond between the PQ’s Etienne-Alexis Boucher (the incumbent in the old seat of Johnson) and Karine Vallières, the daughter of retiring PLQ incumbent Yvon Vallières (Richmond) is getting some serious attention. The Liberals have a small 5% majority on notional results from 2008, but the PQ needs to make gains in the towns of Asbestos and Richmond which went heavily for the Liberals in 2008. The PQ is also a major threat to PLQ incumbents in Orford, Saint-François and Mégantic. The CAQ could be a major factor in Johnson, Drummond-Bois-Francs, Lotbinière-Frontenac and Nicolet-Bécancour, ridings where the ADQ was dominant in 2007 and strong in 2008.
In Mauricie, located on the north shore between Montreal and Quebec, the CAQ will be hoping to gain seats which the ADQ had won in 2007 but which the PQ or PLQ had regained in 2008. Trois-Rivières is a key three-way contest, the PLQ is defending with Danielle St-Amand (who won the seat, Premier Duplessis’ old political base, from the ADQ in 2008), and the PQ has a well-known candidate with Djemila Benhabib, famous for her activism in favour of secularism (and at the centre of a firestorm with the very traditionalist conservative mayor of Saguenay Jean Tremblay). A poll showed Benhabib up on the Liberals, but a more recent poll showed the PLQ ahead. The CAQ, furthermore, could very well creep up from behind in Trois-Rivières or other seats in the regions, including Maskinongé and Champlain.
In metro Quebec City, all polling has shown the CAQ with a strong advantage over the Liberals, who have maintained second place (but with their usual crummy numbers), with the PQ in a close third. If these numbers hold up for the CAQ, it would be a major upset if they did not gain ridings such as Lévis (where they appear to have a fairly prominent candidate), Vanier-Les Rivières, Montmorency, Charlesbourg or Portneuf. In Louis-Hébert, incumbent Liberal cabinet minister Sam Hamad is seriously threatened by the CAQ, leaving only health minister Yves Bolduc in a fairly good position in Jean-Talon. In Taschereau, the PQ’s only foothold in Quebec City, PQ incumbent Agnès Maltais faces Clément Gignac, the Liberal natural resources minister (who is an incumbent for a Montreal-area riding, but running in Quebec City this year), but she should have no trouble winning.
In the Bas-Saint-Laurent, the contests in Côte-du-Sud and Rivière-du-Loup-Témiscouata, two ridings whose boundaries changed considerably, are closely fought. The Liberals are the defending incumbents in both, but they face a strong challenge from the CAQ in Côte-du-Sud, which includes part of the old riding of Montmagny-L’Islet, which the ADQ won in 2007; and the PQ fancies its chances in Rivière-du-Loup-Témiscouata but there is an outside chance for a CAQ upset. In the Gaspésie region, the PQ has the ambition of taking out three PLQ incumbents. In Gaspé and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, this seems like a very reasonable proposition given the decrepitude of the Liberals. However, taking out the Liberals in Bonaventure will be more difficult. The PLQ held that seat without too much trouble in a by-election in November, and while the PLQ’s fortunes have only worsened since last fall, it still seems like Bonaventure would go down with the Liberal ship.
In the Saguenay, the PQ will regain Dubuc from the Liberals and hold all other seats. In Abitibi, the two PLQ incumbents in Abitibi-Est and Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue look like goners. The Outaouais region should prove one of the last Liberal holdouts, with the PQ requiring major swings to overturn the large Liberal majorities in a region where the PQ has been shut-out since 1981. However, with the state of the PLQ, the PQ has a fighting chance in two seats in the region: Hull and Papineau, two seats where the Liberals won over 50% of the vote in the last election.
Quebec’s election on September 4 promises a very closely fought contest between three parties, and the unpredictable nature of Quebec politics certainly promises us a good deal of surprises. But Quebec’s election will also hold consequences beyond the provincial border of Quebec. The election of a PQ government would change power relations between Quebec and Ottawa in a fairly dramatic way.
Provincial elections were held in two constituencies in Quebec (Canada) on June 11, 2012. These by-elections filled two seats – Argenteuil and LaFontaine – left vacant by the resignation of these respective MNAs.
Quebecois provincial politics remain as uncertain as ever. The provincial Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest, in office since 2003 and not due at the polls until (officially) late next year, remains as unpopular as ever, with over 70% disapproving of the government’s performance. The governing Liberals continue to be hurt by a string of corruption, bribery, graft and illicit party financing scandals. The provincial Liberals are very unpopular, but the opposition PQ has not really proven to be
However, since February, the province and the Charest government have been rocked by a massive student strike which protests a 75% increase in tuition fees for post-secondary institutions spread out over the next five years. Quebec currently has the lowest tuition fees of all Canadian provinces, but student associations found the tuition fee increase unacceptable. Neither side have been able (or willing, really) to come to an agreement or even move past meeting each other, meaning that the student movement has turned into a generalized political and social crisis, which the government is unable to deal with. In May, the government adopted a controversial law – Bill 78 – which restricts freedom of assembly and protest without prior police approval – with the aim of breaking up the student movement which has, at times, degenerated into violence.
The political impacts of this movement are surprisingly hard to measure. Voters are generally split (along partisan lines) on the issue, though a narrow plurality usually side with the government over the students. This might explain why the PLQ has regained a narrow but still weak lead over the PQ in recent opinion polls. The PQ leadership generally, more or less ambiguously, backs the student movement; while the small far-left Québec solidaire (QS) party fully supports the student movement – its sole MNA, Amir Khadir, and his daughter, were arrested by police for participating in demonstrations. QS, if polls are to be believed, has moved up to a strong 8-10% range in voting intentions.
When I last talked about Quebec politics in December last year, the fad was the CAQ – the new political party led by François Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister. The CAQ - Coalition Avenir Québec (they seem to hate prepositions) – has since then merged with the weak centre-right ADQ, which provided the CAQ with a parliamentary caucus. Legault is a former péquiste but a big part of the CAQ’s appeal is its claim that it lays beyond the sovereignist-federalist divide which has defined politics in Quebec since 1970. The appetite for independence is not very strong in Quebec, so the CAQ’s novel message of being a post-sovereignist centrist (or centre-right) party allowed it to ride a wave of support late last year, with December proving to be the CAQ’s peak with over 35% support in polls and a comfortable first place showing. However, the CAQ’s surge was built on nothing, other than a major thirst for change for change’s sake (given the PLQ’s unpopularity and the PQ’s uninspiring state of perpetual chaos). Legault has offered little in the way of consistent policy proposals, and those who backed the CAQ in December did so only because it represented change and a new third way. The CAQ’s predictable collapse, however, came sooner than expected. By January the CAQ’s numbers started falling, and since April has stabilized at a bit over 20% support, roughly what the ADQ was pulling before it disappeared below the waves.
The result of the CAQ’s rise-and-fall was a second coming for the PQ, which had a terrible year in 2011, hurt by internal feuds, bickering, divisions, chaos and an uninspiring leader, Pauline Marois. However, Marois and the PQ have managed to re-appear as a credible alternative to the governing Liberals. Marois still isn’t going to break popularity records any time soon and the PQ’s support, while seemingly solid, is largely unenthusiastic support by voters eager for change, at any cost.
The riding of Argenteuil fell vacant after the Liberal incumbent and former cabinet minister, David Whissell, resigned his seat, unofficially preferring to focus on his parallel business career – he is a major shareholder in an asphalt company and was in a position of conflict of interest as a cabinet minister and government MNA. Whissell held the seat since a 1998 by-election, and won reelection in 2008 with 49.6% of the vote. This seat has been held by the Liberal Party since 1966, and had never elected a PQ member. Between 1979 and 1994, this riding’s MNA was Claude Ryan, a one time leader of the PLQ.
Argenteuil is in the Laurentides region and is about halfway between Gatineau and Montreal, on the north shore of the Ottawa River but expanding into high-growth exurban territory around Saint-Colomban and Lachute and upwards to Morin-Heights, an affluent ski resort in the Laurentians. The region has traditionally had a large Anglophone community, which still accounts for 16% of the population. This is a traditional Liberal stronghold, although races can be close. The NO won only very narrowly here in the 1995 referendum, with 50.3%, and the 1998 election was very close in this riding. Since 2003, however, the Liberals have maintained the upper hand. Whissell won 53% in 2003 and 49.6% in 2008, while in 2007 he won with 37.6% against 29.7% for the ADQ. The Liberals usually poll best in rural English communities in the western parts of the riding, as well as the ski resort of Morin-Heights, while the PQ is dominant in exurban Francophone Saint-Colomban (where the ADQ was strong too).
The PLQ nominated Lise Proulx, the PQ nominated Roland Richer while the CAQ got themselves a star candidate – Mario Laframboise, a former Bloc MP in Ottawa for the region until he was handily defeated by a young Dipper in the 2011 federal election. This election, alongside LaFontaine, was the CAQ’s first electoral foray, so a strong showing by the CAQ was almost imperative for the party, which since the new year has found itself struggling more than it probably ever expected. The Green leader, Claude Sabourin, who has run here since 2003, ran again. The by-election saw the first electoral outings of three new parties: Jean-Martin Aussant’s hardcore nationalist Option nationale (ON) party, the new Conservative Party (PCQ) led by former federal Tory MP Luc Harvey and the centre-right Autonomist Team (EA). The PLQ was thought to have a fairly significant edge in this riding, though both the PQ and CAQ put significant efforts into this contest.
Roland Richer (PQ) 36.16% (+2.54%)
Lise Proulx (PLQ) 33.4% (-16.18%)
Mario Laframboise (CAQ) 21.4% (+10.16%)
Claude Sabourin (Green) 2.99% (-0.49%)
Yvan Zanetti (QS) 2.7% (+0.61%)
Patrick Sabourin (ON) 1.34%
Jean Lecavalier (PCQ) 1.05%
Georges Lapointe (Ind) 0.83%
Gérald Nicolas (EA) 0.14%
The Montreal riding of LaFontaine was vacant since May after Tony Tomassi, the independent (former Liberal) MNA for the seat was compelled to resign after a long-running corruption case against him. In 2010, he was forced out of his cabinet position (family minister) and the PLQ caucus after a scandal surrounding daycare licenses erupted. Tomassi had held this seat in eastern Montreal since 2003.
LaFontaine covers most of the neighborhood of Rivière-des-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Prairies in northeastern Montreal. Rivière-des-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Prairies are two largely suburban and fairly well-off middle-class areas on Montreal Island. However, the Rivière-des-Prairies neighborhood is marked by a strong Italian community. Overall, 47.5% of the riding’s population had an non-official language – usually Italian but with significant Hispanic and Creole minorities – as their mother tongue (while only 9.3% claimed English as their mother tongue, 26% spoke English at home). 26% of the riding’s population is made up of visible minorities, most of them Haitian. This demographic makeup makes this riding a Liberal stronghold. In 2008, Tomassi won 69.8% of the vote against only 19% for the PQ. He won 69.5% in 2003 and still managed 62.5% in 2007. The riding was more marginal in the past, when it included more Francophone and péquiste areas in Pointe-aux-Trembles. Indeed, under significantly different boundaries, the old riding of Lafontaine elected a PQ member as early as 1970. The Liberals won in 1985 and since the 1988 and 2001 redistrictings removed the remnants of Pointe-aux-Trembles, the Liberals have turned this riding into a core Liberal stronghold.
The PLQ nominated Marc Tanguay, the president of the party. The PQ and CAQ nominated sacrificial lambs, as did all other smaller parties including the new ON, PCQ and EA.
Marc Tanguay (PLQ) 53.32% (-16.44%)
Frédéric St-Jean (PQ) 17% (-2.11%)
Domenico Cavaliere (CAQ) 15.58% (+9.08%)
Sébastien Rivard (QS) 5.09% (+3.18%)
Gaëtan Bérard (Green) 3.02% (+0.29%)
Paolo Zambito (ON) 1.64%
Patrice Raza (PCQ) 1.26%
Marc-André Beauchesne (Ind) 1.02%
Renaud Blais (PN) 0.86%
Guy Boivin (EA) 0.41%
Turnout was 42.4% in Argenteuil but only 25.6% in LaFontaine.
The Liberals were the main losers of June 11. Their fairly startling defeat in Argenteuil has proven a major loss for the Liberals, both in political terms and in more general media/spin/image impacts. The PLQ’s line that by-elections don’t matter doesn’t really cut it for them: by-elections aren’t the most important things in the world, but idle voters and the media do make something of by-election results. Similarly, the argument that low turnout leads to such “fluke” results might be true from a psephological standpoint, but the media and the idle voter know that by-election turnout is always ghastly but still play along anyway.
The Liberals lost a full 16% in both constituencies, generally in line with their loses in other provincial by-elections since troubles began: -14.8% in Bonaventure (Liberal hold, December 2011), -17.9% in Kamouraska-Témiscouata (PQ gain, November 2010) and -10.4% in Saint-Laurent (Liberal hold, September 2010). If a -16% swing against the Liberals was applied throughout the province, the Liberals would win only 26% of the vote (which is less than what polls currently give them: 30-32%). The PLQ has been unable to gain any political support out of the student movement, when some could have thought that the image of a “tough” government against “unruly mobs” could gain it a bit of support. However, views on the issue are divided along partisan lines: those most likely to appreciate the government’s policies are already PLQ (or CAQ) voters. At 26% support, the PLQ would be hitting rock-bottom – that is, likely third place with Francophone voters but maintaining only a solid 60-70% core vote with the rock-ribbed federalist Anglo and allophone communities.
The PQ’s victory in Argenteuil has kicked up the party’s moods once again, and it is a significant victory for the PQ in a constituency which had never elected a PQ member. However, instead of undue triumphalism, the PQ should read the other (hidden) message these results carry for the PQ: it is largely stagnating a bit above or a bit below its 2008 result (35% – which I guess is still ‘good’ when the PLQ could be at 26% in the province…). These results are some nice proof for the old fact that the PQ’s success and potential victory in the next provincial election will be due far more to the PLQ’s state of ruin and utter discredit than to any genuine support for the PQ’s message or for its hapless leader. I guess a win is a win, but in the long term, a win better be a real win rather than a win-by-default. The PQ appears to have retrieved its 2008 support, likely gaining back the preferences of some fledgling Francophone voters who had toyed with the CAQ fad while it lasted but who have since returned to the PQ as the least worst of uninspiring options.
The CAQ’s first electoral foray was marked by two defeats, including a rather bad one in Argenteuil. The CAQ had downplayed expectations, but it was still hoping for a second place finish (a la ADQ 2007) in Argenteuil, especially with the recruitment of a star candidate like former MP Mario Laframboise. In LaFontaine, the CAQ’s result is not all that bad (it is fairly amusing that the difference between the CAQ’s results in these two very different constituencies is that small…). It appears as if the CAQ’s ‘remaining’ vote has come heavily at the expense of the PLQ rather than the PQ. This would give credence to theory that while the CAQ fished on both sides of the pond during its surge, its decline was more pronounced with more traditionally péquiste voters, while retaining a good base with disillusioned or unhappy former Liberals. The CAQ can also be assumed to have kept a good part of the former ADQ electorate.
The CAQ’s result was about 9.5% better than the ADQ’s results in these two constituencies in 2008. Surprisingly, if the CAQ performed 9.5% better than the ADQ did in 2008 at the provincial level, it would be standing at 26% support (thus tied with PLQ for second) – quite a bit higher than the 20-22% support it garners in polls. However, such results are hardly encouraging for the CAQ, which has rapidly transformed into a boring third party which nobody cares about.
QS improved its vote in both ridings, including by a significant 3.2% in LaFontaine. Most of this additional support likely comes from the PQ. But given that polls show that QS could be as high as 8-10% nationally, and seems to have benefited a bit from the student movement, these results are a bit underwhelming for them. Of course, these are hardly the type of places where I would expect a student movement-generated QS mini-surge to be strongest (a rural constituency with no unis on one hand, a largely allophone suburban constituency on the other hand…), and perhaps that turnout played a trick on them.
Its results were still much better than those won by the irrelevant others: the Green leader did fairly terribly, the ON was (as expected) a flop (like all other hardcore nationalist PQ splinters have been) and the new Conservative Party went nowhere. Of course, neither of these two new parties have a real base: the PQ eats up potential ON voters, the PLQ and CAQ eat up any potential PCQ voters.
Jean Charest has until 2013 to call an election, but he could be calling an election in the province as soon as this fall or this winter. The PLQ is continuing to rush into the wall at full speed, and there is little which it can do about it. The Liberal government has lost a good deal of its political legitimacy as a government (and this is a very big deal) with the student strikes, and it could be tempted to end its own misery sooner rather than later.
Provincial elections were held in the Canadian province of Alberta on April 23, 2012. All 87 members of the Legislative Assembly were up for reelection. Four additional seats were drawn up by the boundary commission during redistricting in 2010. Although Alberta, like other Western provinces, toyed around with IRV and STV in the past, Alberta uses traditional FPTP and has done so since 1955.
Politically, Alberta is famous for being Canada’s conservative heartland, which earns it many comparisons to Texas. Besides the conservatism, Alberta is also Canada’s oil country and the province has been the top beneficiary of the boom in the oil sands industry in recent years, allowing the province to ride the wave of high oil prices to make it Canada’s wealthiest province.
Alberta’s provincial political history is rather unique in North America. Since Alberta entered Canadian confederation in 1905, its provincial politics have been dominated by four successive dynasties. Only four political parties have ruled Alberta, but what makes it stand out is that no party which has formed but later lost government has been able to regain power. Two of Alberta’s three former governing parties are dead (or very close to it) and the other one has been dragging its comatose self forward without much luck for the past two decades. Albertans usually remain very loyal to their governing party, until they throw it out in a grand fashion.
The changing dynasties reflect the changing economic and social realities of the province since 1905. When Alberta entered confederation, it was an agrarian rural western province with a diverse population of European immigrants, Americans and Britons. The Liberal Party, the party of low tariffs and agrarian interests out west, built up a strong political machine fueled and fed by the federal Liberals under Sir Wilfrid Laurier, allowing it to govern Alberta between 1905 and 1921. In 1921, however, the Liberals got swept up in the wave of agrarian progressivism and radicalism which was taking roots in Western Canada. In the 1921 provincial election, the first dynastic change occurred when the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), originally a lobby group for local farmers transformed into a progressive agrarian political movement, defeated the governing Liberals in a landslide. Although the federal UFA MPs in Ottawa sat on the left of the wider Progressive Party, being strong advocates of a radical reinvention of partisan politics along the corporatist non-partisan lines of “group government”, the UFA provincial governments in Edmonton proved to be fairly moderate and cautious in their policy though their caucus resisted party discipline, leading to government disunity in the legislature.
The election of the UFA represented, in a way, the first cry of Western alienation in Alberta. The UFA presented itself as being different from the two old parties, which Western farmers claimed represented their eastern bases at the expense of the sparsely populated Prairies. Federal tariff policy, the main concern of the UFA and the Progressive Party in Canada, was an example of this control of the two main federal parties by their high-tariff eastern bases. Although the UFA’s style of intergovernmental relation would prove far more moderate than those of later governments, it was under the UFA government that Alberta gained power over its natural resources in 1929, a power which had until then been reserved for the federal government under the terms of confederation in 1905.
However, the UFA’s cautious and moderate fiscal policies were no longer popular in 1935. Alberta, like the rest of the West, found its agrarian economy hit very hard by the Great Depression. The economic ruin and poverty wrought by the Depression fed the rise of third protest parties throughout Western Canada, such as the CCF (later the NDP) in Saskatchewan. In Alberta, the third option would be Social Credit, led locally by a charismatic Christian preacher William “Bible Bill” Aberhart. The SoCred’s simple solution to the economic crisis in the form of their social dividends and other social credit theories made them an attractive option for unemployed workers and impoverished farmers who had lost everything with the Depression. In 1935, the SoCreds took 56 out of 63 seats and 54% of the vote, scoring one of the most phenomenal landslide victories for any party in modern worldwide electoral history. The UFA was swept out altogether.
Aberhart’s government was compelled to introduce social credit legislation after a backbenchers revolt in 1937 despite the dubious constitutionality of such measures. In fact, most of the SoCred’s attempts to introduce social credit-type legislation were either struck down by the courts or disallowed by the federal government. After Aberhart’s death in 1943, the SoCreds and Alberta fell under the leadership of Ernest Manning, who steered the party away from its traditional social credit ideology towards an attractive mix of conservative fiscal stability (though Manning did issue ‘prosperity certificates’ twice in the late 1950s), social conservatism, regionalism all under the cloak of “good government”. Manning governed Alberta until 1968, using his personal popularity to win huge majorities at the polls.
Going into the 1971 election, the SoCreds were led by Harry Strom, a capable Premier but one who lacked the charisma or political touch of Manning. Furthermore, the opposition finally found itself an attractive leader: Peter Lougheed, whose Progressive Conservatives (PCs) had emerged from the political abyss in 1967 to win 26% of the vote and 6 seats, most of them urban seats. Lougheed’s rhetoric touched a chord with Albertans at a moment in Alberta’s history where the province was evolving rapidly. Alberta was now booming with oil, urbanizing rapidly and gaining political prominence and influence in Canadian confederation. The SoCreds looked like a tired, old and complacent regime who could not really play to Alberta’s desire for a greater role in Canada or adapt their agrarian third party roots to the urban nature of Alberta in 1971. Campaigning on a centrist platform, Lougheed’s PCs won the popular vote by a fairly narrow margin (46-41) but the quirks of FPTP turned that into a large 49-25 majority over the SoCreds.
Lougheed presided over a booming economy, but his claim to fame in Canadian politics would probably be his role in intergovernmental relations in the 1970s. Lougheed emerged as a powerful actor within Canadian federalism, representing a decentralist and province-centered vision of Canadian federalism which would stick to Alberta and later be taken up, unsuccessfully, by Brian Mulroney’s federal Tories in the late 1980s. In some cases, Alberta found common cause with Quebec but in other matters Alberta and Quebec stood at opposing extremities. Lougheed feuded with Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal government over the National Energy Policy (NEP) scheme which found extremely strong opposition in Alberta and Western Canada and led to the demise of the federal and provincial Liberals in the province for a few years.
In 1985, Lougheed was succeeded by Don Getty. The provincial deficit grew rapidly under Getty’s premiership. Getty, like his predecessor, was a fairly moderate ‘Red Tory’ who had some inclinations towards government intervention and deficit spending to relieve a bad economy. The idea that the government had a “spending problem” strengthened the provincial Liberals, led by Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore, who ran to the PC’s right on issues of deficits and state intervention. However, to stem the tide, the PCs replaced Getty with someone who shared Decore’s views on budgets and deficit spending, Ralph Klein. Klein was unambiguously on the right of the provincial PCs and broke with the style and policies of his moderate predecessors. Despite the Liberals taking 32 seats to the PC’s 51 in the 1993 election, the PCs under Klein held on and won huge majorities in 1997 and 2001. Klein, who governed until 2006, implemented tough fiscal austerity measures which would eventually result in large provincial surpluses. Klein governed in a right-wing populist if somewhat autocratic style, leaving few indifferent.
In 2006, Klein was replaced by Ed Stelmach, an Edmontonian, who despite a tough beginning was able to win a huge majority in the last election, held in 2008. However, following the 2008 election, Stelmach’s government grew more and more unpopular. The financial crisis threw Alberta’s books into the red for the first time in years in the 08-09 budget and the deficit kept growing until 2010-2011. Stelmach stepped down in 2011, and was replaced by a moderate ‘Red Tory’, Alison Redford.
Instead of facing rivals to its left, however, the PCs were challenged to their right by the Wildrose Alliance (now Wildrose Party). Since the 1980s, the PCs had faced some fringe right-wing populist opposition, largely rural-based. The Alberta Alliance proved to be the most successful of these movements, winning nearly 9% of the vote and one seat in the 2004 election. Prior to the 2008 election, the Alberta Alliance became the Wildrose Alliance. The new party took 6.8% of the vote and lost the sole seat held by the Alliance. In 2009, the party seized on discontent with the PCs when it won a by-election in a suburban Calgary seat held by the PCs since 1969. A few months later, a political novice – the former provincial director of Canadian Federation of Independent Business Danielle Smith won the leadership of the party. Smith was able to transform the party’s image from a bunch of ragtag social conservative ‘rednecks’ to a more urbane coalition of libertarians and conservative. Smith herself is a libertarian, who is liberal on social/moral issues but clearly libertarian on economic matters.
Wildrose supports a balanced budget, one of its policy priorities. To achieve a balanced budget, it supports spending cuts, a reduction in the size of government, tax incentives to boost investment and tax cuts on individuals. It wants to cut regulations and red tape which it claims has stifled investment, and has also taken a strong stance in favour of lower oil royalties in order to encourage investment in the oil sands. It supports a public health care system along the lines of the Canada Health Act, but has spoken in favour of “decentralized healthcare” and “patient choice” which tends to insinuate support for private healthcare solutions. Wildrose has also promised a controversial energy dividend, where 20% of natural resource surpluses would be redistributed directly to Albertans.
In federal relations, Wildrose has a slight regionalist element to it. They claim, like most Albertans, that the federal equalization program is biased against the province (as a rich province, Alberta does not receive equalization but some of the taxes paid by Albertans are used for the equalization program; Canadian equalization does not, however, “steal” from the revenues of the rich to give to the poor provinces). They oppose federal environmental regulation, the Canadian Wheat Board, the gun registry. They want Alberta to have more power, like Quebec, over immigration. It insists that only ‘elected’ Senators should be appointed to represent Alberta: Alberta holds non-binding ‘senate nominee’ elections – one was held in 2004, another is being held this year, which elects ‘senators-in-waiting’ which the Prime Minister is free to appoint if he wishes.
Wildrose, in a way reminiscent of the UFA, has made a big case out of accountability, good governance and democracy. It claims the PCs have become, like the old SoCreds, an old and complacent governing party which doesn’t listen and which thinks its way is the right way. It has come out in support of free votes, citizen initiative, recalls and more accountability in government. The PCs took much criticism when details about a “do-nothing” committee of MLAs came out: some MLAs were paid to be on a committee which never met. Premier Redford was forced to get them to return the money.
Redford’s election to the PC leadership led to a PC surge in polls, breaking 50% and sending Wildrose down from its 2010 heights (it led in polls for a brief while, then fell to 25-30%) to 15-25%. The gap narrowed with the news of the “no-meet” committee and the Wildrose surged into the lead shortly after Redford called the election. From day one, the battle would be between Redford and Smith, PC and Wildrose. The NDP has remained at or a bit above its 2008 levels, while the Liberals have collapsed from about 25% in 2008 to a paltry 9-12%. The Liberals have changed leaders at a dizzying pace since 2008, their new leader since September 2011 is former PC MLA Raj Sherman. A few Liberals including Calgary MLA Dave Taylor have left the party, Taylor chose to join an upstart party, the Alberta Party, which shifted from a Wildrose-like right-wing fringe party in the past to a left-wing/progressive/green party, though it has failed in its attempts at a breakthrough.
The PCs attempted to play the ‘social conservative’ card on the Wildrose, accusing Smith of hiding a secret socially conservative agenda, a charge which she and her party deflected easily. But there is still a lot of unease concerning Wildrose and social issues, in the wake of the usual controversial comments from the crazy candidates. Strategic voting has gained some prominence in the campaign, as some Liberals may be tempted to vote strategically for the fairly moderate PCs to prevent what would likely be a very right-wing Wildrose government. However, Smith was able to hold her ground in the debate. The polls narrowed in the final week, with the final polls indicating a comfortable but single-digit lead for the Wildrose – enough for a minority government, possibly for a majority. Only a single final poll by Forum Research saw the gap narrow significantly: down to a two-point Wildrose lead.
The result were (changes on dissolution)
Alberta PC 43.95% (-8.77%) winning 61 seats (-6)
Wildrose Party 34.29% (+27.51%) winning 17 seats (+13)
Alberta Liberal 9.89% (-16.54%) winning 5 seats (-3)
NDP 9.82% (+1.34%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Alberta Party 1.33% (+1.33%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Evergreen Party 0.39% (-4.16%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.32% winning 0 seats (-1)
In the days of accurate polling to the last second of the campaign, rare are the elections where the results come as a complete shock. I have a hard time thinking back, in recent electoral memory, to an election where the results were not surprising but downright shocking. Alberta’s 2012 election will go in our memories as one of those rare shockers. Wildrose had a lead in every opinion poll conducted in the last week – it never led by less than two points and often led by 5-10 points. All predictors had predicted a Wildrose majority or minority governments and I’d wager that the journalists had written up their “PC dynasty tumbled in Alberta” articles for the next day’s paper. That was not what happened. At all.
The incumbent PCs led by Premier Alison Redford won the popular vote by a comfortable 9.7% margin and won a majority government, taking 61 seats against only 17 for the Wildrose Party. The pollsters will go into mass spin mode soon to prevent losing their reputation after Albertan voters fooled around with them and gave them a black eye, but the reality is that the polls got this one wrong. It might have been fair to spin a 1-point PC victory in the popular vote as a last-minute small swing within a large margin of error, a trend perhaps picked up by Forum Research’s last poll which had the WRP up two. However, you can’t spin a nearly ten point victory to a small swing or margin of error differentials. Even Forum Research’s WRP+2 poll on April 22 had underestimated the PCs by 8 and overestimated the Wildrose by 4. Angus-Reid on April 20-21 underestimated the PCs by 12 and overestimated the WRP by 7. Clearly there was a last minute swing (or else the pollsters methodology is completely off), and it was a significant last minute swing which concerned a sizable share of the electorate. What can explain this last minute swing?
Undecided voters? Polls apparently reported that up to 20% of voters were undecided in the final stretch. It is quite possible that undecided voters broke en masse for the PCs – but it must have been by a huge margin with upwards of 60-70% of undecideds voting PC. It is fair to claim that undecideds did break late for the PCs, with conservative voters opting to go with “the devil they know” – the PCs – which offered them a safe choice. The WRP clearly had some tough final days with the series of controversial crazy comments from its crazy candidates, most comments being about moral-social issues such as homosexuality. The thought of electing a WRP majority government which would have untested cabinet ministers and a large caucus probably including deadwood and crazies probably sent a chill down the spine of more than one voter. Danielle Smith herself might have defeated Redford in a one-to-one direct vote for Premier, given that Smith is fairly moderate compared to some in her party and she maintained a good, congenial personal image. However, Smith was unable to detach herself from the baggage which was her party and some of its candidates. Undecided conservatives went with a safe choice, the PCs, perhaps not as conservative as they would wish but still a safe right-wing option. Some more centrist or centre-left undecideds might also have broken PC instead of Liberal or NDP because of fears of a Wildrose government. This brings up a second point…
Did Liberal voters switch en masse to the PCs? The Liberals lost 16.5% of the popular vote compared to 2008. However, the Liberals won roughly what they were predicted to win. Forum had them at 10% in the final poll, and that is roughly what they got. Those who voted Liberal in 2008 but for another party this year likely switched their voting intentions way before election day. It was clear as soon as the WRP surged ahead that a fair share of Liberal voters from 2008 were going to vote for the PCs, for strategic reasons but also some proximity to a PC party led by a moderate ‘Red Tory’ no less. Polls in the final days did show some erosion of the Liberal vote, which is likely strategic voting, but the Liberals did not overpoll significantly in either Calgary or Edmonton (12% and 15% respectively, only a tad below where they were pegged at in the final days). If anything, it seems as if the NDP might have suffered a bit more in the final days/hours. They overpolled by 1-3% provincewide and apparently their voting intentions in Calgary (where they won only 5%) took a bit of a tumble in the final days. There was clearly some strategic voting by soft left/NDP voters in favour of the PCs, the “devil they knew” but also a safe bulwark against the very right-wing Wildrose.
Strategic voting, overall, likely has got to be a major explanatory factor here. Strategic voting featured rather prominently in the final days, but from appearances it seemed to largely be the matter of the centrist/centre-left minority rather than the centre-right/right-wing majority of voters. It might explain why the Liberals did so poorly and why the NDP did not do much better than in 2008, but, in my opinion, it appears as if a good part of the late swing was the work of WRP-to-PC switchers rather than anything else. I explained above why such a switch would make sense. It is also true that the two parties are fairly complementary (especially in terms of voter base), despite what their partisans might say. It does not take much for a PC voter to go Wildrose or for a Wildrose voter to go back to the PC. It is still easier than a Liberal or NDP voter to go PC. Thus, to do some spin work for the pollsters, it is likely harder to see any intra-right vote switching rather than the usual cross-partisan vote switching between parties such as the Tories, Grits and Dippers.
Turnout was 57%, which is very high (the highest since 1993) for Alberta which usually sees some very low turnout numbers in provincial elections. The fact that this election had much higher stakes and was miles closer than any Albertan provincial election since 1993 easily explains why many more apathetic voters might have felt motivated to turn out. Can high turnout completely explain the late WRP-PC swing? It really is a pity that Canada does not do exit polls which would help us explain who turned out and what their political inclinations were. In the absence of hard data, we can only limit ourselves to guesswork and hypotheticals. The map of turnout shows no clear political correlations, though ridings won by the PCs might have seen marginally higher turnout on balance.
A look at the geography of this election explains the mystery of the late swing a bit more. The Wildrose clearly dominated in rural southern Alberta, which has usually been the most conservative region of Alberta and the one with the most inclinations towards the populist right of the WRP variety. Besides the larger urban centre of Lethbridge (though not Medicine Hat, which is much more conservative) and the resort town constituency of Banff-Cochrane, the WRP swept through rural southern Alberta. By and large, like southwestern Saskatchewan, southern Alberta is dry and arid ranching country, which is usually the most conservative of all ultra-conservative territory in the rural Prairies. Cardston-Taber-Warner, which is the only riding won by the Alberta Alliance in 2004, has the added advantage of having lots of Mormons. Unfortunately for the WRP, there are only so many people in rural southern Alberta. The WRP also performed well in exurban territory around Calgary, including Highwood where Danielle Smith won her seat but also Chestermere-Rocky View where Bruce McAllister defeated Ted Morton, the most prominent figure of the PC’s right-wing, by a very large margin (58.5 vs 35.2). The WRP won only a single seat outside southern Alberta/Calgary: Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills which had amusingly been one of the few rural ridings to vote Liberal in the 1993 election.
However, the shocker in terms of the map was without a doubt Calgary. Throughout the campaign, Calgary – Alberta’s most conservative and oil-driven city – had been the WRP’s urban base. Anger against Ed Stelmach’s PC government until last year had been concentrated in Calgary (Stelmach himself was from Calgary’s rival, Edmonton) and the Wildrose led throughout the campaign, even though Redford herself is from Calgary. In the final days, the PCs roared back nicely in Calgary but still trailed the Wildrose, with about 37.5% to a bit over 40% for the WRP. In the end, the PCs took 45% in Calgary against 36% for the WRP. The late swing was very big in Calgary. It seems as if urban conservative voters were the ones most likely to switch back to the PCs after flirting with the WRP throughout the duration of the campaign. The PCs won 20 seats in Calgary, against three for the Liberals and only two for the Wildrose. The WRP’s Paul Hinman even lost Calgary-Glenmore, the riding which they had picked up in that famous 2009 by-election which sparked the first Wildrose surge in 2009.
The Wildrose, not as surprisingly, fared no better in Edmonton, the more liberal/left-leaning of Alberta’s two major cities. The Wildrosers won about 20% of the vote in Edmonton, falling far short in almost all ridings. Amusingly, the PCs still did better in Calgary than in Edmonton – who would have thought that a day before election day? The PCs still held their ground extremely well in Edmonton, though they did lose two seats to the NDP they gained one from the Liberals. They won 17 seats against four for the NDP and two for the Liberals. Liberal leader Raj Sherman, elected in 2008 as a Tory, held his Edmonton-Meadowlark riding by the narrowest of margins.
The PCs held their ground in rural central and northern Alberta, winning a few seats by narrow 2-5% margins but a lot of others by more comfortable margins. The PCs won Alberta’s oil sand country around Fort McMurray (including a riding where they defeated a PC-turned-WRP member), though turnout in northern Alberta’s remotest ridings was very low.
In terms of other parties, the Liberals managed to not only stay in the legislature but place third ahead of the NDP. In Calgary and Edmonton, the Liberals’ sagging fortunes were locally boosted by popular incumbents in the ridings they held. They narrowly beat the NDP for third place in the raw votes. The NDP won all of its four seats in Edmonton, picking up two seats from the PCs. Former NDP leader Ray Martin failed to win the Tory-held riding of Edmonton-Glenora, but current NDP leader Brian Mason held his Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood riding by a large margin. The most left-wing riding in the province, Edmonton-Strathcona, posted a huge NDP margin – over 60% of the votes for incumbent MLA Rachel Notley. The Alberta Party failed to make the impact it could have made, taking only 1% of the vote. Its leader won about 17% and third place running in West Yellowhead, one of the most left-leaning rural ridings in Alberta (though that isn’t saying much). The Evergreen party, the successor, in part, to the old Green Party which was deregistered after the 2008 election due to a factional fight and missing paperwork, did poorly.
In the Senate nominee election, the three PC candidates placed first (Doug Black, Scott Tannas and Mike Shaikh), narrowly beating out the three WRP candidates for the chance to be appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Harper. As the Liberals and NDP did not run candidates, the Evergreen Party’s sole candidate took 6% of the vote.
This election was not only one for the history books because of its shock value, but also because, regardless of the results, Albertan politics have been shaken up a bit by the emergence of a right-wing rival to the PCs. The cards have changed. Up until then, the PCs were in a much more comfortable position because their main rivals – the Liberals and the NDP – were too left-wing for Alberta as a whole and thus had their strength concentrated in “Redmonton” and other urban areas. Now the PCs face rivals who can appeal to rural conservative voters which remain crucial to forming government in Alberta despite the voting weight of both Calgary and Edmonton. The Wildrose being the official opposition for the next four years gives them a unique opportunity of proving their competence and talent as parliamentarians to voters, time to revamp their image and dust off their brand a bit. If it can do that, then it will be in a very good position to topple the PC dynasty in four years time. If it can do that, it also threatens to further marginalize the Liberals and NDP in their urban redoubts. This election might end up looking something like the 1967 election, when the SoCreds won their final victory but where they faced the emergence of a serious opposition alternative led by a popular leader. However, unlike in 1967 (or 1993), it was not the urban areas which carried the bad news for the governing dynasty but rather the rural areas (in fact, the places where the WRP won were the last redoubts of the moribund SoCreds in 1971). The PCs have become a fairly ‘urban’ party in this election, unlike the SoCreds in 1967 who had taken their first hit in urban areas. Albertan provincial politics are changing, slowly but surely.
Canada’s official opposition party, the New Democratic Party (NDP) held its leadership convention on March 24, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario. Seven candidates lined up for a chance to become leader of the official opposition in addition to leader of the NDP.
The centre-left NDP has usually been Canada’s perennial third-party, perceived as the idealistic social democratic which always sought to overtake either the Liberals or Conservatives to establish themselves as the official opposition. In 2008, the NDP won 18.2% of the vote and 37 out of 308 seats. The most seats it had ever won was in 1988, when it took 43 seats and 20.4% of the vote. Under the leadership of Jack Layton, the NDP certainly grew back from the party’s near-death state of the 1990s and the NDP kept benefiting from the Liberal Party’s slow state of decrepitude following its 2006 electoral defeat. However, nothing could really prepare the NDP for the results of the historic 2011 election, when the party surged into second taking 103 seats and 30.6% of the vote.
The NDP’s success in May 2011, allowing it to form the official opposition to Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government, came on the back of two factors: the collapse of the Liberal Party and an NDP ‘orange wave’ in Quebec. The Liberals, with 18.9% of the vote won only 34 seats – it worst result in its existence. The Liberals bled votes left and right, with more right-leaning ‘blue Liberals’ voting for the political stability and sound economic management promised by Harper’s Tories; and left-leaning Liberals voting for the NDP and its charismatic, engaging and iconic leader Jack Layton. Even more crucial, however, was the NDP’s ‘orange wave’ in Quebec where the party surged from 12% and 1 seat to 43% and 59 seats. Quebec’s electorate is fickle, but since 1993 it had been fairly loyal to the nationalist Bloc Québécois. The NDP’s orange wave clearly came largely at the BQ’s expense, which won only 23% and a mere 4 seats – down from 49 only three years prior. With the cause of Quebec nationalism increasingly falling on deaf ears and the BQ entering the campaign with no clear message, many of the BQ’s soft nationalist and left-leaning voters were attracted to Jack Layton’s party. The NDP thus entered the official opposition with a caucus which was made up, in majority, of rookie Quebec MPs. A fact made even more shocking by the fact that the NDP had until that point never won more than a single seat in the province and indeed Quebec had usually been a dead-zone for the predominantly Anglophone, Prairie-born NDP.
The NDP also entered official opposition with a popular leader, Jack Layton, taken ill with cancer. He died on August 22, sending Canada into mourning and his party into a leadership contest in which the potential candidates must seek to live up to Jack Layton’s record popularity and cross-partisan appeal. The main issues in the contest and indeed for the NDP at this point were the potential new leader’s ability to hold the NDP’s fledgling gains in the land of fickle voters, Quebec; but also expanding the NDP’s support outside Quebec to win government in 2015. This would mean, in good part, appealing to Liberal and Green supporters. The questions which mostly divided the candidates were the desirability of a “shift to the centre” in order to appeal to a broader “progressive” base but also the tough issue of cooperation with the Liberal Party as part of an anti-Harper “progressive coalition”.
Seven candidates made it all the way to the convention. Unlike in 2003, the NDP convention now uses a “one member, one vote” system with no 25% block reserved for the NDP’s allies in organized labour. All members could vote, either by absentee preferential ballot or at the convention. The convention uses exhaustive balloting with IRV, candidates needed to win 50%+1 of the votes.
The NDP came out of nowhere to score its “orange wave” in Quebec, the party had no grassroots infrastructure and a very limited membership base in the province. The issue of Quebec, so crucial to the NDP’s electoral strategy now, having a minimal role in the entire convention was a concern. There was a rather successful membership drive in Quebec, giving the party a final count of 13,987 members in the province – 11% of the party’s membership. British Columbia (39,859 members) and Ontario (36,965 members), however, remained the main NDP provinces in terms of membership, with a pretty significant base in Saskatchewan (11,243) and Manitoba (11,991) as well.
Thomas Mulcair, “the frontrunner” was also the “Quebec candidate”. Mulcair has a long political career, he was provincial Liberal cabinet minister (environment) in Jean Charest’s first government between 2003 and 2006 before he resigned to run for the NDP in the Outremont by-election in 2007, which he won, sending a first shock to the Liberal Party. Mulcair remained the party’s sole Quebec MP in the 2008 election, but he certainly played a key role as a major architect of the party’s “orange wave” in the province in 2011. He has close relations with most of the party’s rookie MPs, especially the lower-profile ‘paper candidates’ who won by surprise. Mulcair certainly argued that he was the best candidate to consolidate the NDP’s gains in Quebec and made the case for himself as the candidate who has a natural appeal to Quebec.
Mulcair has been regarded with suspicion in establishment NDP circles, both for personal reasons (his hot temper) and his alleged opportunism mixed in with ambition. His position on the party’s right, advocating a shift to the centre or something akin to a Blairite transformation of the party (despite the NDP under Layton already being a fairly moderate party) to expand the party’s base, has not been received all that well by the party’s old guard. However, Mulcair managed to build up significant caucus support, especially from Quebec’s rookies, but also in Ontario and BC. He was endorsed by Quebec MP and former 2012 leadership candidate Romeo Saganash (a Cree), former 2003 leadership candidate Lorne Nystrom, former ONDP leader Howard Hampton, former MB Premier Ed Schreyer and some more high-profile sitting MPs including David Christopherson, Jack Harris, Glenn Thibeault and John Rafferty. Though organized labour was lukewarm towards him, he did get some minor union endorsements including the UFCW Canada and SEIU.
Brian Topp, “the establishment” candidate was a nobody to most voters and even most NDP members. Topp, raised in Quebec, is fluently bilingual but has served most of his political career in party back-rooms as chief of staff to former SK Premier Roy Romanow, senior adviser to Layton in the federal election and president of the NDP since 2011. His candidacy was announced early, pushed from behind by the old guard and establishment circles wary of Mulcair. He was apparently the favourite of Layton’s old inner circle, which is deeply distrustful of Mulcair. Topp received the endorsement of party grandees including former leader Ed Broadbent (whose backing of Layton in 2003 had been crucial), SK Premiers Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert. One of Topp’s main weakness, besides the backroom image, is that he lacks a seat in the House of Commons. He has pledged to run for a seat in Quebec.
Topp positioned himself as something of a soft left candidate, more in line with the ideological orientations of the party’s old guard which is not radically left-wing but not as open to a shift to the centre as Mulcair is. He advocated, most significantly, a “tax the rich” platform with a new 35% tax bracket for those earning over $250k a year. In the run-up to the convention, he clearly placed himself to the left of Mulcair by warning members against a Blairite transformation of the NDP. Despite old guard backing, his caucus support was weaker but he did receive the endorsement of deputy leader Libby Davies (who is on the party’s left), NB MP Yvon Godin, BC MP Jean Crowder and some prominent Quebec MPs including Françoise Boivin (a former Liberal MP, elected for the NDP in Gatineau in 2011) and Alexandre Boulerice (one of the most nationalist members of the Quebec caucus). He received the support of the United Steelworkers.
Nathan Cullen was most famous for his much discussed and rather controversial idea of a progressive front, which meant joint nominations between the NDP, Liberals and Greens to oppose Harper’s Conservatives in the next election. The idea of cooperation or outright merger with the Liberals is quite unpopular with the NDP base, which is historically distrustful of the Liberals and carries an old history of mutual hostility between both parties. Cullen was the sole candidate from British Columbia, a powerhouse in terms of NDP members. He has represented the poor northern BC riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley since 2004. Cullen cast himself as a fairly moderate but ‘urban progressive’ type of candidate (moderate on economic matters, but quite pro-environment), emphasizing his youth and the idea of change or ‘new politics’. His strong performance in debates and strong fundraising propelled him into contention with the top of the pack.
Cullen’s caucus support was limited. He received support from two BC MPs, Fin Donnelly and Alex Atamanenko but also the more prominent Ontario MP and NDP trade critic, Brian Masse.
Peggy Nash was the “labour candidate”, strong from her footing in organized labour as a CAW negotiator in the past. Nash won the downtown Toronto riding of Parkdale—High Park in the 2011 election, after having held it for a first stint between 2006 and 2008. She was one of the NDP’s high profile frontbench MPs as the party’s finance critic until she announced her candidacy. While speaking in ideological terms is not entirely accurate, she generally is perceived as being on the party’s left and closely associated with the NDP’s traditional allies in organized labour.
Her political support was not particularly remarkable, besides the backing of BC MP Denise Savoie and that of former NDP leader Alexa McDonough. Her main strength was with organized labour: she raked in the endorsements of CAW, CUPE, the Ontario Federation of Labour and other CLC provincial federations in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and the NWT.
Paul Dewar was not quite at the top of the pack but not quite an “also-ran” candidate. Dewar, the son of a former Ottawa mayor, has been MP for Ottawa Centre since 2006 and has built a strong reputation as a competent constituency MP and foreign affair critic. It is hard to pin down his candidacy ideologically, but he gives the image of being somewhere in the middle in terms of the NDP’s ideological scale and gives the impression of proximity with traditional NDP supporters in the public sector including teachers. Dewar’s weakness in French was seen as a major roadblock.
His caucus supports included well-known northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus, NWT MP Dennis Bevington, Alberta MP Linda Duncan and Quebec MP Hélène Laverdière, famous for having defeating Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe in his own seat in the 2011 election. Because of his family roots in Manitoba, he also raked in a surprising number of endorsements from Manitoba MLAs.
Niki Ashton was the youngest candidate in the race at age 29. Ashton, whose father is a cabinet minister in the provincial NDP government in Manitoba, has served as MP for the northern Manitoba riding of Churchill since 2008. Despite her youth, she has gained some notoriety as a talented and ambitious member. Her run was likely to build up her profile and place her into the big leagues, because her youth and inexperience were seen as significant stumbling blocks. Ashton ran a clearly left-wing campaign, which emphasized her youth and overemphasized the vague term “new politics”. She was perhaps the most left-wing candidate in the race, and was endorsed unofficially by the NDP’s Socialist Caucus.
On the endorsement front, she did surprisingly well in getting endorsements not only from MLAs in her native province but also some MPs including Ontario MP Carol Hughes and a few new Quebec MPs (for whatever reason).
Martin Singh, a ‘white convert’ to Sikhism, was the surprise candidate in the race who has never run for any elected office and who was a total nobody to almost all observers. He ran a fairly pro-business campaign and announced that Mulcair was his second choice. He did not receive any notable endorsements – even BC’s South Asian NDP establishment lined up in favour of Brian Topp.
The first ballot results were (italicized candidates dropped out or dropped if placing last on any ballot):
Thomas Mulcair (QC) 30.30%
Brian Topp (ON) 21.37%
Nathan Cullen (BC) 16.39%
Peggy Nash (ON) 12.83%
Paul Dewar (ON) 7.5%
Martin Singh (NS) 5.87%
Niki Ashton (MB) 5.74%
Mulcair emerged on top but with a rather anemic 30% of first preferences. The positively surprised were Brian Topp, who placed second (the few polls on the race had him doing very poorly) and especially Nathan Cullen who placed a strong third. The negatively surprised were Peggy Nash and Paul Dewar, whose results were below expectations. While it is unlikely that we will ever get the results broken down by province, my hunch is that Mulcair swept Quebec, the “three Ontarians” tied in Ontario with a strong Mulcair showing, Ashton and Dewar did well in Manitoba, Topp won Saskatchewan and Cullen got a favourite son vote as the only BCer in the race. In addition, Cullen’s general image as non-Mulcair/non-Topp type of urban progressive, green candidate may have won him support from younger members in large urban areas.
Ashton was dropped after placing last, while Singh and Dewar withdrew. Singh immediately endorsed Mulcair, while Dewar freed his delegates. Dewar backer Charlie Angus moved his support to Mulcair, and likely spoke for many MPs who felt the need to have a strong leader in the House by Monday to take on the Conservative government’s federal budget (expected to feature major spending cuts and public sector job cuts) in the coming week. After the announcement of the first results at 10:00, the second ballot results were announced at 13:45.
Thomas Mulcair (QC) 38.10%
Brian Topp (ON) 25.00%
Nathan Cullen (BC) 19.92%
Peggy Nash (ON) 16.83%
Mulcair was the main benefactor of the second ballot, gaining the most support of any candidate. He likely took the vast majority of Martin Singh’s first ballot support, nearly 6% while also doing well with some of Paul Dewar’s supporters. Peggy Nash was forced to drop out after the second ballot where she failed to move out of fourth, but she gained the second most votes of any candidates. Nash did not endorse any candidate. She perhaps took considerable support from Ashton and Dewar. Cullen had an underwhelming performance, as did Topp.
The third ballot voting was disturbed by attacks on the party’s internet voting system, which turned the e-voting experiment into something between a joke and a disaster. Results were only announced at 18:00.
Thomas Mulcair (QC) 43.81%
Brian Topp (ON) 31.59%
Nathan Cullen (BC) 24.59%
Mulcair’s growth was less impressive on the third ballot, but he still did fairly well considering the bulk of new votes came from Peggy Nash voters, who, based on left-wing affiliations, could be seen as benefiting Topp rather than Mulcair. In the end, Nash’s voters split fairly evenly between the three candidates, with a slight bias towards left-wing contender Brian Topp. Cullen got good transfers but ultimately failed to overtake Topp for second place. He did not endorse any candidate, but his moderate positioning made his voters possibly closer to Mulcair than to Topp. Mulcair was the heads-on favourite heading into the fourth ballot, which, after more e-voting disasters, was only announced at 21:15.
Thomas Mulcair (QC) 57.22%
Brian Topp (ON) 42.78%
Mulcair and Topp likely split the Cullen voters about 54-46 in Mulcair’s favour, on balance a surprisingly strong showing for Topp with those voters, perhaps benefiting from some Topp institutional support in Cullen’s home province. Brian Topp’s performance at the convention was stronger than most had expected, which in a way shows the backing by some of the members of the party’s “old guard” and older backrooms establishment. In the end, however, not much could stop Mulcair and his perhaps unstoppable mix of Quebec appeal/support, caucus backing and a strong fundraising base. Not even the reluctance of the party’s core base towards the “shift to the centre” idea of Mulcair could stop him. Of course, he did get 43% voting against him, but 57% is still a comfortable majority of support. Mulcair has made moves towards party unity, including keeping left-wing Topp backer Libby Davies as deputy leader of the party.
The NDP likely made the best choice in Mulcair. He was the only candidate certain of keeping the party’s fledgling base in Quebec, and his general ‘Quebec appeal’ likely played a major role for Anglophone NDP supporters outside Quebec who strategically considered Mulcair as the best possible pick for leader. Quebec’s electorate is, of course, extremely fickle and could change political allegiances dramatically come the 2015 election (indeed, the NDP has already started shedding some support in the province since May according to most polls), but Mulcair has the benefit of being the leader best able to “speak to Quebec” and hold the party’s gains there. The other main task he faces ahead of 2015, when the NDP will obviously target power as it stands today, is to expand the party’s base in Anglophone Canada. The NDP, despite the orange wave, did not do all that well in Ontario (where the Tories won their majority), lost a seat in Manitoba, was still shut out in the NDP heartland of Saskatchewan and did not take all it could in BC. The NDP needs to win not only most of the 30-some Liberal seats but also some Tory-held ridings, especially in the West. Mulcair’s shift to the centre idea could possibly be the best route for the NDP to take to score these gains. 2015 is still a long way away, and neither the Tories nor the Liberals have said their last word on the topic. Mulcair is, at it currently stands, the best possible choice for the NDP. Whether or not he can become Prime Minister Thomas Mulcair, the first NDP Prime Minister of Canada, remains to be seen.
A federal by-election was held in the Canadian constituency of Toronto-Danforth in Ontario on March 19, 2012. The downtown Toronto seat fell vacant following the tragic death of NDP leader and newly-elected opposition leader Jack Layton on August 22, 2011. Jack Layton, the emblematic leader of the NDP who had just led the party to an historic victory in May 2011, forming the official opposition to Stephen Harper’s Tory majority, died after a fight with cancer in the summer of 2011.
Toronto-Danforth, which took its current boundaries in 2003, is located east of the riding of Toronto Centre and covers an area between the Don River and Coxwell Avenue, and between the lakefront of Lake Ontario and the Don River East Branch/Taylor Creek. The core of the riding, one of the most left-leaning in Toronto, was covered by the old riding of Broadview-Greenwood in the 1970s-1980s, a riding which elected current Liberal leader Bob Rae when he was a federal NDP MP.
The riding is ethnically diverse, with a 33% non-white (visible minority) population, including a large Chinese population (16%) which is concentrated in the southern half of the riding in the neighborhoods of Leslieville and East Chinatown. The north of the riding is noted for its large Greek population, located in Pape Village and Greektown. In 2001, at 11%, the riding had the highest percentage of Greek Orthodox in the province of Ontario (it also had the highest provincial percentage of Buddhists, 5.7%). Historically a fairly working-class or lower middle-class riding, Toronto-Danforth has seen its share of gentrification in recent years with traditionally low-income working-class neighborhoods such as Leslieville, Riverside (Queen-Broadview Village) and The Pocket becoming attractive areas for young professionals, artsy types and more middle-class inhabitants. The Studio District near the lakefront has become a magnet for artists, young professionals and film makers. Other areas, such as Blake-Jones, are poorer and more working-class. The India Bazaar and The Pocket have a large South Asian and Muslim population,
A good indicator of the riding’s gentrified nature is the irreligious-ness of the riding: at 31% in 2001, the lack of religion was the largest ‘religion’. The most irreligious areas were located in the southern half of the riding (Danforth Avenue acts as a divide between a fairly clearly defined north and south), especially in parts of Riverdale and the Studio District. The northern half of the riding concentrates the bulk of the riding’s Orthodox population (in the Greek areas of Greektown, Pape Village and Broadview North). Affluent, residential neighborhoods such as Old East York or parts of Riverdale (Playter Estates) has sizable concentration of mainline Protestants or Catholics.
Toronto-Danforth’s predecessor ridings – Broadview and Broadview-Greenwood (see the boundary history here) have a long NDP tradition. Broadview elected its first NDP MP in 1965, and the party held the seat until the 1988 election. Bob Rae was elected MP in a close by-election in 1978 for the NDP and was succeeded in 1982 by the NDP’s Lynn McDonald who was defeated in 1988 by the second ever Liberal to represent Broadview-Greenwood, Dennis Mills. Mills was easily reelected in all elections until 2004. In 2004, Toronto city councillor and newly-elected NDP leader Jack Layton (elected leader while out of Parliament) defeated Mills in a close contest with 46% to Mills’ 41%. As Liberal fortunes progressively collapsed in the next three elections, the Liberals no longer posed a real threat to the NDP leader in his own seat. In 2011, as the NDP surged into the official opposition, Layton won a landslide in his home turf with 61% of the vote against a mere 18% for the Liberals. The Conservatives won 14%, which was still their best performance since 1988 in a riding where they have never been a major presence since the 1980s – despite the area’s Tory history – it elected Dief-era cabinet minister George Hees between 1950 and 1963.
The Liberals have usually performed best in the northern half of the riding, especially in the affluent right-leaning areas of Woodbine Heights in Old East York, the predominantly Greek areas of Pape Village and Greektown and some of the affluent precincts in Riverdale. In 2011, the Conservatives outpaced the Liberals in Woodbine Heights and other parts of Old East York. The NDP has tended to do well in the southern half, especially Riverside, the Studio District, Leslieville, The Pocket, India Bazaar and Blake-Jones. In 2011, Jack Layton won every single poll in the riding.
Stephen Harper delayed dropping the writ until the very last moment, the first indication that the Conservative machine would not bother wasting resources on a by-election contest they would surely lose whatever they did. The climate was also somewhat unfavourable to Stephen Harper’s governing Tories, given that their support has declined somewhat since May 2011 because of a series of controversies including electoral robocalls and mishandled kerfuffles over pensions and internet surveillance.
Thus, the contest became an unequal battle between the NDP’s Craig Scott, a law professor and distinguished scholar; and Liberal candidate Grant Gordon, a marketing firm boss. Jack Layton surely cast a long shadow over the contest, as the NDP attempted to tap into a reservoir of sympathy for the riding’s popular star MP. The Liberals wanted to make people believe that they actually stood a chance (which they never did) and did invest some resources in the riding, which was to be the first test for the Liberal Party since the party’s historic electoral annihilation of sorts in May 2011.
The results were:
Craig Scott (NDP) 59.44% (-1.36%)
Grant Gordon (Liberal) 28.51% (+10.89%)
Andrew Keyes (Conservative) 5.37% (-8.95%)
Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu (Green) 4.69% (-1.77%)
Dorian Baxter (PC) 0.64%
John Christopher Recker (Libertarian) 0.41%
Christopher Porter (CAP) 0.24%
Leslie Bory (Ind) 0.24%
John C. Turmel (Ind) 0.18%
Brian Jedan (United) 0.17%
Bahman Yazdanfar (Ind) 0.11%
Turnout was fairly solid for a by-election at 43.4%, but still down a lot from 64.9% in the federal election.
The NDP and the Liberals came out of the by-election with reason to cheer. The NDP easily held the seat, as was expected, but held the seat by a very large margin and a percentage of the vote down only a bit from Jack Layton’s landslide in May 2011, when he obviously had won personal votes from traditional Liberal or Green voters. It would be hard to take anything out of this by-election, but it is still a very encouraging result for the NDP which heads into a leadership convention next weekend to replace Jack Layton and which has seen its numbers level off or drop off a bit since the party’s victory in May 2011.
The Liberals won a result which is nearly 11% better than their terrible performance in 2011, and the party actually won more raw votes than in May 2011 despite the major drop in turnout overall. This is not by any means an historic result for the Liberals, they are only returning to a level a bit below their 2008 level in the riding which was already fairly weak. The Liberals as a third party in the House have managed to do better than anyone expected after their thumping in May, and Bob Rae has proven a good interim leader for the weakened party. The post-election talk of their imminent death has shifted into speculation about their chances at returning to official opposition in a perfect storm by the time of the next federal election in 2015. They still have a long road to climb to return to even where they stood between 2006 and 2008, but their poll numbers have already increased a bit from the lows of May 2011.
The Liberals likely took back traditional left-Liberals who had voted for Layton himself in 2011 but also some more right-leaning Liberals or swing voters who had voted Conservative in May but shifted their votes, strategically, to the Liberals this year. The Conservatives had never put any effort into the riding, and won a terrible result at barely 5.4% – probably the lowest results for the Tories in the riding in recent electoral history. It would be hard to draw much from this, given that the Tories have proven that they can do terribly in by-elections they don’t care about and do spectacularly well in by-elections they heavily target. The weak result could be interpreted as a general decline in Tory fortunes since the highs of May 2011, which wouldn’t be entirely off the mark, but which is still a very tentative conclusion to make about such matters.
The NDP goes into a leadership convention next weekend, with the top contenders being Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair (the base’s favourite and the most Third Way-ish of the main contenders), backroom man Brian Topp (the establishment favourite, slightly to the left of Mulcair), Ontario MP Peggy Nash (fairly left-wing and backed by some unions) and Ontario MP Paul Dewar (more of a middle-of-the-road, centre-left figure). BC MP Nathan Cullen, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Martin Singh are the other ‘smaller’ candidates’. The NDP leader will face the task of securing the party’s orange wave gains in Quebec – by now the party’s top base – but also reaching out to win more seats in Ontario and the West.
A provincial by-election in the constituency of Bonaventure was held in Quebec on December 5, 2011. The riding had fallen vacant following the resignation of Deputy Premier and Liberal MNA Nathalie Normandeau, who had held the seat since 1998.
Bonaventure is located on the south shore of the Gaspé Peninsula, covering a string small towns bordering New Brunswick in the west or separated from New Brunswick by the Chaleur Bay. Bonaventure is significantly poorer than the province as a whole and its unemployment rate was a full 18% in 2006. Most politically significant is the presence of a sizable Anglophone minority, about 15% of the population, spread out in small villages along the coast or further west. The Anglophone population explains part of the riding’s long Liberal history. With the exception of five legislatures, the riding has been Liberal since 1890. Between 1956 and 1994, the riding was the stronghold of Liberal cabinet minister Gérard D. Lévesque. His resignation in 1994 prompted a by-election won by the PQ’s Marcel Landry, who was reelected months later in the general election but defeated four years later by Normandeau. She was reelected easily in all elections since, winning 64% in 2008. The riding had voted against independence in 1995, with 51.6% non.
Quebec is the hot place to be in Canadian politics right now. Jean Charest’s Liberal government, in power since 2003, is breaking unpopularity records with some 8 in 10 voters disapproving of the government. The provincial Liberals have been crippled by unpopular decisions but more importantly by a string of corruption, bribery, graft and illicit party financing scandals. Quebec’s construction industry is ridden with corruption and collusion with the mafia, well implanted in the province’s construction industry. The construction corruption and the PLQ’s corruption are all tied up, explaining why it took Charest months before finally resigning himself to call for an inquiry commission into the construction industry. The Liberals, who won 42% in 2008, sit at roughly 22% support in polls these days.
In most cases, such unpopularity would play into the hands of any opposition party, no matter how awful it is. The nationalist PQ has not had that luck. It too is in deep trouble and embroiled in factional crisis. The leadership of Pauline Marois finds itself attacked on two angles: the hardline nationalists claim that Marois is placing sovereignty on the backburner and is an indecisive leader, while moderates and lite nationalists claim that the PQ’s continued insistence on sovereignty is out of touch with the reality which they claim does not favour immediate sovereignty. In June, four sitting PQ MNAs including Pierre Curzi and former PQ Premier Jacques Parizeau’s wife Lisette Lapointe. Others have since been expelled, meaning that there are seven ex-PQ MNAs now sitting as independents.
The uncertainty over Quebec’s political future is only heightened by a new wildcard: former PQ cabinet minister François Legault’s new party, the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec or CAQ. The CAQ, ideologically centrist or centre-right, places sovereignty far behind and claims to be some sort of post-sovereignist party breaking the old federalist/sovereignist divide of Quebec politics. The CAQ sits at roughly 33-35% support in polls, while the PLQ and PQ roughly tied at 20-22% each. The scene could become even more confusing if ex-PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant’s hardline sovereignist Option nationale (ON) party develops a following.
The CAQ’s appeal is not ideological, rather the appeal comes from Quebec riding a wave of change for change’s sake. At this point, disillusion with the PLQ’s corruption and PQ’s chaos is so high that voters will choose anything, left right or centre. A Leger poll from earlier this month had asked CAQ voters why they supported the CAQ: 9% said it was because of its ideas, 6% because of Legault and 3% because of its school boards position. But 32% said they backed it because of a “desire for change”, 19% because they were fed up of other parties and 17% because of its novelty.
Back to Bonaventure now. The PLQ always had an edge in the contest, but the PQ made the contest personal for Marois. She campaigned heavily for the PQ’s candidate, Sylvain Roy. It was a test for Marois’ legitimacy as leader of the party and a contest to determine whether she hangs on a bit or if she is forced out even more quickly. But there was a missing element in the Bonaventure puzzle: the CAQ. Registered only weeks ago, the CAQ claims it lacks organization and funding to compete in the by-election. Its absence has been criticized, with Marois saying that by his absence, Legault is only backing the Liberals while the Liberals have basically called Legault a wet chicken. I point out two reasons for the CAQ’s absence: firstly, it is true that it lacks any organization and would not have won, thus it did not want to suffer a defeat which would rain on the parade; second, if it had run it would still have pulled in 15-20% and likely have given the PQ a result below 29%. From one point of view, running and killing the PQ could be seen as in the CAQ’s interests, but it actually isn’t. Such a scenario would have been the nail in Marois’ coffin, and sped up the perhaps inevitable process of her bowing out in favour of Gilles Duceppe, who despite suffering an historical blow in May federally, would win a large majority as PQ leader. Which isn’t in Legault’s interest, given that he certainly isn’t running for leader of the opposition.
The results were:
Damien Arsenault (PLQ) 49.46% (-14.77%)
Sylvain Roy (PQ) 37.22% (+8.16%)
Patricia Chartier (QS) 8.92% (+5.72%)
Georges Painchaud (ADQ) 2.29% (-1.23%)
Jean Cloutier (Green) 1.29% (+1.29%)
Martin Zibeau (Ind) 0.82% (+0.82%)
The Liberal victory was as expected, and though its result is pretty decent for a toxic governing party, it has still lost nearly 15 percentage points from a result which – it is true – was inflated by a personal vote in 2008. That the PLQ had always been expected to win means that this result won’t provide the PLQ with any momentum booster. The result is not great for the Liberals, but it certainly isn’t that bad considering the party’s state of terminal decline.
The PQ won 37.2%, up 8 percentage points since 2008. In a race which Marois had made personal and in doing had made it into a key test for her leadership, she lives to fight another day. The PQ’s strong performance is what she has styled a “moral victory” and it will likely allow her to cement her leadership of the party for a little while. But it is doubtful that this result will boost her party’s actual standing overall. In such, the PQ’s strong showing could be considered a little victory for the CAQ. The strong result keeps Marois’ shaky leadership on life support, but will do little to right a ship which is clearly sinking or about to hit an iceberg. Which is what the CAQ wants and needs.
QS did well, with nearly 9% of the vote and a result up 5.7% since the last election, in a region where QS is generally very weak. Clearly QS is benefiting from the PQ’s state of chaos. Of the established parties, it is the one which is in the best shape. The same doesn’t go for the ADQ, which will be the first victim of the CAQ’s rise. There is ideological proximity between the two, but beyond that the ADQ could count on a rather strong base of support in a CAQ-less scenario – mostly similar ‘wind of change’/'PLQ/PQ sucks’ type of support. All that is gone with the CAQ, which reduces the ADQ to a rump of 6-8% support. From my point of view, the ADQ’s weak result in this CAQ-less race (although this is hardly ADQ stronghold territory) shows quite well that the CAQ’s rise isn’t indicative of any right-wing shift. There is talk of a CAQ-ADQ merger, but the ADQ’s poor result in this by-election hardly gives its leader Gérard Deltell a strong bargaining card in those talks with CAQ. In fact, it risks turning a simple merger in a takeover of the ADQ by the CAQ.
Interesting times in Quebec politics…