Quebec 2012

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.

Regional Results

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 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

Posted on September 8, 2012, in Canada, Quebec, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. There is an alternative regional breakdown on my blog if you wish to use it.

  2. Robert Glkedhill

    This was an excellent and in depth analysis of the Quebec election.

  1. Pingback: Quebec 2014 | World Elections

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