Category Archives: Quebec
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.
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…
Three federal and one provincial (in Quebec) by-elections were held in Canada on Monday, November 29. Of the four total by-elections, three were close and one of those three was a major surprise. At the federal level, the constituencies of Vaughan (ON), Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette (MB) and Winnipeg North (MB) fell vacant following the retirement of their sitting members to run in the October municipal elections in Ontario and Manitoba. Ultimately, only Vaughan Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua was successful in that race, with Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette Tory MP Inky Mark and Winnipeg North NDPer Judy Wasylycia-Leis being unsuccessful. In Quebec, the provincial riding of Kamouraska-Témiscouata fell vacant after the resignation and death (the same day) of provincial cabinet minister Claude Béchard, a Liberal who had held the seat since a 1997 by-election.
The federal series ultimately didn’t include a Quebec riding (Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia fell vacant on October 22), but given that all three major parties were defending a seat, it was seen as a good test for all three parties and especially Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals. In Quebec, the traditionally safely Liberal riding of Kamouraska-Témiscouata was seen as a test for both unpopular (understatement) Liberal Premier Jean Charest and slightly less unpopular PQ leader Pauline Marois.
Vaughan covers the rapid-growth suburbs of Toronto in the electorally crucial 905 belt. The riding is the most Catholic, least Protestant and least non-religious riding in Ontario; is largely white (25% or so non-white) and quite wealthy. Nearly 54% of residents claimed Italian ancestry according to the 2006 census, a statistic supported by the high percentage of Catholics (77%), married couples (87%) and second-generation immigrants (37% – the highest in Canada). Vaughan has seen rapid growth, a lot of it from visible minorities, with a population of 154,206 in 2006 – a full 37.6% increase on 2001. It will likely be divided into two ridings following the 2011-2012 redistricting.
Vaughan’s Italian-Catholic tradition explains its reputation as a Liberal stronghold. The Liberals, Maurizio Bevilacqua in particular, have held this riding since the 1988 election, and always with double-digit majorities and oftentimes with 50-70% of the vote. However, since 2000, as has happened in similar ‘ethnic suburban Liberal stronghold’-type ridings, the Liberals have consistenly shed votes. From a 62.6% majority in 2000 (on redistributed borders), the Liberals fell to a 14.8% majority in 2008 (in 2006, they still had a 33.7% majority).
The Conservatives nominated a star candidate in former police chief Julian Fantino, who ran a mud-slinging campaign focused around the theme of law-and-order. The Liberals, on the other hand, continuing with their knack of nominating horrible candidates, found only generic businessman Tony Genco after a long search. Certainly not the best choice against a star candidate, who turned into the frontrunner. Fantino, however, was dogged by the fact that he didn’t campaign much and seemed to lead an invisible campaign which ignored all-candidate meetings.
Julian Fantino (Conservative) 49.10% (+14.46%)
Tony Genco (Liberal) 46.65% (-2.53%)
Kevin Bordian (NDP) 1.68% (-7.94%)
Claudia Rodriguez-Larrain (Green) 1.22% (-5.64%)
Paolo Fabrizio (Libertarian) 0.64%
Dorian Baxter (PC) 0.28%
Leslie Bory (Ind) 0.28%
Brian Jedan (United) 0.14%
The media seems to have considered Fantino the overwhelming favourite, so some counted his narrow win as somewhat of a setback for the Tories. Pragmatically, it’s still an important win for the Tories and one which comes in the electorally crucial 905 belt which is key to a Tory majority government. However, sensational headlines about the fall of a Liberal stronghold are a bit off the mark. As noted above, the vote has been shifting away from the Liberals in ridings such at these at a rapid pace since 2000 and there were some massive swings in ridings like these in 2008 (Dion played really, really poorly in the 905 suburbs). Of course, there is also the high possibility that a popular long-term incumbent like Bevilacqua artificially inflated Liberal numbers and may have hid the fact that Vaughan was really a marginal riding in the end. The NDP and the Greens were crushed very badly, winning just over 1% of the vote each. A case of strategic voting if you’ve ever seen it, especially amplified because the race was covered as an exclusively Liberal-Tory affair.
The percentages may throw us off a bit, but the NDP and the Greens’ squeeze probably helped the Liberals more than the Tories. Turnout was only 32%, 20 points less than in 2008, but the Tories held on to all but 130 of their 2008 votes. That might indicate that Fantino was really good at maximizing Conservative turnout, but in the end might not have gotten a lot of votes from 2008 Liberal or NDP voters. The bottom line here is a Conservative victory smaller in size than originally anticipated, a decent Liberal defense effort and a total collapse of other votes.
Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, a rural riding in western Manitoba, was the least interesting of the contests. It is a typical western rural riding, with 27% employed in agriculture, 24% of aboriginal ancestry with most residents claiming distant European, in this region often Ukrainian, ancestry. The Liberals won this riding in 1993, but only with 32% of the vote against a split right and a strong NDP. The CCF and NDP also held this riding in the distant past, most recently in 1980. Retiring MP Inky Mark was elected for the Reform Party in 1997, reelected for the Alliance in 2000 and for the Tories since then. Since this riding took its current form in 2000, the Tories have never won by less than 27% and Mark won by a 45% margin in 2008 over the NDP.
Robert Sopuck (Conservative) 56.73% (-4.81%)
Denise Harder (NDP) 26.26% (+9.71%)
Christopher Scott Sarna (Liberal) 10.28% (-3.59%)
Kate Storey (Green) 5.61% (-0.9%)
Jerome Dondo (CHP) 1.11% (-0.1%)
No surprises here. Despite low turnout – only 26.9% (lowest of the 3, likely caused by bad weather) – the Conservatives held on by a big margin. The NDP also won its only good showing of the night, winning nearly 10% more than in 2008. While the Liberals saved their deposit, they collapsed to a new low, which certainly isn’t a good sign. These numbers seem to show that the Liberals are becoming increasingly irrelevant in rural areas – especially those out west, where the non-Tory vote is shifting to the NDP at a rapid pace since 2004 or so. The Greens did best here, probably helped a bit by Inky Mark’s endorsement.
Winnipeg North is a inner-city urban riding in northern Winnipeg, was supposed to be safe NDP. Covering most of Winnipeg’s north-end, which is a cosmopolitan impoverished working-class area, the seat has a long CCF-NDP history. The riding has the highest percentage in western Canada of manufacturing jobs (19%) and is only 48% white with 20% aboriginal and 32% of visible minorities. Notably, Winnipeg North has the country’s largest Filipino population – 21%.
CCF founder and labour activist J.S. Woodsworth represented part of the present-day seat between 1925 and 1942, and the NDP has been dominant since then with a few exceptions. A Liberal, Ray Pagtakhan, represented a part of the current seat in the 90s. The current seat of Winnipeg North has been held by Judy Wasylycia-Leis since its 2000 creation (she represented the old Winnipeg North Centre, which makes up 73% of this riding, between 1997 and 2000). The Liberals were within 10% on redistributed results in 2000, and within 12% in 2004. But in 2008, they won only 9.2% while the Tories managed a ‘record’ 22.4%. Winnipeg North was the NDP’s second-best seat overall in 2008 with 63% of the vote. Amusingly, the Communists have always done ‘well’ here, sometimes breaking 1%. They had won 27% in 1945, but their vote collapsed shortly thereafter.
The Liberals had a star candidate, provincial Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux, who has managed to win rather easily in the traditionally NDP seat of Inkster for a few years. The NDP nominated Kevin Chief, an aboriginal with roots in the aboriginal community. The Conservatives nominated Julie Javier, a Filipina, in an attempt to hinder the Liberals and NDP with the Filipino vote. The Conservatives thought they stood a chance, running a law-and-order campaign, and even sent Harper to make a visit.
Kevin Lamoureux (Liberal) 46.32% (+37.11%)
Kevin Chief (NDP) 41.17% (-21.42%)
Julie Javier (Conservative) 10.45% (-11.90%)
John T. Harvie (Green) 0.72% (-4.06%)
Jeff Coleman (Pirate) 0.60%
Frank Komarniski (Communist) 0.45% (-0.22%)
Eric Truijen (CHP) 0.29%
This is a seat which the NDP had absolutely no business losing. The Liberals were going to do well no matter what because of their star candidate, but the NDP had no excuse for losing their second safest seat and the safest in the Prairies. The Liberal win was a major surprise, which almost nobody had predicted. Part of it, a lot in fact, comes from a top-notch candidate who has managed to win elections here (well, part of the riding) as a non-Dipper and has done so pretty convincingly. Another thing is that low turnout by-elections (31% in this case) here are detrimental to the NDP, whose electorate is poorer and thus more likely to turn out (but – turnout was only 43% in 2008 and the NDP still won by 40%) especially when the weather is bad (like it was on Monday, apparently). It remains to be seen if this result a by-election fluke as the NDP would like to believe, or if it is confirmed in a general election. Still, Lamoureux will be very vulnerable in a higher-turnout general election.
The overall narrative of these by-elections are favourable to the Conservatives (thought not as much as some think), mixed-bag for the Liberals and poor for the NDP. Winning Vaughan is definitely a good thing for the Tories, which proves that they are still very competitive in the 905 and that they still stand a decent chance at picking up seats there on their route to a majority. That being said, it remains to be seen if Fantino won only by a strong Tory turnout organization effort or if he genuinely broke through with ancestrally Liberal voters. If it’s the former, it’s bad for the Tories which means they still need to work on appealing beyond their base. If it’s the latter, it’s good news for the Tories overall. For the Liberals, losing Vaughan is definitely bad but they remain competitive there despite nominating an awful candidate against a star candidate. Vaughan certainly isn’t Ignatieff’s Outremont. Winning Winnipeg North cancels out the loss in Vaughan, but it remains a shaky win which is more likely than not to be a fluke, but it shows that local Liberal candidates are still very much competitive even in non-traditionally Liberal areas and in urban areas out west (where they’ve suffered a lot since 2006). For the NDP, it’s bad (with the exception of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette) and losing Winnipeg North is beyond awful. For the Greens, it’s bad, but by-elections are awful things for them as a rule.
A by-election was also held in Kamouraska-Témiscouata on Monday. This seat had been held since a 1997 by-election by Liberal Claude Béchard who was a popular cabinet minister until his death/resignation on September 7. Kamouraska-Témiscouata is 99% French, and is a typical rural Quebec constituency. But it gave only 53% of the votes to the YES in the 1995 referendum, and has been held by the Liberals since 1985. The Bas-Saint-Laurent region is not hardcore nationalistic, especially when compared to the North Shore (and places like Lanaudière), but it isn’t a federalist stronghold either (unlike Beauce, for example). While this is not a swing riding per se, the PQ certainly needs to do well here (not necessarily win, it only won in 1976 and 1981) and in the general area in order to win provincially. The region is definitely conservative, and the ADQ did well here in the past. Béchard did really well in 2008, winning 53.7%, perhaps a number artificially inflated a bit by sympathy over his battle with cancer. The ADQ won 36.7% here in 2007 (against 39.7% for Béchard) and managed second in 2008 with 21.6% (against 21.1% for the PQ).
The Liberals nominated Béchard’s predecessor in this seat, France Dionne, who held the seat between 1985 and 1997.
André Simard (PQ) 36.85% (+15.70%)
France Dionne (Liberal) 35.85% (-17.85%)
Gérald Beaulieu (ADQ) 23.03% (+1.47%)
Serge Proulx (QS) 2.67% (-0.27%)
Frédéric Brophy Nolan (Green) 1.60%
The PQ’s victory is certainly very bad news for the Liberals. It isn’t surprising, given that Charest has a 16% approval rating and that 77% of people want him gone, but some had thought this seat was too safe for the Liberals for them to lose it. The Liberal’s hope was that the anti-Liberal vote would split evenly between the PQ and ADQ, but in the end while the ADQ gained a bit of ground, the anti-Liberal vote coalesced around the PQ. The Liberals suffered a massive swing against them, a swing which, if repeated provincially, would kill off most Liberal MNAs except those on the West Island. The ADQ, on its side, managed to hold its head up high a bit, a respite in their collapse since 2008. They could benefit a bit of the Liberal’s collapse in ridings such as this one, but the reality is that they’re still dying (and would really die if a new centre-right party is created as the buzz says) and that the anti-Liberal vote is still coalesced around the PQ. PQ leader Pauline Marois can breathe a sigh of relief, given that a lot of people had said that if she managed to lose this by-election for the party, her leadership might be at risk. She isn’t very popular, and few people are truly enthusiastic about the prospect of having her replacing Charest by 2013, but she is more popular than Charest who is well on his way to be less popular than the plague by the New Year.
A provincial by-election in the Quebec provincial constituency of Saint-Laurent was held on September 13, 2010 following the resignation of Liberal MNA and former Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis. Premier Jean Charest was very quick in scheduling this election, most likely because it is a safe seat for the Liberal Party where he didn’t risk anything calling it quickly.
Covering Ville Saint-Laurent, a lower middle-class heavily immigrant neighborhood of central northwestern Montreal. Though it was historically far more Francophone, immigration in recent years has made this seat one of Quebec’s most multicultural ridings, with 41.5% of visible minorities, 48.4% immigrants and 51.4% of the voters having a mother tongue other than French or English. Arabs, especially Lebanese, are the most important minority in Saint-Laurent. Predictably, Saint-Laurent is one of the Liberal Party’s safest seats in the province (though obviously not the safest, if you know the other seats in the West Island), and has been held by the Liberals its 1966 creation, and always by rather crushing margins. Indeed, the party’s vote fell under 70% only in 2007, 1989 (when the Equality Party pulled 24%), 1976 (when the UN polled 23.1%, in the UN’s year of appeal to Anglophones) and 1966. It is quite telling that Saint-Laurent is where Premier Robert Bourassa ran in 1986 after losing his seat in the 1985 election. Recent immigration has only tightened the Liberal grip on this seat, and also led to a constant decline of the PQ’s vote since the 1980s. In 2008, Dupuis polled 74.39% to the PQ’s 16.65% and the ADQ’s 4.79%.
An immigrant-heavy area is a perfect recipe for low turnout, and in fact turnout in 2008 was a paltry 40.89%, though turnout was well above 50% in 2007 and above 60% in 2003 and before then. If there was one reason to care about this by-election, it was to see how pathetically low turnout would be.
The Liberal candidate was former provincial cabinet minister and Châteauguay MNA (between 1994 and 2007) Jean-Marc Fournier, the PQ candidate was Philippe Leclerc, the ADQ’s candidate was Jose Fiorilo (his third run), the QS candidate was Marie Josèphe Pigeon while the Green candidate was Tim Landry. Jose Fiorilo, the ADQ’s paper candidate, got some press after he managed to get the endorsement of the Montreal Gazette, which was counted as a major blow to the Liberals. That being said, a Liberal win here was never much in doubt, and the only real question was whether the Liberals would get over 65% or 70% of the vote.
Jean-Marc Fournier (Liberal) 64.01% (-10.38%)
Philippe Leclerc (PQ) 17.93% (+1.28%)
Jose Fiorilo (ADQ) 8.36% (+3.57%)
Marie Josèphe Pigeon (QS) 5.08% (+1.61%)
Tim Landry (Green) 4.61%
The Liberals did extremely poorly (in the context of the constituency), winning their lowest share of the vote since the riding’s 1966 creation (excluding the ‘unusual’ elections of 1989 and 1976). Such a swing repeated in the context of a general election would endanger a fair number of Liberal seats and the party could even risk being reduced to its safest seats only. That being said, this riding itself is one of the worst barometers for predicting a province-wide election. Turnout is significantly below provincial average, the party’s strength is significantly different and the demographics are quite at odds with the provincial demographics. A by-election in a safe seat can breed a more significant bleeding of votes away from the governing party to smaller parties, something which is not repeated in an election.
Yet, this riding could be a fair barometer for Quebec’s Anglophone and Allophone seats. The results show that while the anti-Liberal mood is as pronounced in Anglophone and Allophone areas, the Liberal Party’s strongest demographic, though not to the point of indicating a drastic change in these voters’ allegiance. That being said, while the Liberals suffer a massive swing against them, it does not benefit the PQ, which is unsurprising, but rather benefits the ADQ, Greens and to a much smaller extent QS. Obviously, the ADQ’s strong showing, comparatively, could be explained partly by the rather high-profile endorsement it got from the Gazette and it would probably be a bad idea to interpret this as a direct PLQ-ADQ swing in the West Island (though one is possible, given how Anglos and Allophones won’t vote PQ). If anything, it’s the Greenies who stand to benefit the most from a major swing away from the Liberals in these type of seats given that they already have a strong base with wealthier Anglophone voters and could get a fair number of votes from dissatisfied Liberals who still won’t vote PQ.
A provincial by-election in the Quebec provincial constituency of Vachon was held on Monday, July 5. This by-election came as a result of the sudden resignation in December 2009 of incumbent MNA Camil Bouchard of the PQ. The Prime Minister, Jean Charest, scheduled the by-election for July 5, a controversial time for a by-election right at the start of summer and a few days after Quebec’s major moving day on July 1 or the Quebec national day on June 24.
Vachon is located in Montreal’s South Shore and includes part of Longueuil and the former municipality of Saint-Hubert. Vachon is largely a middle-class Francophone area, including some more deprived areas in Saint-Hubert, though the city of Saint-Hubert as become more French suburban in recent years, losing historically English working-class areas. The YES won the constituency in 1995 with 56.8% of the votes. The constituency of Vachon, created in 1980, has been held by the PQ since 1994 after the Liberals held it between 1985 and 1994. David Payne, the PQ’s sole Anglophone MNA, held the seat between 1981 and 1985 and again between 1994 and 2003, when he retired in favour of Camil Bouchard. In 2003, Bouchard won 40.45% against 39.77% for the Liberals, the Liberals having performed very strongly in Montreal’s South Shore as a result of 2002 municipal amalgamations which proved unpopular in cities such as Longueuil. In 2007, Bouchard again narrowly held on with only 34.88% against 34.20% for the ADQ (with the Liberals falling to third with 24.69%), though surviving a swing to the ADQ in traditionally Péquiste suburban ridings in Montérégie. In 2008, he won his first comfortable victory with 48.64% against 32.28% for the Liberals, the ADQ collapsing to only 13.67% of the vote.
The PQ nominated Martine Ouellet, the Liberals nominated former ADQ MNA (for Marguerite-d’Youville, between 2007 and 2008) Simon-Pierre Diamond while his former party nominated Saint-Lambert municipal councillor Alain Dépatie. QS nominated Sébastien Robert, defeated in 2008 running in Marie-Victorin while the Greens nominated Yvon Rudolphe who had already run in Vachon, but back in 1989 (when the Green Party in Quebec was hard-core nationalist). His nomination prompted the Greens’ 2007 and 2008 candidate Denis Durand to run, while perennial candidate Régent Millette (who had already lost 14 elections and by-elections since 1966) also pleased us with a run. Here are the results:
Martine Ouellet (PQ) 59.15% (+10.51%)
Simon-Pierre Diamond (Liberal) 24.34% (-7.94%)
Alain Dépatie (ADQ) 6.61% (-7.06%)
Sébastien Robert (QS) 5.47% (+3.23%)
Yvon Rudolphe (Green) 3.15% (-0.01%)
Denis Durand (Ind Green) 0.74%
Régent Millette (Ind) 0.53%
Turnout was a paltry 29%. The PQ still performed extremely strongly, polling it’s highest share of the vote since the seat’s creation, the previous record being in 1981 – a PQ victory province-wide – when Payne won 57.85%. This result is very strong, even larger than what most had predicted. It highlights the unpopularity of the Charest government, still in the midst of major corruption allegations involving his party and the Quebec construction industry mafia. His approval rating is roughly 20% and trails the PQ badly in polls, though voters are not for that matter wildly in love with the PQ. The general mood remains anti-incumbent, and generally lukewarm (at best) towards Liberals and PQ, though the ADQ, which is dwindling in size and lacks any appeal, fails to benefit, though QS’ strong result, in line with strong polling (6-8%) does likely reflect a bit of this mood.
Four Canadian federal by-elections yesterday were held in four vacant seats: one in Nova Scotia, two in Quebec and one in British Columbia. Two of them had Bloc incumbents, one had an NDP incumbent and one was held by a formerly Conservative Independent. As a result of the by-elections, two are held by the Conservatives, one by the Bloc and one by the NDP. These elections were spectacularly under-the-radar, even more than usual (2007 had the Outremont-Mulcair thing, 2008 had the Bob Rae-Toronto Centre thing, but these were eerily silent).
A by-election was held in the rural Nova Scotian riding of Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, located in western Nova Scotia. Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley (CCMV) is the most conservative area of Nova Scotia, rural and WASP territory at its best. However, being in Nova Scotia, its brand of conservatism is more in line with old Progressive Conservatism than the Conservative Party’s dominant Reform-Alliance brand. It’s a Red Tory area, some might say, and its former MP was just that. Bill Casey, first elected as a PC MP in 1988, defeated in 1993 by a Liberal, elected in 1997 for a second stint and MP since then, joined the Conservative Party after the PC-Alliance merger but he left the party in 2007 due to a rift over the Atlantic Accord. Massively popular, and facing weak Conservative and Liberal opposition in 2008, he was re-elected with a sky-high 69%, higher than what he had ever won running for the PC or Conservatives. He took not only the large majority of Conservative votes, but also a lot of NDP and Liberal votes (as well as Green votes, the Greenies, although irrelevant here, did not oppose him in 2008).
Casey resigned to become a lobbyist for the provincial government, vacating his seat. The Conservatives nominated Scott Armstrong, the NDP nominated Mark Austin, the Liberals nominated Jim Burrows, the Greenies nominated Jason Blanch and Christian Heritage Party leader Jim Hnatiuk also ran.
Scott Armstrong (Conservative) 45.84% (+37.01%)
Mark Austin (NDP) 25.73% (+13.41%)
Jim Burrows (Liberal) 21.32% (+12.87%)
Jason Blanch (Green) 3.30% (+3.30%)
Jim Hnatiuk (CHP) 3.19% (+3.19%)
Kate Graves (Ind) 0.61%
A predictable Conservative victory, but remarkably weak, despite what other say. Casey won over 45% of the vote in all elections since 1997, when he won 43.6% (and 14% for Reform). It might either be a result of low turnout (a whooping 35.7%, still second highest), lower results for non-incumbents lacking a personal vote, or real reticence by some to vote Conservative. The NDP and Liberals returned to better levels, gaining back votes which they had lost to Casey in 2008. Despite the seemingly good Liberal performance, it’s below their result in 2006 (already low), which was the last normal election in CCMV.
A by-election was held in the eastern Montreal riding of Hochelaga, one of the Bloc’s safest seats. The constituency covers some of the city’s poorest and most working-class areas, and the area, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is often known infamously as the city’s ghetto. It’s very white Francophone, thus strongly nationalist. The Bloc has held this seat with huge majorities since 1993.
Incumbent Réal Ménard, who has represented the area since 1993, resigned to run (and win) in the Montreal municipal elections. The Bloc nominated, with some controversy, a rather right-leaning candidate in this left-wing district: former PQ cabinet minister Daniel Paillé. The NDP nominated former trade union leader Jean-Claude Rocheleau, who also ran for the party in 2008. The Liberals nominated Robert David, the Conservatives nominated Stéphanie Cloutier, the Greenies nominated Christine Lebel. The neorhino.ca and Marxist-Leninist nominated candidates, and perennial candidate John C. Turmel chose to run here.
Daniel Paillé (BQ) 51.2% (+1.47%)
Jean-Claude Rocheleau (NDP) 19.5% (+5.06%)
Robert David (Liberal) 14.3% (-6.36%)
Stéphanie Cloutier (Conservative) 10.2% (+1.01%)
Christine Lebel (Green) 3.3% (-0.95%)
Gabrielle Anctil (neorhino.ca) 0.7% (+0.2%)
Christine Dandenault (Marxist-Leninist) 0.5% (+0.12%)
John C. Turmel (Independent) 0.4%
The rumours of a massive discontent with the Bloc candidate and a subsequent massive switch to the NDP was nothing but the usual uneducated rumours spread around, since such things are unlikely to happen. Hochelaga is no Outremont. Bloc support here is solid nationalism or socialism.
A by-election was held in the rural Quebec riding of Montmagny—L’Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup (MIKR). The riding is located on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence, in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, a rural region east of Quebec City on the opposite shore. The riding includes, amazingly enough, the counties (MRC) of Montmagny, L’Islet, Kamouraska and Rivière-du-Loup. The riding, very Catholic and French, is traditionally nationalist, but like most nationalism in this area, it’s a rather soft sentiment (and much more conservative than Bloc nationalism, which leans left) and the provincial Liberals hold all seats representing this area, including the seat of Rivière-du-Loup, the old seat of ADQ leader Mario Dumont. This is a conservative seat, but was not a Conservative seat. Its MP, the Bloquiste Paul Crête, resigned to run (and lose) in the Rivière-du-Loup by-election. The BQ nominated Nancy Gagnon, the Conservatives nominated well-known local mayor Bernard Généreux, the Liberals nominated Marcel Catellier, the NDP nominated François Lapointe and the Greenies nominated Charles Marois.
Bernard Généreux (Conservative) 42.7% (+12.07%)
Nancy Gagnon (BQ) 37.7% (-8.33%)
Marcel Catellier (Liberal) 13.2% (-2.15%)
François Lapointe (NDP) 4.8% (-0.65%)
Charles Marois (Green) 1.7% (-0.49%)
Turnout was highest in MIKR, a whooping 36.6%. The result is not all that surprising, if you look at the hard facts: the Conservative candidate was well-known locally, Mayor of La Pocatière, so one supposes he had a personal vote. He had the support of the provincial Liberals and all their MNAs in this area. The Bloc candidate was only some staffer or something to former MP Paul Crête, who reportedly had a large personal vote in this rather soft nationalist-conservative riding. The area is of course conservative and soft-nationalist, with aspects similar to Beauce (it’s right-wing economic views, in favour of free enterprise and the like). In addition, the Bloc’s vote against the scrapping of the locally unpopular Liberal government’s gun registry may have helped the Conservatives, who voted in favour of scrapping it, a position popular in this rural riding with some hunters.
A by-election was held in New Westminster-Coquitlam, a BC riding in suburban Vancouver. The riding is a traditionally swing riding, though it’s safe to say that it leans NDP. It is around 70% white, not very affluent but not poor either and not very working-class. It is largely residential middle-class, safe to say. The NDP has held this seat since 2006, the Conservatives having won the seat in 2004 primarily due to the fact that the Liberals still polled very well then. The NDP MP, Dawn Black, resigned to run (and win) in the BC provincial election held earlier this year.
The NDP nominated Fin Donnelly, the Conservatives nominated Diana Dilworth, the Liberals nominated Ken Lee and the Greenies nominated Rebecca Helps.
Fin Donnelly (NDP) 49.6% (+7.8%)
Diana Dilworth (Conservative) 35.8% (-3.0%)
Ken Lee (Liberal) 10.3% (-1.3%)
Rebecca Helps (Green) 4.3% (-2.9%)
The Conservative candidate seems to have run a poor campaign, thus this result. Of course, it could be caused by the 30% turnout as well. Unarguably, a strong win for the NDP in a rather marginal NDP area. The Conservatives, of course, did very well in BC in the 2008 election, pretty much maxing out according to most, so they probably had little room for even more growth. The Liberals and Greens did badly, and I suspect most of their lost voters (who did vote yesterday) voted NDP.
Overall, the Conservatives won 35.7%, the NDP 24.4%, the Bloc 20.8%, the Liberals 14.8% and the Greenies 3.1%. In 2008, the Bloc came on top of the overall vote. The numbers indicate a strong night for the Conservatives, who gained two seats, and also the NDP, which had an almost perfect night (except for a small loss in percentage in MIKR, but who cares they’d say). The Liberals and Bloc had a bad night. I would put emphasis on the bad night for the Liberals, who despite actually gaining a bit from their 2008 result in these seats (thanks to CCMV), did really poorly elsewhere, even in seat like New Westminster-Coquitlam where they had already done awful in 2008. It’s a poor reflection on Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal Party. Also a bad night for the Greens, but they always do poorly in by-elections, so no biggie. Though I do predict they won’t gain much in the next federal election, whenever it will be.
A by-election was held in the Quebecois provincial constituency of Rousseau, located on the North Shore of Montreal, split between the regions of the Laurentides and Lanaudière. The by-election, on which I gave more details in an introductory post a week or so ago. To re-state the main point of my small schpeel, the by-election is held to replace PQ MNA François Legault, who recently resigned. The seat is a staunchly sovereigntist albeit quite conservative (it’s a rural area after all) seat, and thus a PQ stronghold despite a small scare in 2007 by the right-wing ADQ. Legault won 56.8% in his most recent election, 2008.
Nicolas Marceau (PQ) 56.92% (+0.15%)
Michel Fafard (Liberal) 30.94% (+8.61%)
Jean-Pierre Parrot (ADQ) 4.67% (-11.74%)
François Lépine (QS) 4.39% (+1.44%)
Guy Rainville (Green) 3.08% (+1.03%)
PQ hold (Swing: 4.38% from PQ to Liberal)
As expected, a comfortable victory for Nicolas Marceau and the PQ. However, the Liberals seem to have benefited the most from the collapse of the ADQ, which polled shit in a riding that’s generally above-average for them. Indeed, the ADQ is probably on life support right now and it’s dirty leadership contest between Eric Caire and Gilles Taillon isn’t helping the party’s fortunes much. Without Mario Dumont, the party, which was Super Mario’s personal machine in practice, is worthless. Its remaining MNAs ought to be considering joining the Liberals (or PQ) now to save their seats. It is almost a quasi-certainty that for the next few years, politics in the province will return to a traditional PQ vs. Liberal show-down.
Two by-elections were also held last night in Saskatchewan, both in safe NDP urban seats: Regina Douglas Park, an artsy area; and Saskatoon Riversdale, a low-income inner city area. The NDP predictably held both seats, but the conservative Saskatchewan Party, which currently forms the popular government in the province, did quite well. Here are the results:
Dwain Lingenfelter (NDP) 50.24% (-1.78%)
Kathleen Peterson (SaskP) 42.12% (+11.55%)
Victor Lau (Green) 7.64% (+3.8%)
NDP hold (Swing: 6.67% from NDP to SaskP)
Danielle Chartier (NDP) 53.04% (-3.07%)
Corey O’Soup (SaskP) 42.24% (+9.76%)
Eileen Gelowitz (Liberal) 2.66% (-5.4%)
Tobi-Dawne Smith (Green) 2.06% (+0.13%)
NDP hold (Swing: 6.42% from NDP to SaskP)
September is a busy month here in Canada for electoral politics, both at the provincial and federal levels. I’ll wait until the end of the week to see what is in store for us at the federal level, with the possibility of a snap federal election around the corner. However, there are a total of five provincial by-elections being held in September, in four different provinces. There has been no national media coverage of any of these elections, obviously, not even one here in Ontario. However, that doesn’t make them any less interesting.
Calgary-Glenmore (Alberta) votes tomorrow, September 14, to replace outgoing Progressive Conservative MLA Ron Stevens. Calgary-Glenmore is an affluent safe Conservative seat in southwest Calgary, which is represented federally by Stephen Harper. In 2008, Ron Stevens won 50.67% of the vote against Avalon Roberts, the Liberal candidate, who won 33.17%. The Wildrose Alliance, a right-wing provincial party (to the right of the PCs) won 8.07%. The Greens won 4.33% and the NDP won 3.76%. Avalon Roberts, renominated as the Liberal candidate, will face Alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart of the PC. Two party leaders are also candidates, Paul Hinman for the Wildrose Alliance and Len Skowronski for SoCred. There is a NDP candidate, but no Green candidate. Most analysts doubt that this seat will change hands, but the PC could be in for a cold shower due to rising discontent with the provincial government’s handling of the economic crisis. In addition, Paul Hinman, a businessman, is a good candidate for the Wildrose Alliance, which hopes to drop its rural redneck image for a more cosmopolitan profile. A good showing by Hinman on the back of PC voters could make this race an interesting race to watch, for once that Albertan elections are interesting.
St. Paul’s (Ontario) votes on September 17. St. Paul’s is a relatively white (by local standards) and affluent constituency in the northern area of downtown Toronto. While it used to be Conservative provincially except for the period between 1987 and 1995 (Liberal until 1990, NDP until 1995), the Liberals won it in 1999 and have held it with nice margins since. The Liberals win the heavily Italian areas to the west, but also the east of the riding, which is home to relatively affluent young professionals. The Conservative polls are mostly in the centre of the riding, in the uber-rich area of Forest Hills. If the Conservatives appealed to young professionals, they could definitely win this seat again. In 2007, the Liberal won 47.5% against 26.6% for the PC, while the NDP and Greens won 15.7% and 8.3% respectively. The Liberal candidate is a former federal Liberal candidate in Haldimand-Norfolk and a former CEO of War Child Canada. Sue-Ann Levy, a Jewish lesbian but strongly conservative, is the PC candidate. The NDP and Greens are also running candidates, in addition to a host of independents and joke party candidates, including John Turmel running for the 70th time (and his 69th actual election). The Liberals will win it handily.
Rousseau (Quebec) votes on September 21. The riding of Rousseau is a largely rural riding on the north shore (of the St. Lawrence), with some parts in the Laurentides region and others in Lanaudière. The riding is strongly nationalist, voting with over 60% of the vote for independence in 1995, but, like most of the region, quite conservative. The incumbent MNA was the Pequiste (nationalist) François Legault, a Air Transat executive-turned-cabinet-minister who became known for his dislike of being in the opposition (despite being, imo, a fine representative) and his soft nationalism. After sweating a bit in 2007, when most of the surrounding ridings went from PQ cyan to ADQ navy blue, he was handily re-elected in 2008 with 56.77% against 22.33% for the Liberal candidate. The conservative ADQ won 16.41%, Quebec solidaire (QS, a nationalist and democratic socialist party) won 2.44% and the Greens 2.05%. The PQ candidate is Nicolas Marceau, an economist. The Liberals, ADQ and QS are running their 2008 candidates, while the Greens are running their leader, Guy Rainville. The ADQ seems to have put a bit of effort into the riding, though with the party declining ever so slowly into irrelevance, they’ll probably have a cold shower. The PQ should have little trouble winning this seat, despite a Liberal lead provincially.
Regina Douglas Park and Saskatoon Riversdale (Saskatchewan) also vote on September 21. Both seats were held by the opposition NDP, Saskatoon Riversdale being the seat of former NDP Premier Lorne Calvert. While Regina Douglas Park is a mid-income slightly artsy place, Saskatoon Riversdale covers a mostly low-income area of Saskatoon. In both seats, the NDP blew the conservative Saskatchewan Party and the irrelevant Liberals and Greenies out of the water in 2007 – and broke 60% in Saskatoon Riversdale. Despite SaskParty Premier Brad Wall’s popularity, the NDP should face little trouble in either by-election and will likely see its new leader, Dwain Lingenfelter win Regina Douglas Park in a landslide.