Category Archives: Quebec

Quebec 2014

Provincial general elections were held in Quebec on April 7, 2014. All 125 members of the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), elected by first-past-the-post in single-member constituencies (riding, or comtés/circonscriptions in French), were up for reelection. Right before the last provincial election in 2012, I posted an election preview which included a political history of Quebec and profiles of all the main parties; most of the information in there should naturally still be accurate and provides a useful backgrounder to the main issues in Quebec politics and the provincial parties.


These elections came less than two years after the September 4, 2012 provincial elections, which returned a minority government led by the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ) under Premier Pauline Marois. The PQ, which ostensibly seeks the independence of Quebec, won a minority government with 54 seats out of 125. Although he was personally defeated in his own riding of Sherbrooke, Premier Jean Charest’s governing Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), which had been in power since 2003, performed better than anyone could have expected. Although polls taken right before the election showed the PLQ lingering in third place between François Legault’s new centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), the Liberals came within a hair of actually winning the election, and ended up very close behind the PQ both in terms of votes and seats – 31.2% of the vote, against 31.9% for the PQ, and 50 seats. The CAQ had a good result in the popular vote, taking 27.1%, but the nature of FPTP and their rather inefficient vote distribution meant that the party ended up with only 19 seats.

The Liberals’ third term in office had proven extremely difficult for them, and they entered the 2012 election at a net disadvantage. Although Quebec’s economic situation between 2008 and 2012 was comparatively strong given the global economic situation, the Liberals faced major corruption scandals, voter fatigue and student protests. Quebec politics at the municipal and provincial levels have been rocked by a series of corruption scandals, many of them in the construction industry, which is now being investigated by the Charbonneau Commission, a public inquiry launched by Charest’s government in October 2011. The bulk of the commission’s work thus far has focused on corruption at the municipal level, revealing the existence of cartels of construction contractors which monopolized public works projects in cities such as Montreal in return for kickbacks to the mafia, municipal employees and municipal politicians. The mayors of Montreal and Laval, Quebec’s largest and third largest cities, were forced to resign following some of the revelations at the commission directly involved them. It is also clear, however, that similar cartels and corrupt dealings exist(ed) at the provincial level, albeit under a slightly different system because most public works projects are designed and supervised by private engineering firms employed by the Ministry of Transportation. Developers and construction contractors, and ‘figurehead employees’ (to circumvent electoral laws), illegally contributed to political parties at the municipal and provincial level, with the PLQ and PQ receiving the lion’s share of illegal contributions. It has also been alleged that engineering firms and contractors used public funds to make their contributions to political parties (contractors were compensated by being granted fake cost overruns by engineering firms). In November 2012, an investigator for the commission found that several high-ranking provincial politicians, including senior cabinet ministers in then-Premier Charest’s government, were invited to exclusive dinners or events at a private club in Montreal by contractors. Notably, two Liberal cabinet ministers were found to have contractors tied to construction cartels and the Rizzuto mafia clan (a Sicilian clan which controlled the Montreal mafia underworld from the 1980s until 2006-2007). Charest refused to give in to mounting public pressure to call a public inquiry into the construction industry, weakening his personal and political credibility, before finally doing an about-turn in late 2011.

In spring 2012, the Liberal government’s decision to increase post-secondary tuition fees by 75% over five years (from $2,168 in 2012 to $3,793 in 2017, increasing by $325 every year) sparked major student protests, which earned the sobriquet printemps québécois or printemps érable (‘Quebecois spring’ or ‘maple spring’). The government claimed that the tuition increase was required to alleviate the underfinancing of the province’s universities, while student federations found it unacceptable given the rising burden of student debt. Some student leaders demanded free post-secondary education. Unable to resolve the growing crisis, the Liberal government, in May 2012, adopted a controversial law – Bill 78 – which restricted freedom of assembly and protest without prior police approval.

Despite the PLQ’s countless challenges and voter fatigue after nine years in power, the PQ very much won by default. In 2011 and 2012, PQ leader Pauline Marois, who took the reins of the party after its third-place result in the 2007 election, faced a major challenge to her leadership within PQ ranks. In June 2011, 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, these resignations also symbolized the unease of certain of the PQ’s purs et durs (hardline supporters of sovereignty) with Marois’ decision to put the national question on the backburner for a while. The ranks of those who stepped down included Pierre Curzi and Lisette Lapointe (the wife of former Premier Jacques 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. Marois weathered the crisis, although at the cost of some concessions to the hardline nationalist opinion within the PQ (a “popular initiative referendum”, where 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; the extension of language legislation to post-secondary college education, or Cégep). As a result of a lackluster campaign heavily marred by kerfuffles over these and other issues (notably an ill-advised suggestion that Anglophones or allophones with poor French-language skills should be barred from running in elections), the PQ failed to win a majority government and it ended up with only 31.9% of the vote, which was actually down 3.2% on the 2008 election, in which the PLQ won a majority government.

Elected with an uncertain mandate and the support of only a minority of the National Assembly, Marois’ government needed to tread carefully as far as governing went but also to govern in a way which would allow the PQ to return to the voters seeking a majority mandate. Pauline Marois’ government had trouble finding its cruising altitude. Her government began with the immediate cancellation of the tuition fee increase, the repeal of most articles of Law 78 and the closing of the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant. The latter decision was met with significant local opposition in Bécancour, where Gentilly-2 was located. The new government also took action against corruption, passing integrity laws for construction contracts (contractors bidding will have to obtain a ‘certificate of good ethics’), limiting individual contributions to parties to $100 (down from $1,000, a 1977 law passed by René Lévesque’s first PQ government banned donations from corporations and unions) and passing a law allowing courts to provisionally remove mayors and councillors from office if they are charged during their terms.

The PQ government was rapidly forced to break a number of major campaign promises. In October 2012, finance minister Nicolas Marceau announced that the PQ would not, unlike it had promised in the election, abolish a controversial $200 health tax created by the PLQ government. Instead, the PQ government made the health tax progressive, with those earning less than $18,000 being exempted while those earning over $150,000 would pay $1,000, with intermediate levels in between. The government raised taxes on those earning over $100,000 to 25.75%, a 1.75% increase. The first PQ government budget, announced in November 2012, projected a return to a balanced budget in FY 2013-2014. Savings would be achieved by capping increases in government spending to 1.8% in 2013-14 and 2.4% in 2014-5, increased taxes on alcohol and the loss of 2,000 jobs through attrition at Hydro-Québec. In 2013, the government’s cuts and reforms in social welfare measures and programs was criticized by numerous social organizations.

In its 2014-2015 budget, the government did not achieve a balanced budget and delayed a return to ‘fiscal balance’ until FY 2015-2016. The budget included an increase in the fees of Quebec’s generous subsidized daycare system (from $7 to $8 a day).

The government held a post-secondary education summit with student federations in February 2013. While student federations wanted either free post-secondary education or a tuition fee freeze (as they had been between 1994 and 2007), the PQ decided on a “3% indexation of tuition fees”, or, in other terms, an increase of about $70 every year. The PQ had the chutzpah to portray it as “another kind of freeze” because increases will be offset by increases in income, even if that isn’t really the case (largely because it isn’t an actual indexation). Student organizations, including those (the FÉUQ and FÉUC) who had participated in the summit (the more leftist ASSÉ, which supports free tuition, demonstrated outside the summit and boycotted the event), criticized the government’s decision. Any goodwill for the PQ from the anti-fee hike students evaporated.

In 2012, the PQ opposition had roundly criticized the Charest government’s Plan Nord, a plan for over $80 billion in public and private investments over 25 years to promote economic development, sustainable development and growth in the province’s northern regions. The plan was criticized by environmentalists and others who decried the low royalties for mining companies and fears that the government was ‘selling off’ Quebec’s natural resources to foreign mining companies. In government, the PQ effectively readopted the PLQ’s plan, with minor changes. On mining royalties, the PQ announced in May 2013 a much lower set of expectations: under their new plan, the government would receive $690 million less than they originally projected.

The Liberals, in opposition, were called to chose a new permanent leader at a leadership convention in March 2013. Philippe Couillard, a neurosurgeon who served as health minister between 2003 and 2008 in Charest’s cabinet, and was, until his retirement in 2008, often suggested as a potential successor to Charest, took the somewhat surprising decision to reenter politics. As the candidate with the highest profile, Couillard easily won the PLQ leadership, winning 58.5% on the first ballot against 22% for Pierre Moreau, a former transportation minister under Charest and 19.5% for Raymond Bachand, Charest’s finance minister between 2005 and 2013.

In July 2013, a freight train carrying crude oil derailed in central Lac-Mégantic, a town in the Eastern Townships, killing 47 people and causing massive devastation to the town. The provincial government’s response, which included the announcement of a $60 million aid package for Lac-Mégantic, was positively received. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the PQ government seemed to have found its cruising altitude.

The issue of national identity and, closely connected to that, the status of the French language, has been a highly contentious matter in Quebec. In 1977, the first PQ government under René Lévesque passed Bill 101 (loi 101 or Charter of the French Language), which made French the official language of work in the public and private sectors, education, advertising and in courts. The new bill restricted access to English schools to those children whose father and/or mother had received most of their instruction in English. While Bill 101 is largely popular with Francophones in Quebec, it has been heavily criticized by Anglophones in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. In 1988, the PLQ government of Robert Bourassa adopted Bill 178, which used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause to impose unilingual French advertising outside private businesses. In 2009, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down a clause of Bill 104 (which strengthened language of education rules, limiting access to English schools and closing loopholes used by some to send their children to English schools), passed by Bernard Landry’s PQ government with the support of all opposition parties in 2002. In the 2012 campaign, the PQ had proposed extending Bill 101’s provisions to the Cégeps, two-year post-secondary collegiate institutions, and to all businesses with over 11 employees (until then, it was applicable for businesses employing more than 50 people). In April 2013, the PQ government proposed Bill 14, which would have extended Bill 101 to businesses with 26-49 employees, removing the bilingual status granted to municipalities which now have less than 50% of Anglophones, removing the language of education exemption for military families and enforcing French as the language of communication in the public, para-public, healthcare and social sectors. Lacking support from the PLQ or the CAQ, the PQ was forced to withdraw the bill.

Far more controversial, however, was the PQ’s Charter of Values (Charte des valeurs québécoises). The PQ presented its project as a defense and affirmation of laïcité (secularism), and the Charter’s most notable proposal was to ban all public servants from wearing conspicuous religious symbols (veil, cross, turban, hijab, kippah) and public servants would need to be religiously neutral. Critics accused the PQ of inventing a problem which didn’t actually exist, or using laïcité  as a pretext to stigmatize minorities (particularly Muslims). Others felt that the PQ was proposing ‘two-speed laïcité‘ because the party supported keeping the crucifix (very much a visible and conspicuous religious symbol) in the National Assembly.

The federal NDP, federal Liberals and the federal Conservative government all expressed opposition to the Charter; the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, the Bar of Quebec, McGill University, the Université de Montréal, the Université de Sherbrooke and many academics have also opposed the Charter. Notably, both men behind the Bouchard-Taylor commission, came out against the Charter. Polls have shown a narrow plurality/majority of Quebecers, and a larger (but not overwhelming) majority of Francophones support the Charter.

The PQ’s Charter was the party’s response to a long-running debate on ‘reasonable accommodations’ in Quebec, which has been a hot-button issue in the province in the last 10 years. Between 2006 and 2007, several incidents of religious groups demanding special ‘accommodations’ incensed public opinion in Quebec – a court decision allowing a Sikh student to wear a kirpan to school, Hasidim Jews asking for tinted windows at a local YMCA in Montreal (so that children would not see women in athletic clothes), Muslims asking for a prayer room at work, a Muslim girl wearing a hijab in a soccer match and so forth. Responding to the controversy, the Charest government created a commission, the Bouchard-Taylor commission, to debate the issue of reasonable accommodations in 2007. In 2008, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission’s final report recommended that government employees with coercive powers (police offices, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens but not teachers) be barred from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, but also that the crucifix be removed from the National Assembly and to ban opening prayers at municipal councils. The Charest government rejected the commission’s proposals, and the PLQ government completed its terms without doing anything on the issue. In 2012, the PQ had announced that it would draft a Charter of Quebec values and secularism if elected. The issue of ‘reasonable accommodations’ has been used as a wedge issue by a good number of politicians, especially in the old Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), a conservative third party whose shocking second place showing in 2007 (ahead of the PQ) was often assigned to the debate on reasonable accommodations, or the PQ.

The PQ has been accused of using the Charter as an electoral wedge issue, catering to a conservative and suburban/rural Francophone Catholic electorate’s primal fear of multiculturalism or (Muslim) immigration. The PQ’s opponents have in turn compared the PQ to the far-right FN in France, which is a very unfair comparison, regardless of one’s view on the Charter. The PQ has, especially under René Lévesque, traditionally been a fairly progressive civic nationalist party; a far cry from the conservative, Catholic, inward-oriented nationalism of survivance which existed prior to the Quiet Revolution. Nevertheless, given history and persistent concerns (real or exaggerated or imagined) about the status of the French language, there has always been a dose of cultural nationalism in the PQ’s generally civic nationalist outlook. The Charter does represent a move away from civic nationalism towards cultural nationalism, although one which remains couched in ostensibly progressive and liberal nationalist rhetoric (secularism). It is, above all, however, an electoralist ploy and wedge issue designed by the PQ to please the base, mobilize the PQ’s traditional electorate and seize the advantage over the PLQ and the CAQ.

François Legault’s CAQ said that it supported some kind of charter of secularism, but denounced the PQ’s electoralist use of the Charter and felt that it went too far. The CAQ suggested that government employees with coercive or moral (school principals) authority be banned from wearing religious symbols.

The PLQ is uncomfortable on identity. The PLQ is the party of choice for Quebec’s Anglophone and allophone minorities, therefore, unlike the PQ/CAQ, it must be careful of not burning bridges with them by supporting linguistic legislation or identity projects which are strongly opposed by linguistic minorities. Although the Liberal Party’s hold on the minority vote is extremely solid, there remains the precedent of 1989, when the Equality Party won 4 seats (all Anglophone seats on Montreal’s West Island) in reaction to the Bourassa Liberals’ language legislation (Bill 178 etc). On the other hand, the PLQ has a sizable Francophone electorate to appeal to, which is susceptible to supporting some sort of soft nationalism. Indeed, the Charter badly hurt and divided the PLQ. For months, the Liberals lacked a clear position on the issue. In October 2013, Liberal leader Philippe Couillard stated that he would never work with the PQ in adopting the Charter, but he remained uncomfortable on the issues which the Charter rose, notably public servants wearing religious symbols. In November 2013, Liberal MNA Marc Tanguay said that the PLQ would, hypothetically, accept a candidate who wore an Iranian-style chador. His colleague, Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin, the only Muslim member, publicly criticized Tanguay’s comments. A longstanding opponent of political Islam and religious extremism, Houda-Pépin supported banning government employees with coercive authority from wearing religious symbols. Then, Couillard himself contradicted Tanguay, saying that, no, the Liberals wouldn’t accept a woman wearing a chador as a candidate.

In January 2014, Houda-Pépin quit the Liberal caucus to sit as an independent MNA. She could not bring herself to agree with the PLQ’s opposition to the Charter. The whole affair was terribly handled by Couillard and the PLQ leadership; hitherto a relatively little-known backbencher, Houda-Pépin was allowed to gain a significant presence in the media by opposing the party line and reinforcing views that the PLQ was badly divided over the Charter and lacked a coherent position on the issue.

Premier Pauline Marois called an election for April 7 on March 5. After opting against calling a snap election for December 2013, it looked very likely that the PQ government would fall on the budget, given the PLQ and CAQ’s opposition to Nicolas Marceau’s 2014-5 budget.

Parties, Issues and Campaigns

The PQ entered the campaign clearly seeking a majority government from voters. The PQ trailed the Liberals in polls between March and December 2013, with the PLQ leading the PQ by up to 10 points in poll. The PQ managed to close the gap beginning in the fall of 2013, reducing the PLQ’s advantage to single digits and finally stealing the lead from the PQ in the New Year. A CROP poll in mid-February 2014 showed the PQ leading the PLQ by 6 points, 40 to 34, which would have been enough for a PQ majority. The first polls during the campaign showed a close race in the popular vote, with a statistical tie or narrow PQ lead (up to 2 points). However, given that the PLQ’s vote is inefficiently distributed, a tied race in Quebec translates into a PQ lead in terms of seats. In 1998, the PQ narrowly lost the popular vote to the PLQ but it was reelected with a majority government.

The PQ remains committed, on paper, to the independence of Quebec. The PQ’s platform opened with the traditional commitment to ‘make Quebec a country’. In reality, however, the prospects of an independent Quebec are low: support for independence is stuck at around 40%, there is no public interest outside nationalist circles for a third referendum and a lot of ‘soft nationalist’ voters (who voted or would have voted oui in 1995) have lost interest in the cause and are more interested in daily life issues. The federal Bloc Québécois’ massive defeat at the hands of the NDP in the 2011 federal election was correctly interpreted by most as a sign that Quebec voters had lost interest in the ‘national question’. The NDP, historically a non-entity in Quebec, attracted a lot of ‘soft nationalists’ (and even not-so-soft nationalists) thanks to the appeal of Jack Layton’s energetic campaign but also the party’s progressive, centre-left politics which is generally a good fit for Quebec (which leans to the left of the rest of Canada on most issues except identity and immigration). The Bloc’s campaign, which doubled down on sovereignty, further alienated voters. To be sure, however, the NDP successfully pulled Tory and Liberal voters as well. In 2012, the PQ’s victory was entirely by default, and owed little to nothing to the PQ’s raison d’être. Pauline Marois, largely to placate the base, promised a vaguely-defined gouvernance souverainiste which, in reality (especially given the minority mandate), amounted to nothing out of the ordinary. The PQ government did disagree with the federal government on issues such as the fed’s reform of employment insurance, but beyond tougher words and pablum, it wasn’t of much importance.

The PQ’s platform clearly stated that it would not hold a referendum until it judged the population to be ready and the moment ‘appropriate’. To placate the base, the PQ promised to draft a ‘white book on the political future of Quebec’ and submit it to the people for ‘consultation’; to fight the fed’s interference and assuming all powers at its disposal. On the campaign trail, the PQ largely sought to downplay the referendum question. Instead, it emphasized the Charter, protecting the French language (likely adopting Bill 14) and affirming Quebec’s culture.

On economic issues, the PQ largely relied on the aborted budget, which focused on limiting growths in public spending, cutting spending in many ministries and some fee/tariff increases (daycares, from $7 to $9, electricity bills) to eliminate the deficit in 2015-2016. They promised 115,000 new jobs in 3 years, resource development (allowing oil exploration on Anticosti Island), assisting export-oriented companies and income and payroll tax cuts once the budget is balanced.

The PQ thought that it had recruited the top star candidate in Pierre Karl Péladeau, a media mogul who announced his candidacy for the PQ in Saint-Jérôme. Péladeau, colloquially known as PKP, was the president of Québecor Inc., a media and communications giant with a revenue of $4.28 billion in 2013. Québecor owns Vidéotron, one of Quebec’s main cable television, wireless internet and phone providers; TVA Group, centered around TVA, the single largest French-language TV channel in Quebec; Sun Media, the owner of many local tabloid newspapers across Canada including Le Journal de Montréal (a populist tabloid which is Quebec’s most popular newspaper), Le Journal de Québec (the third largest newspaper in Quebec) but also the Sun conservative tabloids (Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Ottawa Sun etc), local/regional dailies (The London Free Press, The Kingston Whig-Standard);, a web portal; and Groupe Archambault, Quebec’s largest music (but also books, DVDs, magazines etc) retailer. Québecor also owns, through TVA Group and Sun Media, the Sun News Network, a conservative news channel launched in 2011 which self-describes as a ‘less politically correct’ and ‘straight talk’ channel (it is often referred to as ‘Fox News North’). Ironically, the Sun newspapers in English Canada are known for their strongly anti-separatist stances. Overall, Québecor’s newspapers account for about 31% of the average daily circulation of all newspapers in Canada (in 2012).

As part of an expansion into sports, Péladeau acquired naming and management rights for Quebec City’s new indoor arena (the city hopes to regain its NHL franchise). The city’s decision was contested in court by a former city manager, and in 2011, the National Assembly passed Bill 204, forbidding any judicial challenges. The PQ’s support of the bill, alongside the PLQ government, led to the 2011-2012 crisis in the PQ. Péladeau’s father, Pierre Péladeau, was openly nationalist, but PKP was fairly quiet about his own politics. Prior to the election, there were persistent rumours that PKP would run for the PQ, which he initially denied.

Péladeau was always a risky bet, since he public perceptions of the man in Quebec aren’t universally positive, especially on the left. In 2009, Québecor locked out over 200 unionized employees of Le Journal de Montréal, and employed strike-breakers to continue publishing the newspaper. As a powerful businessman and media mogul, his politics unsurprisingly lean towards the right. In recruiting Péladeau, the PQ knowingly took the risk of further alienating firmly left-wing nationalist voters away from the PQ, in exchange for attracting centrists and right-leaning nationalists/soft nationalists, primarily from the CAQ.

In his first speech as a PQ candidate, Péladeau enthusiastically declared, in the form of a fist pump, his ambition to ‘make Quebec a country’. Péladeau’s fist pump reignited the issue of a third referendum, which proved a clear liability for the PQ given that the majority of voters do not want a third referendum. The PQ’s campaign was badly hurt by Péladeau’s fist pumping, forcing the PQ to reiterate that there would no referendum and, in the first debate, Marois restated the PQ’s position that it would only hold a referendum when ‘the people is ready’ and took no commitment to hold a referendum during the next government’s term. Nevertheless, the can of worms had been opened. The PQ fell badly behind the PLQ in polls after PKP’s candidacy.

Instead, the PQ shifted focus back over to the Charter, hoping to successfully use it as a wedge issue to weaken the PLQ and take voters from the CAQ. But the PQ’s Charter focus was hit by three incidents. Firstly, at the end of March, Janette Bertrand, a popular feminist comedian and writer, spoke at a PQ event to promote the Charter. She stressed that the Charter was essential to ensuring gender equality and that there was a religious fundamentalist ‘danger’ if it was not adopted. Then she told a story about ‘two men’ (rich, presumably Arab, students from McGill) who obtain from the apartment building’s owner a special men’s-only day at the pool, and several months later, Bertrand said, they have the pool all the time. She used this largely invented story (which has only one fact: that Bertrand goes to the pool at her apartment building to do aqua-gymnastics) to describe ‘le grugeage‘ (process of ‘chewing’ or ‘nibbling’) and the dangers of the absence of the Charter. Besides, the Charter would not apply to private businesses like Bertrand’s apartment building. Her comments were widely criticized. Later, Marois stated that she would use, if necessary, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause to protect her Charter, after months of PQ claims that the Charter was compatible with the federal Charter. Finally, Marois confirmed that public employees could be fired if they did not respect the Charter’s secular dress code.

Panicking, the PQ tried to latch on to stupid and irrelevant issues. It accused Couillard, who worked as a neurosurgeon in Saudi Arabia, of not sufficiently criticizing the Kingdom’s human rights record. It then played on ‘alleged electoral irregularities’, with reports of ‘abnormally high’ numbers of Anglophones and allophones seeking to register to vote, so obviously the PQ blew the issue out of proportion with concern trolling.

The PLQ focused its campaign on economic issues, under the slogan ensemble on s’occupe des vraies affaires (together, addressing of the real issues); the term ‘real issues’ was also a direct criticism of the PQ’s alleged focused on identity politics, the threat of a third referendum and nationalism – which the PLQ implicitly defined as less important issues.

In terms of actual proposals, the PLQ’s platform (or the equivalent thereof, there does not seem to be a single document acting as platform, but rather a financial breakdown of major promises and a series of commitments, some of them micro-targeted to certain regions) focused on rather populist economic proposals to help create jobs and oriented towards the ‘middle class’. Like the PQ, the PLQ supported a rigorous management of government spending (a $1.3 billion in cuts) to return to a balanced budget as soon as possible. But it accused the PQ of mismanaging the economy, of having a poor record on job creation and cutting infrastructure spending instead of cutting in government administration. It proposed creating over 250,000 jobs over 5 years, reestablishing funding for the maintenance and modernization of infrastructures (cut by the PQ), introduce a tax credit for home renovations, creating a property savings plan to help people purchase their first homes, relaunching the Plan Nord (which the PLQ accuses the PQ of having destroyed), an ‘aggressive export strategy’ (to take advantage of the new FTA with the EU, and NAFTA), tax cuts and debt reduction with a budget surplus, a gradual elimination of the health tax over 4 years beginning in 2016-17, an indexation of daycare daily fees, reducing the bureaucracy in education and healthcare to ‘invest in patients and students’ and opening 24/7 ‘super clinics’. The PLQ also made a big deal of their ‘Maritime Strategy‘, with investments of over $7 billion, 30,000 new jobs and profits of over $3.5 billion over 15 years in Gaspésie, the Magdalen Islands and the Côte-Nord. The PLQ’s landmark strategy talked about developing maritime transport, tourism and supporting the fisheries industry. The PQ and independent economists criticized the PLQ’s costings and platform, notably for relying on predictions of high economic growth and unfounded assumptions.

To reinforce the party’s economic focus, the PLQ recruited a number of candidates with economic or financial backgrounds.

In their commitments, the PLQ makes no specific mention of language and identity issues, besides the usual platitudes. There is also no mention of the Charter or the issues that it raised; the PLQ is against the PQ’s Charter, but it is vague on what it wants instead. It talked of ‘guidelines’ for religious accommodations, and leaving it up to police chiefs to determine whether their officers may wear religious headgear and other symbols. Because of the PLQ’s extremely vague positioning on language issues and Couillard’s statements about bilingualism being an asset, the PQ and CAQ said that Couillard was incapable of defending Quebec values and the French language.

The PLQ also talked little of corruption and integrity, besides vaguely assuring voters that things had changed. During the second televised leaders debate, Couillard was attacked for his one-time association with Arthur Porter, the former head of the McGill University Health Center, who faces criminal charges over an alleged $22 million fraud and kickback scheme. He was arrested by Interpol in Panama in May 2013 and is awaiting extradition to Canada. He was also criticized for keeping an offshore bank account in Jersey while he was a doctor in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, which, while not illegal, gives a bad reputation.

The CAQ began the electoral campaign in an unfavourable position. After the party won 27% (but only 19 seats) in 2012, the CAQ began its campaign with only 15 to 16% support in polls, and in polls in the early half of the campaign, its support fell further to lows of 12-14%. Given the party’s rather inefficient vote distribution, such a low result could see the CAQ win only 4-6 seats, and CAQ leader François Legault faced a tough challenge from the PQ in his riding of L’Assomption, an historically péquiste area. The CAQ was also hurt by the retirement of two of its first term MNAs: Hélène Daneault (Groulx) and, above all, Jacques Duchesneau (Saint-Jérôme). Duchesneau, a former Montreal police chief and later a leader in the fight against corruption in Quebec since 2009, had been one of Legault’s leading star candidates in 2012 (as part of a heavy focus on integrity and ethics). Legault also lost Gaétan Barrette, a former president of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec (federation of medical specialists), who had run and lost for the CAQ in Terrebonne in 2012. Barrette ran for the PLQ in La Pinière, against ex-PLQ independent incumbent Fatima Houda-Pépin (who was supported by the PQ, which ran no candidate in the solidly Liberal seat).

The CAQ is a vaguely centre-right party, which largely consists of vacuous platitudes balancing out to a right-wing lean. It was founded in 2011 by François Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister and CEO of Air Transat until 1997. Legault resigned his seat as PQ MNA in 2009 but returned to politics with speculation that he would create a new centre-right party, which sought to go beyond the old federalist/separatist debate, opposed a new referendum and focused on more ‘urgent issues’. The conservative Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), founded in 1994 by right-leaning but autonomist/soft nationalist Liberals and a minor party under the leadership of Mario Dumont (the ADQ’s only MNA between 1994 and 2003) until it surged to become the second largest party in 2007. The ADQ, which was totally unprepared for prime team, did horrendously in opposition and the ADQ collapsed to 7 seats (from 41); Mario Dumont quickly retired from the party leadership, leaving the party without its historic leader and badly divided in the wake of a jumbled leadership contest. The ADQ merged into the CAQ; the ADQ’s remaining MNAs, led by ADQ leader Gérard Deltell, became the parliamentary backbone of the CAQ prior to the 2012 election, although it also welcomed three PQ defectors.

In this election, the CAQ presented itself as the ‘party of taxpayers’ and defended a conservative populist platform promising austerity, spending cuts, tax cuts, reducing the size of the bureaucracy but also a large project to make the St. Lawrence Valley into a new Silicon Valley. The CAQ’s platform decried Quebec’s high taxes and economic stagnation. It promised to return to a balanced budget as early as 2014-15, with major spending cuts in government expenditures, abolishing school boards and health agencies, reducing the size of the civil service through a 4-year hiring freeze, adopting a ‘taxpayers charter’ banning tax and utility price increases beyond the rate of inflation, abolishing the health and school taxes (projected to give ‘families’ $1,000), cutting the recent increase in electricity rates by half, limiting future increases in electricity rates and daycare prices to the rate of inflation, ending partisan nominations and exorbitant severance pays and fighting corruption. By cutting bureaucracy, the CAQ says it wants to improve services, notably in healthcare and education.

The CAQ’s landmark project, which headlined its platform, was the St. Lawrence Project, a major plan to turn the St. Lawrence into a ‘valley of innovation’ like the Silicon Valley, focusing on the high-tech and knowledge economy, with the promise of creating 100,000 ‘high quality’ jobs. The platform talked of stimulating investment and innovation, increasing the number of university graduates and a lot of vague statements about plans and policies. The costings for the project and the government’s role therein seemed extremely vague.

The CAQ has a mildly autonomist stance on the national question, which it styled as ‘Quebec first’ (as opposed to the PLQ’s ‘Canada first’ and the PQ’s ‘Quebec only’, in the CAQ’s words). It still opposes a referendum on independence. The CAQ supported the idea of a Charter, guaranteeing the religious neutrality of the province and gender equality, and banning judges, police officers, prison wardens but also school teachers and principals from wearing religious symbols. It also vaguely supported ‘respect for Quebec’s heritage’, which meant opposition to removing the crucifix from the National Assembly and protecting symbols associated with Christian religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter. The CAQ’s platform also wished to limit federal spending power, seek a single tax return for Quebec (Quebec is the only province where taxpayers need to fill out two separate tax returns, for the federal and provincial governments) and eliminating costly duplication of services between the provincial government and Ottawa. While Legault attacked Couillard for his allegedly weak stance on the French language and has stated that French is ‘in danger’ in Montreal, the CAQ’s platform made no specific mention of linguistic legislation.

The CAQ had 122 candidates, failing to put up candidates in Soulanges, Saint-Laurent and Westmount-Saint-Louis.

Québec solidaire (QS), a left-wing nationalist party, was founded in 2006 by the merger of a political party, the Union of Progressive Forces (UFP, itself a coalition of three parties including the former Quebec NDP and the Communist Party of Quebec, PCQ), and a social movement, Option citoyenne. QS describes itself as a feminist, environmentalist, democratic and alter-globalist party supporting social justice, equality, pluralism and the independence of Quebec. QS claims to be the only left-wing party in Quebec, judging that the three major parties have become right-wing neoliberal parties. Since its foundation in 2006, QS has enjoyed significant success at the polls. In 2008, QS elected its first MNA, Amir Khadir, an Iranian-born doctor and one of QS’ two spokesperson at the time. In 2012, QS increased its vote share from 3.8% to 6% and elected its second MNA, Françoise David, a well-known feminist and QS spokesperson. The loss of much of the PQ’s left flank to QS has become a major electoral issue for the PQ, which has been split between strategies to attract left-wing votes from QS or by sacrificing a few left-wing votes to QS in exchange for attracting right-wing votes from the CAQ. The PQ often charges the QS of dividing the nationalist vote and QS voters of ‘wasting their votes’, but the idea that QS voters would just all vote PQ if QS wasn’t there is an extremely faulty one.

QS’ platform focused on three main themes: ‘a fair Quebec’, ‘a free Quebec’ and ‘a green Quebec’. Under the first theme, QS proposed to create additional tax brackets for high incomes, raise corporate taxes, restore the capital tax on financial institutions, offer financial aid to low-income families, move towards free post-secondary education within 5 years, creating a universal public drug insurance program, investing $400 million in healthcare over 4 years, transfer all subsidies from private to public schools by 2020, fighting precarious work conditions, creating a guaranteed minimum income (initially to be set at $12,600), creating 50,000 new green housing units, reducing class sizes and increasing the number and length of paid holidays. QS was the only major party which did not set a balanced budget as a priority; its financial framework called for a 4% annual increase in government expenditures, higher than any of the three other parties, and it opposed the idea of ‘zero deficit at all costs’. On environmental issues, QS supported reducing GHG emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 through a plan to stop using fossil fuels, and QS strongly opposes oil exploration on Anticosti Island, nuclear power and shale oil and gas. On the issue of natural resources, QS’ platform supported nationalizing production of strategic resources, increase the royalties paid by mining companies, strengthen environmental oversight and approval of mining projects. QS has been very critical of the PQ’s record on economic and environmental issues, decrying cuts in social services and programs by the PQ’s austerity-minded budgets and some of the PQ’s environmental policies, notably with regards to Anticosti Island.

QS supports the independence of Quebec, but it calls for it through the election of a constituent assembly which would draft a constitution for Quebec, which would be ratified by voters in a referendum. QS’ platform called for improving First Nations’ rights, opposing current free trade agreements, opposition to ‘imperialism’ and militarism and adopting a MMP electoral system. QS seeks to strengthen Bill 101 by broadening its scope, but QS is pro-immigration and it opposed the PQ’s Charter. QS criticized the Charter for dividing Quebecers and for ‘two-speed’ secularism.

QS had no electoral agreement with Option nationale (ON), a more ‘hardline’ separatist party founded by ex-PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant in 2011. ON’s first priority is independence, and the party’s line is that a ON majority government would be understood as a mandate to break constitutional ties with Canada by repatriating powers over laws, treaties and taxes from Ottawa, before drafting a constitution confirming Quebec’s independence and ratifying said constitution in a referendum. Although ON says that independence is neither left nor right, the rest of ON’s platform leans to the left, similar to QS, supporting free education, the nationalization of natural resources, a public drug insurance program and opposition to private healthcare. In 2011, ON and QS had a non-aggression pact, with neither party opposing the other’s leader(s) in their constituencies. Aussant lost reelection in his riding of Nicolet-Bécancour and ON’s profile in the media declined significantly, and in June 2013 Aussant left ON’s leadership to accept a job at Morgan Stanley in London. The major differences between ON and QS is over the priority assigned to independence: QS supports independence, but it is much less of a priority, often featuring below goals of social justice. ON ran 116 candidates. QS ran candidates in every constituency except Nelligan.

The new Conservative Party of Quebec, founded in 2009, ran 59 candidates. The PCQ is led by Adrien Pouliot, a former ADQ member and conservative economist. It is federalist and right-wing.

The Green Party of Quebec (PVQ), which won 3.9% in 2007 and 2.2% in 2008, has been struggling for years with unstable leadership and poor electoral results. In 2012, the PVQ ran only 66 candidates and won 1% of the vote across the province. Under a new leader, Alex Tyrrell, the party now proclaims itself as an ecosocialist party. The PVQ claims to be the only party uniting federalists and separatists, who place a common emphasis on environmental issues. The PVQ ran only 44 candidates.


Turnout was 71.43%, down from 74.6% in 2012 but still far higher than the 2008 record low, which saw only 57.4%. Compared to other provincial elections, turnout in Quebec’s provincial elections is significantly higher, with turnout in the 70% range since 2003, with the exception of 2008 (an ‘unwanted’ election called by the PLQ to regain a majority government, only a bit after a year from the last election, with no suspense or major issues in the campaign). The higher turnout indicates the greater interest of Quebecers in provincial politics compared to other provinces, which isn’t very surprising.

PLQ 41.52% (+10.32%) winning 70 seats (+20)
PQ 25.38% (-6.57%) winning 30 seats (-24)
CAQ 23.05% (-4%) winning 22 seats (+3)
QS 7.63% (+1.6%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ON 0.73% (-1.16%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green 0.55% (-0.44%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Conservative 0.39% (+0.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 0.36% (+0.09%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.39% (+0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)

qc 2014


The Quebec Liberals, only 18 months after losing power, were returned to government with a wide majority government. What the PQ expected to be an election which would return them to power with a majority government ended up being a major rout for the PQ, which throws the PQ into disarray and forces péquiste leaders and supporters to ask themselves some tough questions.

The 2014 election will go down in history as an excellent example of an horribly run electoral campaign, which turned what could have been a comfortable victory into a terrible rout. The PQ called the election optimistic that it would be able to win a majority government. Since the summer of 2013, after a tough start, Marois’ government had finally found its cruising altitude and had steadily eaten into the Liberal opposition’s sizable lead over the PQ before finally stealing the lead themselves. Polls at election call favoured the PQ: even if the popular vote matchup between the PQ and PLQ was tight, the PQ’s net advantage over the Liberals in the Francophone vote, the historic inefficiency of the Liberal’s vote distribution and the CAQ’s loses allowed the PQ to be confident that it would win a majority. In late February, Marois also sought to take advantage of the PLQ’s disarray bred by the debate over the Charter. PLQ MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin had just left the Liberal caucus with a bang, seriously weakening Couillard’s leadership and giving the image of a party which was divided and incoherent over a major political issue.

In the first days of the campaign, the PQ’s recruitment of Pierre Karl Péladeau as a candidate made headlines and was a major coup for the PQ. In the second half of Marois’ government, the PQ had taken the decision to reorient more towards the centre/centre-right, targeting CAQ voters, at the expense of less important loses on the left to QS. With PKP’s candidacy, the PQ aimed to appeal to CAQ voters and to gain a clear advantage over the PLQ and CAQ on economic issues, strengthening the PQ’s ‘economic credibility’. However, perhaps to calm the queasiness of the PQ’s left-wing and QS, PKP’s entrée en scène came with a stirring declaration of attachment to sovereigntist values (the infamous PKP fist pump and ‘Dean Scream’-like moment of faire du Québec un pays!). To many voters, opposed to a referendum, it really appeared as if the PQ was running on a third referendum if it was reelected. Despite the PQ and Marois’ later reassurances that there was no commitment to a quick referendum within the government’s term and that there would be no referendum until the people were ready and the conditions assembled, the damage had already been done and the incident flash polarized the electorate. The CAQ, which included a lot of voters who had backed the Liberals in 2008 and a plurality of CAQ supporters, in polls, indicated that the Liberals were their second choice, bled towards the PLQ, although some soft nationalists likely shifted from the PQ to the CAQ at this point. At this point, Couillard and the Liberals’ slogan of taking care of les vraies affaires began to benefit the Liberals. The PLQ seized on the fear/threat of an unwanted third referendum, accusing the PQ of focusing on divisive issues and issues of lesser importance rather than the ‘real issues’ (like the economy, healthcare, education, jobs) which polls showed to be the top issues in voters’ minds. The Liberal federalist base was mobilized by the threat of a referendum, even if in reality the threat was no greater than it was pre-PKP fist pump.

Marois applying the brakes on the referendum idea failed to have an effect. The Liberal base was already strongly mobilized. The PQ’s hardcore nationalist base was now losing enthusiasm (again) for Marois and demobilizing. The CAQ regained some lost votes from the PQ, while QS consolidated gains it had made from the PQ’s left after PKP’s candidacy.

The Charter was, by the looks of how the PQ played it, designed to be an electoral wedge issue to benefit the PQ rather than an actual policy which the PQ genuinely wanted to see passed rapidly with a large consensus. If the PQ had wanted to pass the Charter rapidly, it could probably have done so, given that there was wide agreement between the parties on the major goals of the Charter – the secularism of the state, affirmation of gender equality, the ban on receiving public services if one’s face was veiled, covered or masked. Instead, the PQ began using the Charter as a wedge issue, hoping to mobilize a culturally nationalist and conservative electorate, with a primal fear of multiculturalism (defined by many as a threat to Quebec’s French Catholic character) and Muslim immigration. Initially, the PQ was fairly good at playing the Charter as a wedge issue, as evidenced by the major division in the PLQ. However, during the campaign, the PQ’s decision to refocus the rhetoric on the Charter in a hope to forget the referendum frenzy failed. As mentioned above, the Charter blew up in the PQ’s face. On the left, many left-nationalist and progressive voters, strongly opposed to the Charter, moved towards or stayed with QS, which consolidated its gains with the PQ’s urban left/progressive flank. The Janette Bertrand story, the announcement that the PQ might need to use the notwithstanding clause to protect the Charter (despite Bernard Drainville having previously stated that the Charter was in line with the federal Charter) and the confirmation that people would be fired for breaking the Charter’s dress code (an issue on which a lot of people, including Charter supporters, had reservations with). The Charter’s more moderate supporters moved towards the CAQ, and solidified the Liberal hold on its base.

The PQ failed to benefit from the issue of corruption, which had been a major factor in the PLQ’s defeat (of sorts) in 2012. The PQ could no longer exploit the issue because it too had been targeted by some allegations at the Charbonneau commission; Marois’ own husband, a businessman, had come up in allegations of a political deal between him and the FTQ, Quebec’s largest labour union and later in allegations that he had sought donations from engineering firms to Marois’ 2007 PQ leadership campaign. The election call came days before Marois and her husband were due to attend a parliamentary hearing. The Liberals were lucky that the election came before the press revealed that Charest’s former Deputy Premier (Nathalie Normandeau, who resigned in 2012) was at the heart of a criminal conspiracy (construction companies bought themselves favours by illegally funding the PLQ) and that one incumbent PLQ MNA and three ex-MNAs were being investigated by the anti-corruption unit (UPAC).

The result was a disaster for the PQ, which was largely of its own making. The PQ won only 25.4% of the vote, which is the PQ’s worst result since 1970, the PQ’s first election in which the party won 23.1%; it is the lowest amount of votes received by the PQ since 1973 and the lowest number of seats won by the party since 1989. After the shortest provincial government since Confederation in 1867, Marois’ PQ government also becomes the first government to lose reelection since the Union Nationale (UN) government of 1966-1970, which lost reelection to the PLQ in 1970. Marois, like Charest before her, was defeated in her own constituency. The defeat raises some pretty existential questions for the PQ and its cause. In an election which inadvertently became a ‘referendum on a referendum’, the PQ was soundly defeated on the opposition of a large portion of the electorate to a third referendum. The issue isn’t dead, given that a significant share of the electorate – about 30% – are still attached to the old cause of Quebec independence. The PQ’s base is largely made up of such faithfuls to the cause. Nevertheless, for the past couple of years, the PQ and broader nationalist movement (including the federal Bloc Québécois) have struggled to come to terms with the electorate’s diminishing appetite for talks of a referendum, independence and even linguistic/cultural identity issues. The Bloc’s thumping in 2011 was the first major blow to the nationalist movement, and a year out from the next federal election, nothing indicates that the BQ will perform significantly better in 2015 than it did in 2011. In 2012, the PQ’s victory was a victory by default, with a lower share of the vote than in the 2008 election despite a dreaded, unpopular and exhausted Liberal government. The PQ has been defined and held together by the issue of nationalism and independence; with clear signs that the PQ loses when it talks about independence and referendum, the PQ faces an existential question. With declining support for the cause, can the PQ survive as a major party without redefining itself?

The catastrophic sense of this defeat for the PQ and its cause stems from the generational challenges of the PQ. A blog post by UdeM public opinion specialist Claire Durand during the campaign showed the aging nature of the nationalist PQ base: in 1979, support for independence was strongest (63%) with voters aged 18 to 34, and weakest with older voters (36% with those 35 to 54, 22% with those over 55); in 2013, 41.5% of voters over 55 supported independence against 45% of those over 35 and 39% of those less than 35. Léger Marketing’s last poll, which was relatively accurate (38 PLQ, 29 PQ, 23 CAQ, 9 QS), showed that the PQ’s support tended to increase with age: with those between 18 to 24, the PQ registered only 19% of voting intentions, placing fourth behind the Liberals (37%), QS (22%) and CAQ (21%). The PQ’s strongest support, in that poll, came with those 55 to 64, the only age group where the PQ led the Liberals, with 37% against 31% for the Liberals and 24% for the CAQ. The PQ also polled 35% with those 45-54 and 31% with those over 65. With young adults and younger middle-aged voters – those between the ages of 25 and 44 – the PQ was a distant third behind the PLQ and PQ. There are, therefore, increasing indications that the PQ and its cause is supported by older voters, likely those young, dedicated and faithful nationalists of the 1970s who have grown older. The Charter debate didn’t do the PQ any favours on the left, with non-Francophones and with minorities. PKP’s candidacy, which ended up hurting the PQ, may have done serious damage to the PQ’s traditional identification as a social democratic party and ally of organized labour. With the rise of QS, which the PQ has failed to check since 2007, the PQ no longer has the monopoly on the nationalist vote.

Again, the PQ needs to ask itself what its future is. The problem is that it cannot totally abandon independence, because a large portion of the PQ’s militant base remains very attached to the cause and any PQ leader who once again tries to place independence on the backburner as Lévesque did in 1984 with the beau risque or Marois in 2011-12 will find himself faced with the wrath of a good part of the caucus and the base. However, because of this, the PQ is in a bit of a dead-end, because focus on independence doesn’t sell well right now (and hasn’t really sold well for about a decade now). The challenge for the PQ is to find a way to retain the nationalist base’s loyalty while also expanding the PQ’s appeal to middle-of-the-road voters who just don’t care about independence and don’t want a third referendum. That’s easier said than done.

With 70 seats, Philippe Couillard’s Liberals has won a solid majority government which will last until the fall of 2018. Despite being a rookie campaigner, Couillard ran a fairly successful campaign, even if a lot of the PLQ’s victory owes to the PQ’s disastrous campaign rather than a particularly good Liberal campaign. Couillard’s own campaign was assisted by the expertise of former Liberal Premier Daniel Johnson Jr., who played a significant behind-the-scenes role in the PLQ’s victorious campaign. Couillard faced several major challenges during the campaign, particularly in the debates where he was attacked for his links to Arthur Porter, the conditions in which he left politics for the private sector in 2008 and the PLQ’s weak stance on the French language. Nevertheless, none of those attacks really took their toll on the Liberal leader.

Couillard personally won his risky gamble by standing in Roberval, a traditionally péquiste seat in the Saguenay, known as one of the most nationalist regions of Quebec. Couillard had represented the Montreal-area riding of Mont-Royal between 2003 and 2007, before winning reelection in the Quebec City riding of Jean-Talon in 2008 and returning to the National Assembly late last year with a by-election in the Montreal riding of Outremont. Couillard wanted to be elected for Roberval because he lives in Saint-Félicien (where his wife is from) and really enjoys hunting in the region. Politically, it was a risky gamble for Couillard, who would likely not have won the seat if the PQ had won the election but may also have lost, like Robert Bourassa in 1985, despite winning the election. In that sense, some have speculated that it was an up-or-out decision: if he wins, that would mean that the PLQ has won the province and he becomes Premier; if he loses, that likely would have meant that the PLQ lost and Couillard would have had an easy exit. Ultimately, Couillard won handily, winning 55.2% against 33.3% for the PQ incumbent. In 2012, the PQ won 46.7% in Roberval against 28.4% for the Liberals.

The Liberals were hugely successful at mobilizing their base. The core, rock-solid Liberal vote – that is, ethnic minorities and the Anglos – were motivated and mobilized to vote by the threat of the referendum and the unpopularity of the PQ’s Charter with non-Francophones. Although turnout decreased province-wide, turnout increased significantly in solidly Liberal ridings on Montreal Island, Greater Montreal and the Outaouais with a significant Anglo and/or allophone majority/minority. In Robert-Baldwin, a seat in Montreal’s West Island, turnout increased from 69.1% to 77%. In D’Arcy-McGee, a plurality Jewish riding in Montreal and the safest Liberal seat in the province, turnout increased from 65.8% to 72.1%. Overall, all ridings where turnout increased, often quite significantly, have a significant Anglophone or allophone population. In Francophone ridings, turnout decreased, with the steepest decreases in traditionally PQ strongholds of the Laurentides, Lanaudière, Montérégie, Centre-du-Québec and Gaspésie. In their strongholds, the Liberals faced even weaker opposition than in 2012 or past years. For example, in D’Arcy-McGee, where the PLQ had won 84.7% in 2012, it won 92.1%. The CAQ, which had polled decently (comparatively) in Anglo ridings in 2012, suffered some particularly significant loses in those same places this year. The PQ, which was already at a floor, stayed at its usual lows. QS lost support in many of these ridings, while the Greens – in 2007 and 2008 they’d been distant seconds to the Liberals in a lot of Anglo ridings – had no presence.

The CAQ can be quite pleased with its performance. The party came in the campaign with low poll numbers and most predictions placing them with no more than a handful of seats, against 19 seats in 2012. It ended up winning 22 seats – that is, a net gain of 3 seats since 2012, although the CAQ’s popular vote did fall by 4% to 23.1%. The CAQ, as in 2012, benefited from a fairly good campaign. Support for the CAQ increased in the final days of the campaign, in the aftermath of a strong debate performance by Legault (pounding Couillard on language and Marois on referendums) in the second televised leaders’ debate, as the PQ campaign continued to falter. Standing at about 15% as late as March 23, the CAQ grew to 18-19% (March 31-April 1), 21% (EKOS, April 3), 23% (Léger and Forum, April 3) and 25% (Angus-Reid, April 4). The CAQ’s gains in the final stretch came primarily from the PQ, which definitely fell below the 28-30% range.

The CAQ saw loses to the Liberals compensated, partially, by gains from the PQ. According to Forum’s last poll, 15% of the PQ’s 2008 voters said they were going to vote for the CAQ, compensating for the 29% of the CAQ’s 2008 voters who said they were going to vote for the Liberals. The results confirmed this: in terms of seats lost, the CAQ lost five seats to the Liberals – all but four of them in the Quebec City area (the final one, La Prairie, is in Montreal’s suburban South Shore), and one seat to the PQ (Saint-Jérôme, where CAQ star candidate/MNA Jacques Duchesneau was retiring and PKP picked up the seat for the PQ; it was the only seat to be gained by the PQ). In the Quebec City area, the CAQ’s main challenger was/is the PLQ. In contrast, the CAQ gained 9 seats from the PQ – ridings located in the 450 suburbs of Montreal, in the North Shore, the South Shore and the more rural areas of Montérégie and Centre-du-Québec. The CAQ’s vote held up remarkably well in these seats (with the exception of the CAQ-held seats of Groulx and Blainville), and the party benefited from a significant decline in the PQ’s vote share to gain these seats. In almost all of these seats, the CAQ’s main challenger was/is the PQ rather than the PLQ. In his riding of L’Assomption, Legault was reelected with an expanded majority – he won 49.4% against 30.4% for PQ star candidate Pierre Paquette, a former senior Bloc MP for Joliette, defeated by the Orange Crush in 2011. In the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, the CAQ gained three seats for the PQ, so that the CAQ now holds a majority of the North Shore suburban seats.

The CAQ’s performance on election night was interesting: as the first results came in, the CAQ was performing very poorly and for most of the night, it seemed as if the CAQ would lose seats. There was a late surge, as later results streamed in, which saw the CAQ steadily climb in the seat count; an unusual event on an election night. This may indicate that the CAQ performed poorly in advance voting, which were likely the first ballots to be counted after polls closed; advance voting began on March 28, before the CAQ climbed in the polls. Votes cast on election day were likely significantly better for the CAQ than those cast beforehand. Perhaps if all votes had been cast on election day, the CAQ may have formed the official opposition…

QS once again improved its result, gaining over 1% in the popular vote since 2012 and gaining their third seat – the downtown Montreal riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, where perennial QS candidate Manon Massé, a fairly well-known feminist and social activist, was narrowly victorious with 30.6% against 30.3% for the PLQ and 27.6% for incumbent PQ MNA Daniel Breton, an environmentalist who briefly served as Minister of the Environment before being dumped over some petty ethics concern. Both QS incumbents – Amir Khadir in Mercier and Françoise David in Gouin – were reelected to their third and second terms respectively, with David winning 51% and Khadir taking 46.2%. QS also performed very well in Laurier-Dorion, where QS co-spokesperson Andrés Fontecilla won 27.7%, and the PQ stronghold of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where QS won 30.6%, coming threateningly close to the PQ (30.6%). QS placed a strong third with 18.7% in Rosemont. However, outside these Montreal ridings which now form QS’ strongest ridings, QS largely stagnated on Montreal Island and fell back in some of the Montreal PLQ strongholds. In the regions, QS’ support generally held up or gained marginally.

Regional results

There was some significant movement in Montreal (the island itself), traditionally extremely polarized between Liberals and PQ, with little change from election to election and only a tiny number of actual swing seats. This year, the PLQ won well over 50% of the vote on Montreal Island, and gained one seat from the PQ – Crémazie, traditionally the only consistent marginal riding disputed between the PQ and the PLQ. Crémazie, which largely covers the Ahuntsic neighborhood in northern Montreal (please note that I’m using Montreal’s demented and totally bizarre compass rather than the normal compass directions), had been held by the PQ since 2007, and in 2012, Diane De Courcy won the seat with a solid majority of 10% over former federal Liberal MP Elena Bakopanos. De Courcy was Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities in the PQ government. She won 31.6% against 39% for PLQ candidate Marie Montpetit. In Crémazie, the PQ has solid support in Ahuntsic, a Francophone middle-class neighborhood, but the PLQ has strong support in areas with a larger visible minority or Italian population (immigrants make up 28% of the riding’s population).

QS gained its third seat, Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, with 30.6% for QS candidate Manon Massé, who was finally successful in her fifth candidacy in the riding. The Liberals increased their support by nearly 11 points, winning 30.3% of the vote, placing second ahead of PQ incumbent Daniel Breton, who won just 27.6%, down from 35.8% in 2012 and 46.6% in 2008. The riding is fairly demographically similar to QS’ two other seats in Montreal: Mercier (which borders the riding to the north) and Gouin – that is, largely gentrified, young adults, well-educated, professionals (with high percentages employed in the arts, culture, education, social assistance). QS is particularly strong in the riding’s part of the municipal borough of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal – the stereotypical gentrified bobo borough of Montreal, but finds strong support in the Gay Village and Sainte-Marie (an historically French working-class neighborhood). The riding, predominantly Francophone (67% mother tongue), had been held by the PQ since the riding’s creation in 1989. The Liberals having been traditionally a distant second behind the PQ (28.2% in 2008), it was a major surprise to see them come in a very close second ahead of the PQ. The Liberals are strong in the revitalized areas of the Old Port and Old Montreal, with high-end condos and apartments.

QS easily held both its seats, Gouin and Mercier, which cover the gentrified and bobo neighborhoods in the boroughs of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal and Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie. QS’ other major target was Laurier-Dorion, where QS’ extraparliamentary co-spokesperson Andrés Fontecilla ran, having placed a solid third with over 24% of the vote in 2012. This year, QS increased its vote share to 27.7%, sending the PQ tumbling down from 26.4% to 15.9%. However, while QS finds strong support in Villeray, a newer gentrified bobo neighborhood with demographics similar to that of the QS strongholds, the riding is a much tougher nut to crack: the Liberals, who won 46.2% (up from 34.1% in 2012), have an extremely solid hold on Parc-Extension, a low-income immigrant (traditionally Greek, nowadays more South Asian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan) neighborhood (46% of the entire riding’s population are allophones, and immigrants/visible minorities constitute a large majority in Parc-Extension itself). While the Liberals placed third in Villeray in 2012, they retained well over 70% of the vote in Parc-Extension.

With the loss of two seats in Montreal, the PQ is left with only four seats on the island – and three of them were won by less than ten points. QS came within 4 points of winning Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (30.6% vs 34.9% for the PQ), historically a low-income Francophone working-class neighborhood, although with gentrification and younger residents seeking affordable housing, it is more mixed socially now. In Rosemont, the PQ Minister of International Relations Jean-François Lisée, a former journalist first elected in 2012, was reelected with 34.3% against 30% for the Liberals and 18.7% for QS. In Bourget, PQ Minister of Culture Maka Kotto was reelected with 37.8% against 28.9% for the PLQ.

In 2012, the Liberals had narrowly held Verdun and Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, the two generally Liberal-leaning seats on the Island in which the PQ usually has some potential. Both seats include a mix of old linguistically-diverse working-class neighborhoods (Irish, Francophone or blacks in Griffintown, Little Burgundy, Saint-Henri, Pointe-Saint-Charles and Verdun) which have all seen major gentrification in recent years, and affluent areas (especially Nun’s Island, high-end condos and mansions, in the riding of Verdun); the Liberals usually have the edge, thanks to solid margins in the affluent polls of Nun’s Islands or the allophone/Anglo areas of Griffintown and Little Burgundy. In 2012, the PQ had fallen short by 1.6% and 6.4% respectively. This year, the Liberals won both seats with huge majorities: 26.2% and 30.6% respectively, polling over 50% in both ridings. In Verdun, Liberal star candidate Jacques Daoust, the former president of Investissement Québec, won 50.6% against only 24.4% for PQ star candidate Lorraine Pintal, a former theater director. In 2012, Liberal MNA Henri-François Gautrin (a former provincial NDP leader, who was forced to retire by Couillard) won 35.4% against 33.8% for former Bloc MP Thierry St-Cyr. In Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, the PQ won only 21.9%. The Liberals also expanded their majority in Anjou-Louis-Riel, a middle-class suburban riding in eastern Montreal: what was a 9-point lead for the PLQ in 2012 turned into a hefty 28% majority this year.

The Liberals had no trouble holding their other Montreal seats; which are predominantly affluent Anglophone ridings, allophone immigrant areas or ethnic suburbs – in other words, the safest Liberal ridings possible. In Outremont, a riding which includes the affluent town of Outremont (a rather mixed area; with bobo areas in the Mile End giving strong results to QS, some Hassidic Jewish areas and upper middle-class Francophones), the Francophone Université de Montréal and parts of the immigrant-heavy neighborhood of Côte-des-Neiges, the Liberal candidate, Hélène David (a former deputy minister and academic, who is the sister of QS MNA Françoise David), won 56.3% against 16.9% for QS and 14.6% for the PQ. In Robert-Baldwin, which mostly covers the affluent and predominantly Anglophone/allophone suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, PLQ star candidate Carlos Leitao, a renowned economist from the Laurentian Bank who is groomed to become finance minister, won 87.3%. In D’Arcy-McGee, a 43% Jewish riding centered around the affluent and majority-Jewish municipalities of Hampstead and Côte-Saint-Luc, the PLQ won 92.1% of the vote – the strongest Liberal result in years in what is the safest Liberal seat in the province (and probably one of the safest seats for any party in a Western democracy).

The CAQ remained weak on the Island, with sharp loses to the Liberals in the West Island but a stronger resistance in the péquiste-leaning areas in the east. The CAQ’s best result, 24%, came from Pointe-aux-Trembles, a heavily Francophone residential suburban area (it is also the only seat which we can still say is safe for the PQ) at the eastern extremity of the island which is demographically closer to off-island suburbs in the 450 than to other parts of Montreal.

The Liberals swept all six seats in Laval, holding four seats and gaining two from the PQ. In Laval-des-Rapides, a middle-class suburban area, PQ MNA Léo Bureau-Blouin, one of the main student leaders in the 2012 protests, was defeated after only one term in office. The Liberals won 44.2% against 31.2% for the PQ. In Sainte-Rose, a growing mishmash of older suburbs and new cookie-cutter subdivisions, the Liberals increased their support from 28.5% to 42.2%, going from third to first place. The PQ won 27.3% and the CAQ, which had placed second with 29.6% in 2012, won 24.1%. The Liberals held their four other seats, winning over 50% in all of them and peaking at 73% in Chomedey, a plurality allophone riding. In Mille-Îles, a seat at the eastern extremity of the island, PQ star candidate Djemila Benhabib, a writer known for her opposition to Muslim fundamentalism, was defeated by the PLQ incumbent, losing by about 25 points (25.5% to 50.5%). She has already been defeated in 2012, standing in Trois-Rivières.

On the South Shore suburbs of Montreal, the PQ faced serious challenges from both the CAQ and the Liberals. The PQ lost Chambly and Borduas, two upper middle-class Francophone outer suburbs/exurbs of Montreal. The CAQ won 34.2% and 33.5% respectively, their vote holding up compared to 2012; it was the collapse of the PQ, which lost 7% and 6% respectively, which allowed the CAQ to gain those seats. The CAQ held Montarville, the wealthiest riding in the province, surviving a close challenge from the PLQ, winning 35% to 31.3%. However, the CAQ lost La Prairie, another very affluent suburban riding; the riding is something of a three-way tossup, with the Liberals and CAQ holding a strong base in the new McMansion-type subdivisions in Candiac and La Prairie while older and slightly less affluent neighborhoods lean to the PQ. The CAQ, which had won the new riding by 0.2% over the PQ in 2012, lost by 1.4% although their vote remained stable. The PQ held the ridings of Vachon (Saint-Hubert), Taillon, Marie-Victorin (Longueuil) and Sanguinet (Sainte-Catherine, Saint-Constant). In Marie-Victorin, a low-income riding which covers the poorest parts of the older suburban city of Longueuil, Bernard Drainville, the PQ minister behind the Charter, was handily reelected with 38.2% against 26.1% for the PLQ. However, in Vachon, which covers the middle-class suburb of Saint-Hubert, PQ MNA Martine Ouellet held on by barely half a percentage point against the PLQ, winning 33.1% to 32.6%. In Taillon, which mixes poorer parts of Longueuil (leaning towards the the PQ) with some affluent subdivisions (closely divided, especially between PLQ and CAQ), the PQ won by only 3.8% over the Liberals – after having won it by 12 points in 2012, over the CAQ. In Sanguinet, the PQ won by a small margin of 3.3% over the CAQ. The Liberals faced no trouble in their ridings. Former cabinet minister and unsuccessful leadership contender Pierre Moreau was easily reelected in Châteauguay (a middle-class suburban riding with a significant Anglo population, at 22%), taking 49.6%. In Laporte, a riding which includes the affluent leafy Francophone suburb of Saint-Lambert and the historically Anglophone suburb of Greenfield Park, the PLQ won 47.7%. In La Pinière (Brossard), the safest Liberal seat on the South Shore (with over 50% of Anglophones and allophones and 38% of visible minorities, with a large middle-class Chinese immigrant community), PLQ star candidate Gaétan Barrette (who had ran for the CAQ in 2012), who will likely become health minister under Couillard, won 58.3%, soundly defeating PLQ-turned-independent incumbent Fatima Houda-Pépin, who won only 23.5%. The PQ, which had won 17.9% in the riding two years ago, likely provided the bulk of her support. With PLQ support increasing by nearly 10 points, she seemingly won a totally different electorate than the one which had backed her in 2012.

The PQ held the exurban ridings of Beauharnois (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Beauharnois) and Verchères (Varennes, Sainte-Julie), with 38.8% and 42.6% respectively. The latter is a heavily Francophone affluent exurban area, extending into more rural areas outside Montreal’s CMA (metro area as defined by the census), while the former mostly lies outside the CMA and is a poorer, historically working-class area.

In the rest of Montérégie, the PQ lost two other seats to the CAQ – Iberville and Saint-Hyacinthe, both homogeneously Francophone ridings centered around small or medium-sized towns, historically nationalist and divided between the PQ and CAQ. The PQ held on against a tough challenge from the CAQ in Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), holding the seat by only 1%. The CAQ easily held Granby, with incumbent MNA François Bonnardel, first elected for the ADQ in 2007, winning 53% – the CAQ’s best result in any riding. The PQ held Richelieu, a riding centered around the old industrial steel town of Sorel-Tracy, with a 12 point majority. The Liberals easily held their own seats – Brome-Missisquoi (16.6% majority over the CAQ) and Huntingdon (24.9% majority over the CAQ) along the American border (both still have small but significant Anglophone minorities); Soulanges (23% majority over the PQ, with no CAQ candidate) and Vaudreuil (45% majority over the PQ) in suburban Montreal (Vaudreuil has a large Anglo minority, making up over a quarter of the population and a majority in Hudson, it also includes many new affluent subdivisions, Soulanges has a smaller Anglo minority, especially in Saint-Lazare).

In the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, the CAQ gained four seats from the PQ. Quasi-homogeneously Francophone and rather affluent middle-class suburbia, the North Shore has tended to be a strongly péquiste sovereigntist stronghold which gave very strong results to the oui in the 1995. However, in recent years, the North Shore has become a perfect example of a Francophone and historically nationalist region which has lost interest in the ‘national question’ and adopted apathetic attitudes towards the issue. In 2007, the ADQ swept the entire North Shore suburbs, taking out all PQ incumbents (as well as the sole PLQ incumbent, in Groulx), but the PQ regained the whole region one year later in the 2008 election. In the 2011 federal election, the NDP swept the region with some of its best results in the province – hovering around 50%. In 2012, the CAQ performed very well in the North Shore, with many gains at the expense of the Liberals (especially in the most affluent communities, such as Rosemère and Lorraine, which had voted PLQ in 2008 but shifted to the CAQ in 2012), but the PQ nevertheless held most of its seats – the CAQ only won Groulx, Blainville and L’Assomption (with François Legault), as well as Saint-Jérôme (with anti-corruption star candidate Jacques Duchesneau), which comes closer to being a regional town in its own right rather than just a suburb. This year, with the PQ’s collapse, the CAQ – with results very similar to 2012 (except in Blainville and Groulx, where the CAQ suffered major loses with retiring incumbents), was able to gain four seats. It only lost Saint-Jérôme, won by PKP for the PQ. In Groulx, the one-term CAQ incumbent was retiring, resulting in a real three-way race, which switched back-and-forth throughout the night. The CAQ won 30.9%, losing nearly 8 points from 2012, while the Liberals gained 10 points, surging from barely 20% to 30.2%. PQ star candidate Martine Desjardins, a former student leader (FÉUQ), placed third with 30%. In Blainville, which the CAQ had won by nearly 6 points in 2012 (with PQ-turned-CAQ incumbent Daniel Ratthé), the seat was left open by the retirement of Ratthé, who was expelled from the CAQ caucus in 2013 after allegations surrounding corruption and illegal financing of a mayoral campaign back in 2005. Former Bloc MP Mario Laframboise, who had previously run, unsuccesfully, for the CAQ in 2012 in Argenteuil, was elected with 33.9% against 29.5% for the Liberals and 29.4% for the PQ – compared to 2012, the CAQ lost over 7 points while the PLQ gained nearly 14 points. In L’Assomption, which Legault had won with a narrow 2.6% majority over the PQ in 2012, he was reelected with 49.4% and a 19% majority over the PQ, despite a very strong PQ candidate – former Bloc MP Pierre Paquette. The CAQ gained neighboring Repentigny, with a 3-point majority; Masson (Mascouche) with a 1.6% majority; Deux-Montagnes, with former MNA Benoit Charette (a PQ-turned-CAQ defector, defeated in 2012 by the PQ) regaining his old seat with a 2% majority and Mirabel, with a majority of nearly 5% over the PQ. The only seat which the PQ retained was Terrebonne, where young PQ MNA Mathieu Traversy narrowly survived, with a 1.8% majority.

The only seat in the province gained by the PQ was Saint-Jérôme, where Péladeau took 36.8% (a result slightly lower than that won by the PQ in 2012) against 31.5% for the CAQ.

In the rest of the Laurentians, the PQ held their strongholds of Labelle and Bertrand handily, with majorities over 10% in both and no less than 45% of the vote in Labelle. The Liberals regained Argenteuil, a traditionally Liberal seat (with a small Anglo minority) which the PQ gained in a 2012 by-election and held in the general elections. The PLQ regained the seat with a 6.5% majority. In the rest of Lanaudière, a traditional péquiste stronghold, the PQ held their three seats, but in Rousseau, finance minister Nicolas Marceau, who had narrowly won his seat against a surprisingly strong CAQ performance in 2012, was reelected with a bare 2 point majority. Similarly, major loses for the PQ in Berthier significantly reduced the PQ’s majority over the CAQ. Only in Joliette did the PQ retain a comfortable majority, with social services minister Véronique Hivon, who had become quite popular for piloting the consensual euthanasia bill, holding a 17 point majority and winning 44.3% of the vote.

Once again, the PLQ swept the Outaouais‘ five seats by large margins. In addition to a significant Anglophone minority (making up 35% of the population in the riding of Pontiac, concentrated in small towns along the Ottawa River), the Francophone population of the region is the least nationalist/péquiste of any region of Quebec (with an estimated Francophone yes vote of only 34% in 1995) because a lot of them are public servants employed by the federal government in Ottawa or Gatineau (and, for obvious reasons, strongly oppose Quebec independence). The provincial Liberals have swept every seat in the region since 1981, and they increased their majorities in all seats in 2014. The majorities in Papineau and Hull had been within 10 points in 2012 (in fact, the PLQ had held Papineau by only 167 votes against the PQ); this year, the PLQ won over 50% of the vote in every riding – from 50.4% in Papineau (with a 26% majority) to nearly 76% in Pontiac.

The Liberals gained two seats from the PQ in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The PLQ won Abitibi-Est and Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue, two seats which it had lost to the PQ in 2012. It now holds majorities of 10.5% and 5.7% respectively. The PQ only held Abitibi-Ouest, where François Gendron, who has held the seat since 1976, was reelected with a 7.5% majority. He is now the longest-serving MNA in Quebec’s history.

In the Eastern Townships, it was a clean sweep for the Liberals, who gained two seats from the PQ and easily held their other seats. In Sherbrooke, Premier Charest’s old seat until his defeat by former Bloc MP Serge Cardin in 2012, the PLQ gained the seat with a 5.6% majority over the PQ. In 2012, there had been a lot of anti-Charest strategic voting for the PQ, which seriously dragged down the CAQ and QS, both of which made substantial gains this year at the PQ’s expense. In Saint-François, a riding which takes in some of Sherbrooke’s suburbs (Fleurimont, which was the PQ’s main base in 2012), the Anglophone borough of Lennoxville, the towns of Compton and Coaticook and some Anglo villages, PQ health minister Réjean Hébert, who had narrowly gained the seat from the PLQ in 2012, was defeated, taking 33% to the PLQ’s 38.5%. In the other PLQ-held ridings, all incumbents held on handily, despite PQ hopes in Mégantic and Richmond. In Mégantic, which includes Lac-Mégantic, the site of the train tragedy last year, the PQ ran Isabelle Hallé, the president of the regional chamber of commerce and a key player in reconstruction efforts. She won only 29.7% against 40.8% for the PLQ incumbent; although the PQ’s losses in the riding were significantly lesser than those in the rest of the province, perhaps signaling some positive impact for the PQ of the recovery efforts. In Richmond, Liberal MNA Karine Vallière (the daughter of former long-time PLQ MNA Yvon Vallières), who had won the seat by less than 300 votes over the PQ in 2012 (her victory owed a lot to strong margins in the asbestos mining town of Asbestos, where she is from and where the future of asbestos mining is a huge issue, which usually benefits the local PLQ), was reelected with a 13.6% majority in a rematch with the PQ. In Orford, finally, the Liberals won 44.1% against 26.2% for the PQ.

The CAQ had strong results in the Centre-du-Québec, with the party’s three incumbents winning reelection with expanded majorities and larger shares of the vote, and the CAQ gaining Johnson from the PQ. The CAQ held Nicolet-Bécancour (gained over ON leader Jean-Martin Aussant in 2012, his absence explains the PQ’s gains, although it only finished third with some 22%, miles away from the combined ON+PQ vote in 2012; the Marois government’s unpopular decision to close the Gentilly nuclear power plant likely hurt the PQ and helped the local CAQ MNA), Drummond-Bois-Francs and Arthabaska (popular CAQ, ex-ADQ, incumbent Sylvie Roy was reelected with 45.5% and the PLQ vote actually fell from 2012, because Roy had faced a PLQ MNA because of redistribution in 2012). The CAQ gained Johnson from the PQ, with a majority of nearly 5 points.

The Liberals swept Mauricie, taking all five seats – gaining two from the PQ and easily holding their own three seats. In Saint-Maurice (Shawinigan), the PLQ gained the seat with a 2.7% majority over the PQ while in Champlain (Cap-de-la-Madeleine, in suburban Trois-Rivières), former ADQ MNA Pierre-Michel Auger, running for the PLQ, won a three-way contest with 33.4% against 30.4% for the CAQ and 30.2% for the incumbent PQ MNA. The PLQ held Maskinongé and Trois-Rivières with expanded majorities despite retiring incumbents, while in Laviolette, popular Liberal MNA Julie Boulet, who has built a remarkable popular vote in a historically nationalist riding, was reelected with 52.6% against only 23% for the PQ.

In the Quebec City capital region, the Liberals gained four seats from the CAQ and one from the PQ. In 2012, the CAQ had gained four seats from the PLQ, in suburban and exurban areas of Quebec City. Although a very heavily Francophone city, Quebec City is not a nationalist stronghold – it gave only weak support to independence in the 1995 referendum, and the PQ/Bloc have struggled in the provincial capital for a number of years. In recent provincial elections, the main battles in most Quebec City ridings have been fought between the PLQ and the centre-right (ADQ, in 2007 and 2008, and now the CAQ) with limited support for the PQ. In Quebe City, the PLQ regained Vanier-Les Rivières, Charlesbourg and Montmorency – three suburban constituencies, which, while middle-class, are not extremely affluent or white-collar professional in nature. The CAQ had held the three of them with relatively thin majorities over the PLQ in 2012, and it stood no chance against a resurgent PLQ which ate into a good chunk of the CAQ’s 2012 vote. The Liberals won the three seats by margins slightly under 10% (with the former PLQ MNAs in Vanier-Les Rivières and Montmorency regaining their seats). The CAQ easily held Chauveau and La Peltrie, two large exurban ridings to the north of the city, held by the ADQ since 2007, with their incumbents (two ex-ADQ MNAs, Éric Caire and Gérard Deltell) winning over 50% of the vote. The Liberals also picked up Portneuf, a large and predominantly exurban/rural ridings on the western outskirts of Quebec City, with a 3.4% majority over the CAQ.

The Liberals had no trouble holding their three seats in Quebec City: Louis-Hébert (which covers the city’s most affluent suburbs, making it the third wealthiest riding in Quebec), Jean-Talon (which includes the traditionally bourgeois and affluent neighborhood of Sillery) and Jean-Lesage (a poorer riding, including the old working-class neighborhoods of Limoilou and some older suburbs).

The PQ held only one seat: Taschereau, which covers downtown Quebec City (the Vieux-Québec, among others); it stands out from the rest of the generally conservative city, as a rather poor but also well-educated downtown riding. The PQ’s Agnès Maltais was reelected with 31.7% against 30.4% for the PLQ; QS placed a strong fourth with 15.3%, QS (and, in 2012, ON) perform very well in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a young artsy/bobo neighborhood in central Quebec City.

However, Premier Pauline Marois lost reelection in her own seat of Charlevoix–Côte-de-Beaupré, a large riding which extends from the Quebec City exurbs (Ile d’Orléans) to the Charlevoix region. Marois, who won the seat in a 2007 by-election, was reelected with 40.7% in 2012, with a hefty majority over the PLQ (27.1%) and CAQ (26.8%). The map had shown a clear-cut division between areas closer to Quebec City, where the PLQ and CAQ placed first, and the more rural Charlevoix region up to the Saguenay estuary, which was solidly PQ. This year, Marois won 32.9% against 35% for the PLQ candidate.

In the Chaudière-Appalaches and Bas-Saint-Laurent, all parties held their seats. The CAQ held the South Shore suburban riding of Lévis, a 2012 gain from the PLQ, with 40.5% (a gain from 2012) for CAQ MNA Christian Dubé, the party’s finance critic. It held Chutes-de-la-Chaudière and Beauce-Nord, two seats held by the ADQ since 2003, with large majorities, albeit reduced quite significantly from 2012. The Liberals held Lotbinière-Frontenac, Beauce-Sud, Bellechasse, Côte-du-Sud and Rivière-du-Loup-Témiscouata. These two regions stand out from the rest of Quebec in that while they are quasi-homogeneously white, Francophone and Catholic (and also predominantly rural or small-town), the PQ and sovereigntism in general has been very weak in the region (in 1995, the yes vote was significantly lower and the no won a number of ridings). Conservative parties of various shades, including the old Social Credit and Union Nationale, the ADQ in its heydays and the federal Conservatives after 2006, have been strong in the region, while the provincial Liberals remain powerful as well. Pierre Drouilly called this region, back in 2003, le Québec tranquille and described it as a largely poor, blue-collar (notably in primary and secondary sectors) region with an old and declining population, low levels of education, low incomes but also fairly low unemployment levels (which distinguishes it from poorer regions, with high unemployment, such as the Gaspé Peninsula). Voters exhibit a high degree of alienation from Montreal, and it is an ideologically conservative region (but with marked populist tendencies) with clear right-wing positions on issues such as taxes or government intervention, part of which comes from a strong entrepreneurial tradition, especially in Beauce (which is often noted for its entrepreneurial culture and its small businesses). Because of low levels of education and the fragility of the local economy, there has been little appetite for the uncertainty of independence.

The Québec tranquille region extends into the Centre-du-Québec, the more remote parts of the Eastern Townships, the Quebec City metro and parts of Mauricie – regions which have traditionally given low support to the nationalist option in referendums, and where the PQ performs poorly (with strong results for the PLQ and CAQ). But the Chaudière-Appalaches region, south of the St. Lawrence across from Quebec City, stands out as the archetype: the PQ is extremely weak, with third place showings in all ridings and single-digit results in the Beauce; it also appears to be more ideologically conservative than the rest of the region, whose ideological preferences are vaguer and eclectic. For example, in 2012, the federal Tories held their seats in the Chaudière-Appalaches, but the NDP swept Quebec City (which had swung to the Tories in 2006).

The PQ held Rimouski, with 40.6% against 30% for the PLQ. There had been some local controversy with the retirement of the PQ MNA and the choice of a PQ candidate imposed by the national leadership over a local candidate; the local candidate was excluded from the party, and former Bloc MP Suzanne Tremblay endorsed the QS candidate, who took a very strong third with 16.4%.

The Liberals gained two seats in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, traditionally the most nationalist region of Quebec. In Roberval, Philippe Couillard was easily elected, with 55.2% against 33.3% for the PQ incumbent. The seat had been held by the PQ since 2007, and the PQ had held the seat with an 18% majority in the last election. There was likely a strong personal vote for Couillard (drawn by the advantages of being represented by the Premier, given the likelihood of a PLQ victory by election day), in a region which has tended to vote for personality over party in both federal and provincial election. The PLQ also regained Dubuc, which it had gained in 2008 but lost to the PQ in 2012. Former Liberal MNA Serge Simard, who has a strong base in the arrondissement of La Baie (he was president of the arrondissement between 2002 and 2008), won the seat with a 9% majority over the PQ. The PQ held the three remaining seats by fairly comfortable margins.

One of the few regions where the PQ performed well was Gaspésie, where the party held the three seats on the Gaspé Peninsula – by solid margins. In Matane-Matapédia, popular local PQ MNA Pascal Bérubé actually increased his share of the vote from 59% to 61.2% (it may be the result of ‘normalization’ after 2012, when he was reelected in a larger redistributed riding with one part of the riding where he was not as well known). In Gaspé, gained from the PLQ on a huge swing in 2012, the PQ’s vote fell from 56.8% to 52% but it held the seat by a large majority. The most surprising result was perhaps Bonaventure, the Gaspé’s traditionally Liberal riding, which the PQ gained from the PLQ in 2012. The PQ held the seat with a 3.5% majority.

The PLQ regained the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, a predominantly Acadian archipelago in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. The PQ had gained the seat from the Liberals, who had won it in 2008. Former Liberal MNA Germain Chevarie won 50.1% against 40.2% for the PQ incumbent.

On the Côte-Nord, the PQ held both seats but the margin in Duplessis, a geographically huge but sparsely populated riding, was surprisingly tight (a 1.6% majority for the PQ). In Duplessis, the PQ dominates the three main population centres, the northern industrial towns of Port-Cartier, Sept-Îles and Havre-Saint-Pierre, by wide margins, but there is a strong PLQ presence in small, extremely remote Anglophone fishing villages on the coast up to the Labrador border. In the far north of the province, the PLQ gained the seat of Ungava, Quebec’s largest riding (in terms of area). The seat had been held by the PQ since its creation in 1981, although by its demographics that may seem odd. Indeed, Ungava is 64% Native, split fairly equally between Cree and Inuit. However, turnout in the Inuit and Cree villages is extremely low (often below 20%) and while those who do vote generally vote Liberal, these Native villages net them relatively few vote; while the PQ usually dominates the white areas, notably the resource-based industrial town of Chibougamau, by huge margins (and turnout is much higher). In 2012, the PQ won 45.5% to 34.7% for the PLQ; this year, the PLQ won 42.4% to the PQ’s 33%.


The Quebec Liberals are back in power for four years, with Premier-elect Philippe Couillard leading a government with a strong majority in the National Assembly. He will likely enjoy a fairly easy first few months, given that attention will largely be on the PQ’s upcoming leadership contest. Defeated in her own riding, Pauline Marois announced her resignation as PQ leader on election night. What preceded her concession speech was fairly unusual (and, for some, rather unceremonious) and sets the scene for a leadership battle: before the defeated leader took to the stage, the three leading PQ politicians – Bernard Drainville (the minister of democratic institutions, who spearheaded the Charter), Jean-François Lisée (the minister of international relations) and Pierre-Karl Péladeau – each gave speeches, which largely consisted of traditional nationalist rhetoric to feed the crowd (who responded with slogans of on veut un pays – we want a country) and to prove their nationalist credentials. These three men also happen to be the three who come up most often in leadership speculation. Péladeau’s intentions are unclear, but I doubt his motivation to join politics was to sit as an opposition MNA (his intention was likely to serve as cabinet minister, perhaps later as Premier; in the absence of that, opposition leader might be the next best thing). The interim leader selected by the PQ, Stéphane Bédard, is seen as somebody close to PKP. It is unclear to what degree the PQ’s defeat can be attributed to PKP’s fist-pump, and whether, in the absence of that, he could have had a positive impact on the PQ or if he was going to be a net liability regardless. A PQ led by PKP would likely focus heavily on the core cause of sovereignty, while also signaling a shift to the right with the aim of appealing to CAQ supporters. Lisée would be a safe choice, close to the PQ’s social democratic roots, and may focus less heavily on sovereignty and nationalism but rather on progressive unity, aiming to reconquer votes lost on the left to QS. Drainville may be blamed for the Charter, but it is unclear to what extent the Charter hurt the PQ during the campaign; it would seem that the PQ’s desperate use of the Charter as a wedge issue hurt it, but the ideas of the Charter may remain popular with the Francophone electorate which the PQ needs to reconquer. Some other names have also come up: Véronique Hivon, the popular Joliette MNA who gained a province-wide profile and popularity with her handling of the euthanasia bill, a matter of consensus between all parties (which the new PLQ government will likely pass itself) or Alexandre Cloutier, a young MNA from the Saguenay.

Once again, the PQ faces the issue of how to reconcile its fundamental raison d’être (the independence of Quebec) with the political reality, which makes a referendum (let alone independence) very unlikely. The party is held together by the cause, and it has a militant base which remains strongly committed to independence; as such, the PQ often has a problem at responding to shifts in public opinion, at times appearing deaf to it. It has a tendency to double-down on rhetoric and preach to the converted; and it did so again on election night, when the PQ’s election night event showed no signs of abandoning the party’s core values and the cause.

In the meantime, the CAQ, with a surprisingly strong performance, comes out strengthened. The party is in a good position to benefit from the PQ’s troubles at reinventing itself, navigating a divisive leadership battle and re-adapting itself to being an opposition party; it is also in a good position to benefit from the gradual decline in the government’s popularity and the PLQ’s support. Many wonder if the CAQ could replace the PQ, and some even ask if the PQ may disappear entirely. Parties, even those which have held power, often disappear in Canadian federal and provincial politics – in Quebec, the most recent example is the slow death of the Union Nationale, which disappeared from provincial politics after 1976. The PQ still has a clear niche to fill (unlike the UN when it died), because there remains a significant minority of voters who still are dedicated nationalists; but even that niche is no longer the PQ’s sole preserve – it faces strong competition from QS (whose electorate is less homogeneously nationalist) and, to a much lesser extent, ON. Similarly, while the CAQ has the potential support to overtake the PQ to form the official opposition (as the ADQ had done in 2007, after all), it still has clear troubles breaking through on Montreal Island, which holds a large number of seats, and in regions such as the Gaspé, the Saguenay, Abitibi and Outaouais. The CAQ also has a fickle electorate, as it almost learned this year. A lot of their vote is a ‘NOTA’ vote, which does not necessarily express agreement with the CAQ’s policies but rather rejection of the other parties and the old nationalist/federalist divide.

Only time will tell if this election was an unremarkable anti-incumbent election or if it was the beginning of a realignment in provincial politics.

Canadian by-elections 2013

Four federal by-elections were held in Canada on November 25, 2013 in the ridings of Bourassa (Quebec), Brandon—Souris (Manitoba), Provencher (Manitoba) and Toronto Centre (Ontario). These seats, two of which were held by the Liberal Party and the other two by the governing Conservative Party, had fallen vacant over the summer.


Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s majority government is in its third year – and the Conservatives have been in power for seven years now, first winning a minority mandate in January 2006. Three years in, the Tories are struggling in the polls and facing a rejuvenated and re-energized opposition, both from the official opposition New Democrats (NDP) and the third-placed Liberals.

Harper’s remarkable ability to survive two minority governments and win a third term as a majority government has been due, in part, to his ‘teflon’ qualities – almost all of what was thrown at him by the opposition, the media, the economy or what have you have largely failed to stick. For example, Harper’s second minority government was brought down in March 2011 by a motion which found his government to be in contempt of Parliament, becoming the first Canadian and Commonwealth government to be found in contempt of Parliament. And yet, despite all that, Harper led the Conservatives to a huge victory on May 2, 2011 – winning a majority government, and relegating the Liberals – Canada’s so-called ‘natural governing party’ – into third place behind the centre-left NDP.

The other part in the Harper winning equation has been his political and strategic acuity, which allowed him to outmaneuver the hapless Liberals on countless occasions since defeating Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2006. The complacent and arrogant Liberals seriously underestimated their opponent’s political acumen and his sharp strategical mind, and it led them into the ditch. Harper has centralized power and decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), keeping a tight leash on Conservative ministers and MPs and ensuring that the government is kept ‘on message’ at all times. The extremely strict party discipline and deference to authority which characterizes Canadian governance and parliamentary politics predates Harper, but Harper has brought it to new heights. The Conservatives successfully targeted key demographics which had been reliably Liberal in the 1990s – visible minorities, upwardly mobile new Canadians and middle-classes and well-off middle-class suburbanites.

Now, it appears that Harper’s teflon qualities are beginning to wear off. This has been most evident in the Senate scandal which has rocked Canadian politics throughout 2013.

Members of the Canadian Senate, a relatively weak upper house, are appointed by the Prime Minister (officially, by the Governor General on his ‘advice’) and may serve until they reach the age of 75. The unelected nature of the Senate, the unequal representation of provinces (based neither on the equal representation of all constituent units or rep-by-pop) and its perceived uselessness has led to numerous calls for reform. Stephen Harper and the modern Tories were strongly influenced by the strong demands for Senate reform in Western Canada, commonly expressed as ‘Triple E’ (elected, equal, effective). Upon taking office, Harper set out to reform the Senate, tabling legislation to limit Senators to eight-year terms and allowing for the direct election of Senators in each province (Alberta already holds non-binding ‘Senate nominee’ elections, but the Prime Minister is under no obligation to appoint the winner(s), although Harper has done so). However, both bills and other attempts at reform died. Seeing the difficulty of short-term Senate reform, Harper, who had let sixteen vacancies go unfilled since taking office, appointed sixteen new Senators in January 2009. Overall, Harper has appointed no less than 59 senators – all Conservatives – since 2009. Critics have accused Harper, a longstanding supporter of Senate reform, of hypocrisy.

Beginning in late 2012, four senators – three Conservatives appointed by Harper and one Liberal – were investigated for expense claims (housing and travel) for which they were not eligible. Conservative Senators Mike Duffy (PEI) and Pamela Wallin (Saskatchewan) both claimed primary residences in the province they represented, allowing them to claim living expenses while they work in Ottawa, while both still had Ontario health cards. Wallin claimed a total of C$369,593 in expenses in 2011-2012, including C$163,216 in ‘other travel’. Duffy claimed a total of C$298,310 in the same period. A third Tory senator, Patrick Brazeau, also faced questions over his expenses but what attracted the focus on him was his arrest in February for domestic and sexual assault and is awaiting trial.

In May 2013, it was revealed that Harper’s chief of staff, chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had written Duffy a personal cheque for C$90,172 to cover his fraudulent expense claims. Wright was forced to resign his position, and Harper tried to distance himself from his former chief of staff and the three embattled Tory senators he had appointed. Harper denied that he or anyone in the PMO had knowledge of Wright’s cheque, but subsequent revelations that senior members of the PMO were in on the details cast serious doubts on Harper’s honesty. Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were removed from the Conservative caucus and sat as independents.

As Parliament reconvened and the Tories continued to struggle under the weight of the Senate kerfuffle, Harper was determined to suspend the three senators in a bid to put the affair behind him. However, the three senators, who have been accused but not charged, mounted a spirited defense in which they were joined by some Liberal and Conservative colleagues, who protested the government “driving roughshod over due process and the presumption of innocence” (to quote Tory Senator Hugh Segal). Finally, the Senate did vote to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau without pay until the end of the session on November 5.

Harper is a shrewd political strategist who has been able to weather many storms in the past. He more or less maneuvered his way out of the 2008-2009 coalition crisis, two prorogations in controversial circumstances, criticism of major cost overruns in the acquisition of F-35 fighter planes, a scandal involving illegal Tory robocalls during the last federal election, harsh domestic and international criticism of Canada’s environmental and natural resources policies and ethics scandals involving cabinet ministers. However, Harper’s handling of the Senate scandal was not nearly as successful. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair led strong offensives against the government on the scandal during Question Periods in the House of Commons. During the Senate suspension debate, Duffy used the opportunity to throw more mud at the government – his lawyers claimed the PMO had pushed him into accepting the cheque or that the Conservative Party had paid all of his legal fees relating to the scandal. According to documents released by RCMP investigators, Wright may be charged for bribery, fraud and breach of trust and that Harper might have known more than he admits (an email from Wright said that the PM knew ‘in broad terms’ of the transaction). The RCMP report also claimed that the PMO had arranged to alter a Senate subcommittee report critical of Duffy.

Harper has tried to get a reboot after a tough start to 2013 by announcing a major cabinet shuffle in July, and a new Throne Speech to open a new session of Parliament in October. His shuffle, unsurprisingly, drew relatively little interest outside political circles given that most of the key portfolios – finance, foreign affairs, natural resources and the President of the Treasury Board – didn’t change hands and some of the more important changes (at justice, national defence, citizenship and immigration) were not really indicative of major changes. Some up-and-coming Conservative MPs, such as Chris Alexander (Citizenship and Immigration), Shelly Glover (Canadian Heritage), Kellie Leitch (Labour), entered cabinet with some significant portfolios.

The Throne Speech in October reiterated the Conservative government’s traditional agenda of small government, low taxes, balanced budgets, private sector job creation, expanding free trade and tough stances on crime. However, an early sign that the Conservatives are looking ahead to the 2015 election, the speech included several popular measures and ‘goodies’ targeting consumers – reducing roaming costs on networks within Canada or requiring television channels to be unbundled.

The Tories are also moving forward on Senate reform, asking the Supreme Court whether it can act alone and/or how much provincial consultation would be needed to (a) set term limits, (b) consultative elections on the appointment of Senators and (c) abolishing the Senate. The Tories’ preferred options remains term limits and elections, while the NDP is vocal about its wish to see the Senate abolished. However, in the Throne Speech, the government stated that “The Senate must be reformed or, as with its provincial counterparts, vanish” and at least one Tory junior minister (Maxime Bernier) has floated the idea of a referendum on Senate reform. The federal government, backed by Alberta and Saskatchewan, argue that the Senate can be abolished using the traditional 7/50 amending formula (consent of Parliament and two-thirds of provinces representing 50% of the population) although all other provinces and a lot of legal experts say that abolition of the Senate would require unanimous consent of all provinces. Most think that the Supreme Court will rule that abolition requires unanimous consent (meaning that it would be impossible in reality) and that consultative elections would require the 7/50 rule; Harper is unwilling to open the Pandora’s box of constitutional politics, meaning that he will need to choose between Senate reform through constitutional negotiations or letting the issue slide, perhaps to use it to run against the provinces and the courts in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Tories are facing stronger opposition. In April 2013, Liberal members and ‘supporters’ (non-paying sympathizers who could vote in the leadership contest) elected Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1968-1979, 1980-1984), as Liberal leader, replacing Ontario MP Bob Rae, who had been serving as interim leader since the Grits were obliterated into third place in May 2011. Justin Trudeau, elected in a marginal Montreal-area riding in 2008 and reelected in 2011 despite the NDP’s Orange Crush landslide in Quebec that year, is young (41), photogenic, quite charismatic, at ease in the media and has a famous name. Trudeau had originally declined to run (when Rae was widely anticipated to run for the permanent leadership) but, as Rae did not run, Trudeau reconsidered and threw his hat into the race. Trudeau, by far the strongest and most well-known of the contenders, won handily with 80% of the ‘points’ and 78.8% of the votes.

Since then, the Liberals have led the Tories and NDP in almost all polls. The size of the Liberal lead has varied, peaking after his election in April and dropping somewhat afterwards. Unlike what many had predicted, Trudeau’s honeymoon has prolonged itself – the Liberal lead grew in September and October, while the Tories have foundered – falling below the traditional Tory ‘floor’ of 30%.

Trudeau’s appeal is largely built on his personality and message.

Canadians, outside of the 40% of Tory supporters or floating sympathizers, have never really warmed to Harper (whose approval ratings have always been mediocre) although many respect him as a ‘strong leader’ and view him as most capable on economic issues (the government’s self-proclaimed priority). The Canadian economy is doing relatively well (with natural resource-rich provinces such as Saskatchewan or Alberta leading the way), although growth is projected to slow to 1.5% in 2013 as a result of public spending cuts, restrained foreign demand, the persistent strength of the Canadian dollar, ongoing competitiveness challenges and government policies to curb and reverse record high levels of household debt. Economic recovery in the US and high commodity prices should continue to help the economy. The economy remains one of Harper’s main strengths going into an election campaign, although he is not unassailable on the issue. After seven years in power (and nine by 2015), the mishandled Senate debacle and other scandals/issues, voter fatigue is definitely settling in.

There are also signs that Harper is facing push-back from Tory backbenchers for his ultra-centralist, hegemonic, PMO rule style of governance. Again, while both the Liberals and NDP have whipped caucuses in which backbenchers are told to tow the party line or else, the Tory government has taken it to another level. Government news releases are now signed as ‘the Harper Government’ rather than ‘the Government of Canada’, the PMO and the Privy Council Office vet their content, ministers are tightly controlled and backbenchers generally irrelevant and forgettable cogs. In October 2012, a Tory backbencher introduced a private members’ motion to form a committee to review the meaning of life (reopening the abortion debate), despite Harper’s objection to having the touchy issue reopened (Harper wants to keep a tight lid on social conservative issues like these, to kill the old ‘Tory secret agenda’ ideas). It was voted down 203 to 91, but 86 Tory MPs – including 10 members of cabinet – voted in favour. Just this month, Michael Chong, a Conservative backbencher, introduced a much-discussed ‘reform bill’ which would formalize a caucus’ ability to call for a leadership review and remove leaders’ power to deny nomination to candidates by not signing their nomination papers.

Similarly, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who won the NDP leadership in March 2012 following the death of iconic NDP leader Jack Layton in August 2011, has seen his star fade and popularity decline. He is a capable politician and a strong performer in the House, but the Mulcair NDP has been somewhat stale and unappealing. Mulcair has been working hard to finally shake off the NDP’s image as a leftist third party, by transforming the NDP into a moderate, pragmatic and vaguely centre-left party – a transformation which actually began with Layton (whose 2011 platform was more Tony Blair than anything socialist). For example, while Mulcair supports a cap-and-trade system and drew flack for his comments on Canada facing a ‘Dutch disease’ because of the Albertan oil sands industry, he opposes any changes to personal income tax levels (so no ‘wealth tax’) and only proposes raising corporate tax levels to pre-Harper levels (22%) and cutting business subsidies (notably to the oil and gas sector).

In this context, Trudeau – who presents a fresh face and a vague but appealing message (‘hope and change’, ‘hard work’, ‘middle-classes’) – is seen as a refreshing alternative. Even his admission that he smoked pot, even after becoming an MP, failed to make a lasting mark on the Liberals. Despite Mulcair’s stronger performances in QP, Trudeau’s Grits are still seen as the anti-Harper Trudeau’s main Achilles heel, however, is that his appeal remains quite fragile. He has been criticized countless times for being an empty suit who lacks coherent policies behind pablum like ‘real priorities’. In fact, his policies appear a rather vague mix-mash of things designed to please both the left (legalizing marijuana, opposition to Northern Gateway pipeline, musings about a carbon tax) and the right (support for the Keystone XL pipeline, pro-free trade) all couched in vague language about helping the middle-classes. To add to this, Trudeau still has a knack for rookie gaffes which may come back to haunt him. Most recently, in early November, Trudeau said he ‘admired’ China’s administration because of their environmental policies (while Trudeau was not explicit and may have phrased it awkwardly, it was widely read as ‘Trudeau admires authoritarian China’). He said this at an event for ‘ladies’ whose promotional poster was widely ridiculed because it looked like some Justin Bieber meet-and-greet event and invited ‘ladies’ to “really get to know the future PM” and asked “who are your real life heroes?” or “what is your favourite virtue?” (seriously).

Bourassa, QC

Map of Bourassa (source: Elections Canada)

Bourassa is located in northeastern Montreal, including the entirety of the borough of Montréal-Nord and parts of the boroughs of Ahuntsic (Sault-au-Recollet) and Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles (part of Rivière-des-Prairies).

The seat became vacant in June following the resignation of Liberal MP Denis Coderre to run for mayor of Montreal in last month’s municipal elections (he won). Coderre, a prominent Quebec Liberal MP, had represented the riding since 1997 and served in cabinets under Prime Ministers Chrétien and Martin.

Bourassa is a lower-income multicultural suburban riding. In 2011, 40.2% of the population were visible minorities, and the largest visible minority groups were blacks (21% of the population), Arab (8.9%) and Latin American (6.1%) populations. Bourassa has a large Haitian population – 17.5% claimed Haitian ancestry (the highest in the country), 11% were born in Haiti (29.8% of immigrants were Haitian-born) and 8.6% said Creole was their mother tongue. This demographic makeup explains why Bourassa is still predominantly Francophone (51.4% as a mother tongue, 58.9% speak French most often at home) and largely Catholic (61.8%).

On the note of religion, Quebec is very much a secular province and religious practice is very low. But there’s still a strong secular Christian/Catholic tradition lingering in most of the province, meaning that the percentage of those who pick ‘no religious affiliation’ is very low (except in the more bobo parts of Montreal) compared to Anglo parts of Canada (except perhaps the Atlantic), so only 8.2% of Bourassa’s residents claimed no religious affiliation on the NHS in 2011.

Nevertheless, this should not obscure the fact that Bourassa also has, by Canadian standards, large Arab and Latin American populations as well as a significant Italian community. Most Arabs come from North Africa or Lebanon, countries with a significant Francophone influence. Muslims, at 12.7%, form the second largest religious group after Catholics and 7.3% claimed Arab as their mother tongue. Most Latin Americans are of Peruvian, Salvadoran or Mexican origin and Spanish was the mother tongue of 6.7% of the riding’s population. Finally, Bourassa has a large Italian population, albeit smaller than in neighboring Saint-Léonard or Rivière-des-Prairies, the Italian heartlands of Montreal. Still, 14.3% claimed Italian ancestry and around 9% said Italian was their mother tongue. The Italian population is spread out throughout most of the riding, but largest in the small part of Rivière-des-Prairies included in the riding.

The riding is largely poor – in 2006, it ranked as one of the poorest ridings in all of Canada and it was undoubtedly the same in 2011. The 2010 median household income was $36,981 and 30.4% of all persons were considered low income after tax. Another indicator of the riding’s deprivation is that only 60% of income came from employment earnings while 26.8% came from government transfers.

Low income is also reflected in education, work and housing. 32.2% of the 15+ population had no certificate/diploma/degree of any kind and 24.6% only had a high school diploma – and if 43.2% had post-sec qualifications, most of these were apprenticeship/trades (14.8%) or CEGEP/college diplomas (13.1%), only 10.9% had a university diploma. The leading occupations in 2011 were sales and services (27.8% of the labour force), business/finance/administration (15.4%) and trades/transport (12.9%). The riding’s main industries (NAICS) are retail trade (14.5%), healthcare and social services (13.9%) and manufacturing (13%). In 2011, 69% of households were rented and 60% of them were apartments with fewer than five floors.

Montréal-Nord has a fairly grim reputation in Montreal (as always, certainly undeserved in good part) as a poor, dangerous high-crime neighborhood. It does have something like the third highest crime rate of the island, and crime and violence – gang, drug or prostitution related – is high in parts of the borough, especially in the eastern end close to highway 25. In August 2008, protests following the death of an Honduran teenager at the hands of the police turned into riots (vandalism, cars burned, looting).

The riding of Bourassa was created in 1966 and first contested in 1968, and although the boundaries have shifted eastwards or westwards since then, it has always been centered on Montréal-Nord, an independent municipality until amalgamation. Since 1968, the Liberals lost the riding only twice – to the Progressive Conservatives (PC) in Brian Mulroney’s 1988 Quebec landslide and to the Bloc Québécois (BQ) in the 1993 election. That year, Bloc candidate Osvaldo Nunez, a Chilean immigrant who fled the Pinochet coup in 1973, won the seat by 95 votes (0.12%) over Liberal candidate Denis Coderre, 42% to 41.9%. The PC incumbent, who had won 43.4% in 1988, won 12%. In 1997, a much less favourable year for the Bloc in Quebec, Coderre defeated Nunez in a rematch – and it wasn’t even close: Coderre won the seat by 19.7%, with 52.2% to the Bloc’s 32.5%. Thereafter, he was reelected by comfortable margins – a huge 34% in 2000, more modest margins of 12% (2004), 11% (2006) and 24% (2008) in the subsequent elections. In 2008, Coderre had won 49.8% against 25.4% for the Bloc and 13.6% for the Tories. In 2011, Coderre held his seat with an 8.6% majority over the NDP, with 40.9% against 32.3% for the NDP, 16.1% for the Bloc and 8.8% for the Conservatives.

With redistribution, the new (post-2015) riding will expand westwards to take in the rest of Sault-au-Recollet but lost all Rivière-des-Prairies; this reduces the Liberal majority in 2011 to 6.1%.

Poll-by-poll results of the 2011 federal election in Bourassa (source:

The parties lack well-defined ‘strongholds’ in the riding, although there are some general patterns – broken by the NDP’s Orange Crush in 2011. The Liberals, since the 1990s, have tended to perform best in areas of Montréal-Nord with a large(r) Haitian or Arab population or in Rivière-des-Prairies, and its strong Italian presence. In 2006, for example, the Liberals won over 60% in a series of polls in Rivière-des-Prairies, where the Conservatives also did relatively well – second ahead of the Bloc in a few polls. The Bloc, prior to 2011, did better in polls with a smaller immigrant population. As in the rest of Montreal/Quebec, the 2011 NDP Orange Crush was at its strongest with Francophone ex-BQ voters and the NDP did not do as well with immigrants and minorities, who remained Liberals – although the NDP still won higher numbers with them than the Bloc had in the past. Therefore, the NDP’s support in 2011 bears some similarities to the Bloc’s pre-2011 support, although naturally the correlation isn’t perfect.

The Liberals and the NDP both had contested nomination meetings. The Liberals nominated Emmanuel Dubourg, an Haitian-born who served as provincial Liberal MNA for the provincial riding of Viau (which borders Bourassa, but does not include any parts thereof) between 2007 and his resignation in August 2013. When Dubourg resigned from the National Assembly, he received (legally) a severance pay of $100,000. That sparked some controversy, especially as some felt that he had resigned early before the provincial government passed a law which will abolish severance pays for MNAs resigning for no official reason. Dubourg and the federal Liberals consider the case closed and he has no intention of relinquishing his retirement bonus. The NDP made noise about having a “star candidate” – but as often happens with parties trumpeting a mystery star candidate, it turned out that said star candidate wasn’t a start candidate. The NDP nominated this ‘star candidate’, Stéphane Moraille, an Haitian lawyer and singer in Bran Van 3000, a Juno Award-winning (in 1998) band.

The Bloc nominated Daniel Duranleau, a former school trustee. There was some speculation at the outset about whether the Bloc’s leader, Daniel Paillé, who has no seat in the House, would throw his hat into the ring but unsurprisingly he did not run – as that would have been suicidal. The Conservatives nominated Rida Mahmoud, an engineer from Côte-d’Ivoire.

The Green Party, which is for all intents and purposes dead in Quebec besides managing to run no-namers in elections, was excited by its original candidate, Georges Laraque. Laraque, who is of Haitian ancestry, was a NHL hockey player between 1997 and his retirement in 2010; he finished his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens. He became deputy leader of the Green Party in 2010, but he didn’t even run in the 2011 federal election and the Greens performed, unsurprisingly, disastrously in Quebec in 2011. Laraque polled up to 12% in October, entirely on the star factor and his ties with the Haitian community which likely won him the backing of a few (probably usually Liberal) Haitian voters. However, he quit as candidate and Green deputy leader on October 17 after it was revealed he was charged on five counts of fraud. His unethical business practices were already public and police had raided his home in January 2013, raising major questions as to why Green leader Elizabeth May thought running Laraque would end up being beneficial for the Greens. It seemed, however, that May was desperately looking for another ‘beach-head’ in her micro-targeting strategy (after the successful results in last year’s Victoria and Calgary by-elections) and was ready to bankrupt her very thinly spread party in the process. When Laraque dropped out, despite May reaffirming her ‘faith in his innocence’, the Greens went with one Danny Polifroni, who ran for the provincial Greens in 2012.

Forum Research polled the riding five times, including four times with the names of the candidates themselves. The Liberals saw their support fall from 56% on November 5 to 43% on November 22, while the NDP’s numbers rose from 18% in October to 31% in the final poll in late November. The Bloc, which got 26% in the May poll, was pegged at 15-17% for the campaign (except one poll on November 14 which had them at 20%). Green support collapsed to 2% after Laraque dropped out.

Turnout was only 26.2%, down from 55.1% in 2011.

Emmanuel Dubourg (Liberal) 48.12% (+7.21%)
Stéphane Moraille (NDP) 31.44% (-0.84%)
Daniel Duranleau (Bloc Québécois) 13.02% (-3.04%)
Rida Mahmoud (Conservative) 4.65% (-4.17%)
Danny Polifroni (Green) 2.01% (+0.4%)
Serge Lavoie (Rhinoceros) 0.76%

Unsurprisingly, the Liberals held the seat with a comfortable majority, with a 16.7% majority, significantly larger than Coderre’s small 8.6% majority over the NDP in May 2011. The seat has a strong and old Liberal tradition, which both predates Coderre and goes beyond a simple personal vote for Coderre. Like Coderre before him, Dubourg had strong roots in the Haitian community, probably far more so than somebody like Moraille who is not a politician. This factor, combined with the continuing popularity of the Trudeau Liberal brand – which has given signs of being even stronger in immigrant-heavy ridings such as this one, where immigrant voters might harbour positive opinions of the Trudeau last name because, in part, of Pierre Trudeau’s multiculturalism policy. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have led the polls in Quebec since he became leader, but Trudeau is the most polarizing politician in Quebec according to a recent poll, which found his favourables/unfavourables split 44-32 – against 60/10 for Mulcair and 67% unfavourables for Harper.

That being said, the NDP vote held up quite well considering that the NDP’s popularity in Quebec has fallen significantly since the Orange Crush, when the NDP won 43% of the vote in the province. According to’s latest polling average (November), the NDP’s support stood at 25% in Quebec, trailing the Liberals by 11 points (36%, up from 32% last month). That might be due, in part, to the natural propensity in most by-elections to squeeze minor parties out and coalesce the vote around two parties. After Laraque dropped out, Moraille presented the race as a two-way contest. Political winds change direction very quickly in Quebec (witness the evolution of voting intentions during the 2011 campaign), but for the time being, the NDP, while its support has been eroded as of late with the Liberal upsurge, shouldn’t be counted out.

For one, the Dippers are in a much stronger position than the Bloc, which has failed to recover from the drubbing it received in 2011 because of the Orange Crush (23% of the vote). Because its leader, the rather low-key Daniel Paillé, lacks a seat in the House and the Bloc lacks official party status (4 MPs) it receives low media coverage. Add to that that the PQ provincial government is unpopular, that support for independence is low and that the last time the Bloc got significant media attention was when one of its MPs, Maria Mourani, was expelled from the party from opposing the PQ’s new and controversial Quebec Charter of Values. However, to be fairer, the Bloc likely didn’t put put much of its meager resources into the race.

Similarly, the Conservative vote consistently drops, often rather significantly, in those by-elections in which the Tories have no chance of winning and therefore don’t put any effort into them.

Without Laraque, in a riding which is demographically unfavourable to the Greens to begin with, the Greens did poorly, although they increased their percentage share of the vote by a few decimals.

Turnout was very low, so any conclusions we can draw from this by-election should be taken with a grain of salt. There were 19,675 less valid votes in 2013 than in 2011. All parties, even the Liberals, saw their actual raw vote fall from 2011 – the Liberals lost 6,725, the NDP lost 6,504, the Bloc lost 3,718, the Tories lost 2,502 and the Greens lost 245. More than anything else, in such circumstances, each party likely held their core voters who vote in every election and direct gains/loses from party to party were likely limited.

Brandon—Souris, MB

Map of Brandon-Souris (source: Elections Canada)

Brandon—Souris is located in the southwestern corner of Manitoba, centered around the city of Brandon. The city, the second largest in the province, has a population of about 56,000 (with 64,200 in the wider metro area), making it – by miles – the largest town in the constituency, which is otherwise made up of small towns with only a few thousand inhabitants, Prairie farmland and a few Native reserves.

The seat became vacant with the resignation of Conservative backbench MP Merv Tweed resigned at the end of August. Tweed was first elected in 2004.

Brandon-Souris is a largely white and Protestant riding, but given that 72% of the riding’s population lives in the Brandon metro I would object to the descriptor ‘rural’ for this riding. It is more rural, obviously, than many ridings in Canada – in 2011, 9.6% were employed in agriculture/forestry which places it significantly above the Canadian average in terms of population employed in agriculture. However, the main industries in Brandon-Souris are healthcare (14.3%) and retail trade (11.4%), with agriculture in third followed down the list by public administration (9.4%) and manufacturing (8%). Brandon has a regional health centre, contributing the strong presence of healthcare and social assistance in the riding; it also has a university (Brandon University) meaning that education is also rather big (7.4% in 2011). The leading occupations in 2011 were sales/services (22% of the labour force), trades/transport/equipment operators (15.1%), management (13.8%) and education/law/social, community and government services (13.5%).

The median household income, $57,055, not particularly high, but poverty is rather low – 14.8% were low income after tax in 2011. Low income but comparatively low poverty is common for a ‘rural/small town’ areas. One reason being that houses are fairly cheap, the median value of dwellings in 2011 was $189,875 against $280,552 for the entire country. Seven in ten households are owned (72% to be exact), most of them were built before the 1980s and the huge majority of them are single-detached houses.

Another typical characteristic of ridings such as Brandon-Souris is the relatively low level of education – despite the presence of a (small) university campus. 24% have no certifications and 29.5% only have their high school diploma. 46.6% do have post-secondary qualifications, largely from college (17.9%) or university (13.7%).

6.8% of the population are visible minorities, the leading communities being Latin Americans and Chinese. Another 9.8% claim ‘aboriginal identity’ – including 5.6% of Native Americans and 4.1% Métis. The non-white population is largest in the city of Brandon, where ‘only’ 77% are white.

Of more political relevance is the ethnic/ancestral makeup of the riding. Southwestern Manitoba, where the land was the best, attracted well-off ‘elite’ English settlers from Ontario or the British Isles beginning in the 1870s and 1880s, who gradually came to outnumbers the Natives and Métis. These Ontarian-English farmers and businessmen came to form the political and economic elite of the province, which more or less retained power at the provincial level until the election of Ed Schreyer’s NDP government in 1969. Several Manitoba Premiers, including famous names such as Thomas Greenway, Rodmond Roblin or John Bracken, had immigrated from Ontario. The result of this interesting history is that the Brandon area, in contrast with other parts of the Canadian Prairies which attracted very diverse immigration from Eastern Europe, the Russian Empire or Germany, has a more English/Scottish population. English and Scottish were the two leading ethnic origins declared in 2011, with 35.9% and 29.9% of the population respectively. Germans came in fifth – behind Canadian and Irish – with 16.7% – while a total of 17.5% declaring various Eastern European origins, mostly Ukrainian, Polish or Russian.

English was the mother tongue of 85% of residents in 2011. German was a very far second, with 4.4%, although the proportion of German speakers rises to over 20% in some rural municipalities outside Brandon.

Religiously, the riding is heavily Protestant – in 2011, the various Protestant and non-Catholic Christian denominations accounted for 50.1% of the population, undoubtedly ranking the riding near the top in terms of Protestants. Catholics made up only 16.6% of the population, and 31.4% claimed no religious affiliation (you will notice the irony of a conservative small town riding in Manitoba having a much larger share of irreligious identifiers than a urban riding in Montreal!).

English-Ontarian voters, at the provincial level, historically split their allegiances between the Conservatives, Liberals and Progressives and strongly resisted the NDP. Agrarian socialism carried no appeal to southwestern Manitoba’s prosperous English farmers and agrarian politics in Manitoba were steeped in Ontarian rural liberalism, extremely moderate if compared to the ‘group government’ and proto-socialist ideas of Albertan and Saskatchewan agrarianism. The Brandon-Souris area, provincially and federally, has a strong Conservative tradition. Provincially, the PCs have represented the rural ridings with almost no interruption since at least 1958, but the NDP has usually held Brandon East, the poorer part of the city.

Federally, Brandon-Souris was created in 1952 from the merger of the separate ridings of Brandon and Souris, which more or less represented the north and south halves of the current riding respectively. Since the riding’s creations, the Conservatives lost the seat only once – to the Liberals in the 1993, largely because the right-wing vote was split between Reform and the PCs, allowing the Grits to win with only 33%.

Before the 1950s, the Liberals had represented the area a few times. Clifford Sifton, Wilfrid Laurier’s Minister of the Interior between 1896 and 1905 who is most famous for promoting European immigration to Western Canada at the turn of the last century, held the seat of Brandon between 1896 and 1911. Robert Forke, the moderate and liberal leader of the Progressive Party, represented Brandon between 1921 and 1930, although he was returned as a Liberal-Progressive in 1926 and joined the federal Liberal cabinet that same year.

Brandon-Souris sticks out from other ‘rural’ ridings in Western Canada by never having elected a Reform/Alliance MP. In 1997, it was Brandon mayor Rick Borotsik, a Progressive Conservative, who won the seat with a thin 1.7% margin over the Reform Party. Borotsik, something of a Red Tory and critic of the Reform Party, was reelected in 2000 with a 5.5% majority over the Alliance. In both elections, the Liberals placed a paltry third with only 18% of the vote – Borotsik certainly ate into the Liberal potential a lot.

Borotsik only reluctantly joined the united Conservative Party in 2003 and backed Belinda Stronach over Harper for the leadership of the new party. He did not seek reelection in 2004, allowing Merv Tweed, a provincial PC MLA, to easily win the seat for the Tories with 51.7% against 24.2% for the Liberals and 19.2% for the NDP. Tweed was reelected with huge majorities in the next three elections – 34% in 2006, 39% in 2008 and 2011. The Liberal vote has consistently declined since 2004, from 18% in 2006 to only 5.4% in 2011; while the NDP has become the strongest rival to the Tories with 25% in 2011 (against 63.7% for Tweed). In 2008, the Greens placed a strong third with 15.8% of the vote, probably because their candidate spent $37,583 – much more than either the Grits or the Dippers, and only slightly less than the Tories themselves. In 2011, however, he spent only $10,000 or so and the Green vote fell to 5.7% (still ahead of the Liberals).

With redistribution, the boundaries shift slightly southwards – losing the northern parts of the riding to Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa – but expanding eastwards a bit. The impact on the 2011 results is negligible.

Poll-by-poll results of the 2011 federal election in Brandon-Souris (source:

Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives have tended to do far better in rural and small town polls than in Brandon itself, although the size of their margin in the last elections has lessened the divide somewhat. Indeed, in 2011, the NDP won only 12 regular polls to the Tories’ 167 – all of them were in Brandon except for the Dakota Native reserves (Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation). The Tories won upwards of 70%, even over 80%, in most rural and small town polls outside the Brandon metro. In areas closer to Brandon, the Tory vote fell under 70% and stood at 40-60% in most of Brandon. In detail, the Conservatives did best in the suburban neighborhoods of Brandon, particularly the newer subdivisions and the more affluent western half of the city. The NDP and the Greens have tended to do best in downtown Brandon, near the university and in the poorer eastern half. In 2011, the NDP’s strongest results came from the downtown core while in 2008, the Greens had won the poll covering the university as well as downtown, with the NDP doing better in some poorer neighborhoods in eastern Brandon.

In 1997, the PCs won Brandon (where Borotsik was mayor), doing particularly well in western Brandon, and some small towns and rural polls while the Reform Party generally won the rural polls.

The Conservative nomination process rose quite a ruckus. Chris Kennedy, a former aide to outgoing MP Merv Tweed, was considered the favourite for the nomination until he was mysteriously disqualified or failed to hand in his nomination papers on time, depending on who you believe. The Conservative Party says that Kennedy’s nomination papers arrived in Ottawa one day after they were due, something confirmed by a tracking of the Purolator package from Brandon to Ottawa, which shows that it left Brandon on the afternoon of Sept. 11 (the day it was due in Ottawa) and arrived in Ottawa the next day. Kennedy, on the other hand, says he delivered the package on Sept. 10 for a next-day delivery to Ottawa (he might be correct, but that would mean that Purolator in Brandon sat on the package for a day) and swears that he had attached the $1,000 deposit cheque to his papers (the Tory HQ had originally told him he had not stapled the cheque to his papers). With Kennedy out and another contender dropping out, the Tories nominated (now former) Arthur-Virden PC MLA Larry Maguire by acclamation. Regardless of what went down, the shenanigans – well publicized by the media and Kennedy’s recriminations – hurt the local Tories, with reports of memberships being returned and a right-wing editorialist in the local newspaper was visibly peeved at the whole issue.

In contrast, the Liberals handled their nomination process far better and attracted a strong candidate. Rolf Dinsdale, a media executive and the son of former PC MP Walter Dinsdale (who held the seat between 1951 and 1982) won the nomination. The NDP nominated Labour Council president Cory Szczepanski, the Greens nominated greenhouse owner David Neufeld and the Libertarians ran Frank Godon, a former US Marine and briefly candidate for the Liberal nomination before dropping out.

Brandon-Souris was the most competitive of the four ridings with by-elections, according to polling by Forum Research – who were in the field five times between October and November. The Liberals led the Tories by 4 points, 40 to 36, in a first poll in October. The Liberal lead grew in each poll thereafter. On November 22, the Liberals led by 14 – 50 to 36 – and on November 24, the last poll out, the Liberals led by a phenomenal 29 points, or 59 to 30. NDP and Green support in the polls was halved over the course of the campaign, from 12% to 6% and 5% respectively.

Turnout was 44.8%, down from 57.5% in 2011.

Larry Maguire (Conservative) 44.16% (-19.57%)
Rolf Dinsdale (Liberal) 42.75% (+37.59%)
Cory Szczepanski (NDP) 7.22% (-17.96%)
David Neufeld (Green) 4.88% (-0.85%)
Frank Godon (Libertarian) 0.98%

In a major surprise – and yet another black eye for Canadian polling – the Tories managed to narrowly hold the seat, with a 1.4% majority over the Liberals. The Grit defeat will disappoint Liberals who had been keeping tabs on this race, and could be interpreted as a Grit ‘underperformance’ given polling expectations. However, Trudeau seems to have done a good job of managing expectations, and the idea that the Grit defeat here was a bad result for them has not been widespread (although I don’t follow the media blabber’s much).

Forum Research, which is not a bad pollster in general (although as a new-ish company, its track record is limited), totally bombed on this one – the Liberals up 29 points (!), in reality they lost by 1. The most likely explanation would probably be the obligatory comment on the difficulty of polling by-elections, which compound the natural difficulty of accurately polling a single riding with about 62,000 registered voters and a usual turnout of 35-36k in normal elections. Related to this is the impact of low turnout; only 27.7k voters turned out in the by-election and it’s no secret that low turnout can create weird results (although this result is not particularly weird, disregarding expectations built on polling) and lead even the best pollsters astray. Speculating further, pollsters might have some trouble accurately polling outside large built-up urban areas, in a riding which, while more urban than actually agricultural/rural, still has a significant share of voters in small towns and rural areas. Finally, some kind of shy Tory/shy government support effect might have played a role; the Tories as incumbents have underpolled in the last two federal elections (but the incumbent Liberals underpolled in 2006) and Forum also underpolled the Tories in Provencher (see later).

The Winnipeg Free Press attributed the Liberal defeat to a series of tactical errors: having a Tory mayor run for the Liberal nomination for the illusion of having a contested nomination (instead of letting him run as an independent), having Trudeau not campaign more heavily outside Brandon and Trudeau opting to spend the final weekend campaigning in the Liberal strongholds in Quebec and Ontario instead of this marginal riding.

Nevertheless, the Liberals’ defeat should not obscure the fact that this was nevertheless an excellent result for them. They won 42.8% of the vote, the highest vote share for the party since its creation (the last time it was this high was in a two-way by-election contest in 1951 in the riding of Brandon) and despite low turnout this is the highest raw vote for the Liberals since 1993, when turnout was 69%.

The Liberal vote was likely inflated some by the two-way nature of this particular by-election, which once again saw the natural propensity for third parties to be squeezed in by-elections. In a general election, I would certainly expect the NDP to do much better – at the very least, 12 or 13% like they won in the 1990s and 2000 (horrible years for the federal NDP). In this by-election with two high profile candidates for the Tories and the Grits, they found themselves squeezed and likely didn’t invest much resources into this riding either. Therefore, the Liberals likely ate into the Dippers’ vote, while other NDP voters from 2011 likely did not turn out. The NDP in Manitoba was also hurt by the provincial NDP government’s unpopularity; the long-time NDP government is trailing in the polls provincially after a decision to raise the sales tax to pay for flood mitigation.

The Conservatives won by 389 votes. The Tories lost over 10,000 votes from the last election, when they had won 22.3k votes – this year, they won only 12.2k votes. The Liberals, on the other hand, increased their raw vote by a significant amount – despite, again, turnout over 10 points lower than in 2011. In the annus horribilis 2011, the Grits won only 1,882 votes in Brandon-Souris whereas this year they took 11,816 – which is, as noted above, the highest raw vote for the Grits since 1993. On the other hand, the NDP lost 6,849 votes; the Greens lost 663 votes and overall 7,521 less votes were cast in 2013. Unlike in Bourassa, where no party gained in raw votes and likely only held its reliable voters from 2011, in Brandon-Souris, the Liberals made sizable gains (+9,934 votes) despite turnout falling by 7.5k. Poll-by-poll results would allow more detailed analysis, but it would appear as if the Liberal gains came from both the NDP and the Tories – which is, needless to say, excellent news for the Grits if they’re able to repeat such gains across Canada. Many Tory and/or Dipper voters must have stayed home as well (possibly more Tories stayed home, as often happens with demotivated and demobilized soft government supporters in by-elections/midterms, further compounded perhaps by the Tory nomination shenanigans).

The Liberal result is even more impressive if you remember how low the Liberals have sunk in Western Canada, outside of a few ‘Indian reserves’ holdouts in Winnipeg, Ralph Goodale’s personal stomping ground (Wascana) and Greater Vancouver. In 2008 and 2011, the Liberals polled single digits in most Western ridings outside urban areas (and even in some urban areas), making the NDP the strongest rivals to the Tories. Under Dion and Ignatieff, the Liberal brand in the west – already damaged by Trudeau and not durably improved by Chrétien/Martin, had become closely associated with eastern ‘elitism’ – Dion as the egghead from Quebec, Ignatieff as the vilified Harvard academic who was “just visiting” and “didn’t come back for you” – but also fairly left-leaning policies which were out of touch with Western Canada: Dion’s green shift (carbon tax) platform in 2008, and even a fairly centre-left platform from Ignatieff despite Ignatieff being closer to the party’s right. Stephen Harper’s Tories, more strongly rooted in Western Canadian conservatism of the Reform/Alliance variety than the PCs ever were (especially post-Diefenbaker), have therefore been an extremely attractive option in the region. While some Western Canadians may feel that Harper hasn’t fulfilled all he said he would or addressed the region’s old grievances fully, it is still clear that under Harper, Western Canada is stronger than it ever was under past Liberal and even PC (Mulroney) governments.

Therefore, if the Liberals are this competitive against the Tories, it is certainly excellent news for the Grits and cause of major concern for the Tories. It does not seem as if Justin Trudeau is, as of today, suffering from his late father’s deep unpopularity in Western Canada. In fact, since Trudeau won the leadership, polling in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (with small samples and large margins of error) have shown the Liberals performing surprisingly well.

Provencher, MB

Map of Provencher (source: Elections Canada)

Provencher is located in southeastern Manitoba. Unlike Brandon—Souris, where over 70% of the population lives in one metro area, only 13.7% of Provencher’s population lives in the largest community in the riding, Steinbach. Geographically, the bulk of the population is concentrated in small communities in the Prairies, while the eastern and northern halves of the riding (extending to the border with Ontario), which are in the barren Canadian Shield, are sparsely populated because the land is unsuitable for agriculture.

The seat became vacant in July 2013 following the retirement of Conservative MP Vic Toews, who had held the seat since 2000. A former provincial cabinet minister under the Manitoba PC government in the 1990s, Toews became the senior Manitoba minister in the Harper government serving as Minister of Justice (2006-2007), President of the Treasury Board (2007-2010) and Minister of Public Safety (2010-2013). Toews gained a reputation as a strong proponent of the government’s law-and-order agenda, spearheading legislative efforts to toughen detention laws for gun crimes and youth offenders and, in his last position, a very controversial bill which would have expanded law enforcement agencies’ power to monitor and track digital communications. The bill, “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act”, would have allowed authorities to demand access to subscriber information from ISPs and telephone providers without a warrant. There was major public opposition to the bill, and Toews became a lightning rod for criticism after saying people “either stand with us or with the child pornographers” while a Twitter account (run by a Liberal staffer) leaked details of Toews’ divorce details. The legislation was withdrawn in February 2013, and the whole episode badly hurt Toews’ credibility and reputation as cabinet minister. Younger Manitoba MPs such as Shelly Glover (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages since July 2013) and Candice Bergen (Minister of State (Social Development) since July 2013) have replaced him as the leading Tory MPs from the province in the Harper cabinet.

Provencher is a largely white riding. Visible minorities make up only 2.3% of the population but 12.3% claimed Aboriginal identity, including 9.4% with official Métis identity. The relatively large Métis population – nearly 10,000 people – is a remnant of the riding’s early settlement and history. When Manitoba joined Confederation in 1871, the province’s small population was largely Francophone and Métis. Immigration, first from Ontario or the British Isles, significantly altered the ethnic makeup of the province and had significant consequences for the province’s history. Although the Francophone and Métis presence in Manitoba has been significantly reduced since the nineteenth century, their presence is still perceptible. Provencher has the second highest Francophone population in the province outside of St. Boniface in Winnipeg (the historical centre of the Franco-Manitoban population), with 9.9% speaking French as their mother tongue and 5.4% still speaking French most often at home. French ancestry was the third most commonly reported ethnic origin in 2011, with 19.9%. Canadian, the second largest ethnic origin with 25.6%, may also include persons of French ancestry as the term ‘Canadian’ is heavily used by Francophones in Quebec and some other provinces to describe their ethnic origin.

The French history of the riding is perceptible in the toponyms of towns and villages: Ste. Anne, St-Pierre-Jolys, Saint Malo, Lorette, De Salaberry Rural Municipality or Montcalm Regional Municipality. These areas also have the largest Francophone populations: in St-Pierre-Jolys, French was the mother tongue of 47% of the population in 2011 and over 35% spoke French as their mother tongue in De Salaberry and Montcalm RMs.

Provencher, however, has an even stronger German influence. In the late nineteenth century, German-speaking Mennonites fleeing persecution in Czarist Russia settled in southeastern Manitoba, in the so-called ‘Mennonite Reserve’. There were later waves of Mennonite immigration from Prussia or Russia in the early twentieth century, in the 1920s after the Bolshevik victory and in the late 1940s following World War II. Some more conservative Mennonites emigrated to Mexico or Paraguay in the early twentieth century, a reaction to new provincial legislation which abolished instruction in languages other than English in schools. German Lutherans and Catholics also settled in the region. As far as Provencher is concerned, however, the Mennonite presence has been larger. In 2011, 35.8% of residents identified their religion as ‘other Christian’, a category including Mennonite. Roman Catholics made up 23.6%, 19.5% claimed no religious affiliation and only 6.3% identified with the United Church of Canada and 4.8% as Lutheran.

The family structure reflects the strong Mennonite presence. 60.8% of the population over 15 were married in 2011, one of the highest rates of all 308 ridings. 82.4% of the 27,440 census families that year were married couples, and only 9.1% of census families were lone-parent families. In 2006, Provencher had the lowest percentage of lone-parent families.

German was the largest ancestry declared in 2011, with no less than 35.7%. Some Mennonites began identifying as Dutch to escape association with Germany during World War I, so there is a sizeable share claiming Dutch origins (8.9%). There are also significant Ukrainian (13.8%), Russian (10.1%) and Belgian (2.5%) communities. In contrast to Brandon-Souris, a fairly WASP riding, only 28.8% of the population claimed English, Scottish, Irish or other British Isles ancestry.

Once again, the German influence can be seen in place names: Steinbach, the largest city in the riding, Hanover RM, Hochstadt, Kleefeld, Friedensfeld or Grunthal. The German Mennonite population is highest in Hanover RM (51.7% German ancestry, 72.7% other Christian) and Steinbach (51.7% German ancestry, 56.7% other Christian) but also in Franklin RM, Morris RM, La Broquerie RM and Niverville. 17.3% of residents in 2011 identified German as their mother tongue and 7.5% still spoke German most often at home.

Like in Brandon-Souris, only 9% of the labour force are employed in agriculture and related industries the riding; the main industries being construction (11.3%), manufacturing (10.1%) and healthcare (9.8%). The leading occupations in 2011 were trades/transport (22.3%), sales and services (18.3%), business/finance/administration (14.3%) and management (11.9%). The median household income was $63,156 and 15% were low income after tax in 2010. As is the case in most ‘rural’ ridings, education levels are rather low. In 2011, 29% had no certifications of any kind and 28.9% only had a high school diploma. Of the 42% with post-sec qualifications, most came from colleges or trades/apprenticeship schools as only 10.8% of the population in 2011 had a university degree at the bachelor level or above.

Provencher has existed as a riding under that name since 1871, and it has always included parts of southeast Manitoba – at the least, the areas south of Steinbach and east of the Red River. George Étienne Cartier, John A. Macdonald’s Quebec ally, was acclaimed in the riding in 1872 following his defeat in Montreal. Louis Riel, the famous Métis leader of the Red River and North-West rebellions, was elected thrice – in a 1873 by-election following Cartier’s death, the 1874 federal election and in a 1874 by-election following his own expulsion from the House. However, Riel was living in exile in the US at the time and never sat, and was finally unseated and declared an outlaw in 1875. Between 1878 and 1904, the riding was represented by Francophone Conservative MPs. The Liberals gained the seat in 1904 and held it until 1957, with two Francophone Liberals serving between 1921 and 1957. In the 1917 conscription election, Provencher was one of two ridings east of Ontario which elected a Laurier Liberal (anti-conscription) member, given the riding’s large anti-conscription/anti-war French and German populations (although Mennonites still largely kept outside of politics). In the following decades, the large Francophone/Métis and German Mennonite population made the seat a Liberal stronghold. Social Credit had a foothold with French and German voters, and won 29.7% in 1957. The Francophones’ political domination of the riding decreased in the 1950s, as German Mennonite immigrants became more politically active.

The PCs gained the riding in Diefenbaker’s first victory in 1957, and, with the exception of the Trudeaumania election of 1968, would hold it until 1993. German Mennonite, small-c conservatives to begin with, became a reliable Tory constituency as the Tories slowly transformed from the party of the central Canadian WASP elite to a broad-based party appealing to conservative voters in rural Western Canada. Jake Epp, a Mennonite, held the seat for the PCs between 1972 and his retirement in 1993. Liberal support in the riding declined, and the Grits placed third behind the NDP in 1979, 1980 and 1984.

The Liberals regained the seat in 1993, with 44% against 36.8% for Reform and 10.3% for the PCs. Liberal MP David Iftody, a socially conservative Catholic, won reelection with a 5% majority over Reform in 1997 (40 to 35.1). In 2000, however, Alliance star candidate Vic Toews, a Paraguayan-born Mennonite, defeated Iftody with a 17 point majority (52.8% vs 35.6%). Toews was reelected with even larger majorities in the last four elections. In 2011, Toews won 70.6% of the vote against 17.9% for the NDP, a 53 point majority. As in other Western Canadian ridings, Liberal support in the constituency collapsed over the course of the last four elections: a consistent drop from 24.9% in 2004 to 6.7% in 2011. The NDP placed second ahead of the Grits in 2008 and 2011.

Results of the 2011 federal election in Provencher (source:

In the 2011 election, Vic Toews won all but one polls – the Roseau River Reserve, where the NDP won 58%. The Conservatives did best in the German Mennonite areas, where they won over 80% of the vote (and even over 90% in a few polls) in almost every single poll – and the few polls where they didn’t, they still won well over 70%. The German Mennonite areas post astounding results for the Tories, both provincially and federally. Francophone areas have shifted to the Tories since the late 1990s, and Toews also won every Francophone poll in 2008 and 2011, although by smaller margins than the German polls. For example, he won in the 50s or high 40s in polls in Lorette, Ste. Anne and St-Pierre-Jolys.

In the 1997 and 2000 federal elections, a fairly clear split is visible between the Francophone areas – which voted Liberal by large margins – and the German areas – which voted Reform/Alliance by large margins as well. The Liberals also did well in the remote town of Pinawa in the Canadian Shield, which was home to a nuclear research facility which was decommissioned beginning in 1998. Even in 2004, the Liberals still won a handful of polls in Franco-Manitoban towns such as Ste. Anne, St-Pierre-Jolys, Lorette or Saint-Malo; while Toews was already scoring over 80% in the Mennonite Reserve (Steinbach/Hanover). In 2008 and 2011, a lot of Liberal voters in these towns shifted over to the NDP. In 2011, the NDP managed decent second place showings in most of these towns, especially in Ste. Anne and Lorette, where the Dippers took over 30% in most polls.

The socially conservative right-wing Christian Heritage Party won 1.3% in 2011 and 3.2% in 2008; they did quite well in the Mennonite Reserve areas in 2008, placing distant seconds or thirds behind the Tories but ahead of the Grits and/or Dippers.

The riding was the least interesting of the four by-elections. The Conservatives nominated Ted Falk, a Mennonite credit union president from Steinbach. The Liberals nominated their 2011 candidate, retired public servant Terry Hayward. The NDP candidate was Natalie Courcelles Beaudry, the Greens ran Janine Gibson.

Forum Research showed the Tories leading the field by reduced but comfortable margins in their four polls between October and November, but the Tory advantage dropped from 27% in their first poll in mid-October to only 11 points in their final poll on November 22. The Conservatives fell from 56% to 48%, while the Liberals increased from 29% to 37%.

Turnout was only 33.9%. Unlike in Brandon-Souris, where turnout dropped by about 13 points, turnout in Provencher collapsed by 27.9%. In Brandon-Souris, only 7,521 less votes were cast in 2013 than in 2011, but in Provencher, there were 17,021 less votes.

Ted Falk (Conservative) 58.20% (-12.40%)
Terry Hayward (Liberal) 29.94% (+23.23%)
Natalie Courcelles Beaudry (NDP) 8.22% (-9.67%)
Janine Gibson (Green) 3.64% (+0.69%)

Unsurprisingly, the Tories held the seat without any trouble. Like in Brandon-Souris, however, the Tories underpolled significantly in Forum’s polls – an 11 point lead in the final poll, while they ended up winning by no less than 28 points. My observations and speculation as to why the polls fumbled these two Manitoba by-elections so badly while doing a slightly better job at predicting the two other (urban) by-elections likely apply in this case as well.

Again, as in Brandon-Souris, the Tories’ victory shouldn’t hide the fact that the Liberals performed very well – their best % share since 2000 and their highest raw vote since 2004 (despite much lower turnout than in 2004). The Liberals gained 4,066 votes from their meagre harvest in 2011 – despite turnout dropping by over 17,000 votes. The Conservatives were the main losers, naturally, with 14,774 less votes than in May 2011. The NDP also lost 5,208 votes from their 2011 result. It would certainly appear as if a lot of the Liberal gains came directly at the expense of the Tories and the NDP, like in Brandon-Souris but unlike in the two other by-elections. It is worth repeating that it is a rather spectacular performance for the Liberals, who had been obliterated in this (and similar) ridings in the last two elections and who didn’t even a prominent star candidate like they did in Brandon-Souris.

Toronto Centre, ON

Map of Toronto Centre (source: Elections Canada)

Toronto Centre covers the heart of downtown Toronto, including neighborhoods such as Cabbagetown, St. James Town, Regent Park, Church and Wellesley, the Garden District, the eastern portion of the University of Toronto (UofT) and the affluent ‘enclave’ of Rosedale.

The riding became vacant following the resignation of Liberal MP Bob Rae, the former interim leader of the Liberal Party (2011-2013) and NDP Premier of Ontario (1990-1995), on July 31, 2013. Rae entered politics for the NDP in the late 1970s, as a federal NDP MP between 1978 and 1982 before switching to provincial politics to become the leader of the Ontario NDP. Rae’s NDP supported Liberal Premier David Peterson’s minority government between 1985 and 1987 and became Leader of the Opposition following the 1987 provincial election, when the Tories dropped to third place. Rae’s NDP won a surprise majority government in the 1990 election, making Rae the first – and, to date, only – NDP Premier of Ontario. His premiership remains negatively perceived, a result of the government’s inexperience, a major recession and backtracking on several policies such as public auto insurance. His austerity policies to tackle the recession (the Social Contract) caused huge strains with organized labour, historic allies of the CCF/NDP. The ONDP was crushed by Mike Harris’ PCs in the 1995 election, and Rae retired from politics. Howard Hampton, a left-wing rival of Rae who was critical of some Rae policies, replaced him as NDP leader and dissociated the NDP from the Rae years. Rae returned to politics for the federal Liberal Party, running for the party leadership at the 2006 convention, ending third on the third ballot. He was elected to the House from Toronto Centre in a 2008 by-election and reelected in 2008 and 2011. As a leading Liberal MP, Rae gained a reputation as a competent and intelligent member and was selected as interim Liberal leader in May 2011 following the election defeat. Originally, the interim leader was barred from running for the leadership in 2013, but as Rae turned out to be a strong leader who placed the Liberals as leading opponents of the government after Layton’s death and before Mulcair’s election, there was widespread speculation that the rules would be changed and Rae would run. In a surprise turn, he declined to run and resigned a few months after Trudeau’s victory to become a First Nations negotiator.

Toronto Centre is a diverse riding, with marked contrasts. It includes both poor immigrant neighbourhoods with high-rise apartment and social housing, gentrified professional middle-class neighbourhoods, Toronto’s gay village but also Rosedale, one of the wealthiest neigbourhoods in all of Canada.

Taken as a whole, the riding stands out on a number of census measures, reflecting its cosmopolitan, downtown nature. It has a high percentage of working-age adults, with relatively few children or seniors – in 2011, 91% of the population was aged 15 or over, one of the highest in Canada, while the median age (37.8) was fairly low, indicating a large presence of younger adults. Most residents were actually single and never married (45.3%) while only 29.2% were married and not separated, some of the highest and lowest numbers in the country. Households in the riding, on average, have few children (the average number of children per census family was 0.8) and a majority (62% in 2011) were actually one-person households. However, immigrant-heavy lower income neighborhoods and Rosedale both have a higher proportion of children; for example, in low income Regent Park only 78% of the population was older than 15.

Toronto Centre is a diverse, multicultural riding – 40.8% of residents in 2011 identified as visible minorities, which is high by Canadian standards but many GTA ridings have much higher numbers. The leading visible minority groups were South Asians (9% of the population), Chinese (8.3%), black (7.7%) and Filipino (4.6%). While the wealthy enclave of Rosedale remains very much a ‘white English’ neighbourhood, poorer areas have huge non-white populations – 81.4% in Regent Park or 73.4% in St. James Town, to name only two.

The largest ethnic origin declared in 2011 was English, but with only 19.8% of the population. Other major ancestries included Irish (15.2%), Scottish (14.8%), Canadian (13.3%), Chinese (9.3%), German (7.3%), French (7.3%) and East Indian (5.2%). Similarly, while English was the mother tongue for 59.9% of residents, 34.5% said their mother tongue was a non-official language – the leading such languages being Chinese/Mandarin/Cantonese, Bengali, Tagalog and Spanish.

Unsurprisingly for this kind of riding, 34% in 2011 had no religious affiliation – the middle-class professional areas showing the highest rates, while affluent Rosedale and some of the immigrant areas had lower levels.

Toronto Centre is one of the most educated ridings in Canada, with 50% holding a university degree at the bachelor’s level or above and only 8.9% without any certifications of any kind. As a nice indicator of the kind of riding we’re dealing with, Toronto Centre has some of the highest percentages across Canada’s 308 ridings of degrees in social and behavioural sciences and law (13.5% of the 15+ population), humanities (6.8%) and visual and performing arts, and communications technologies (6.1%) There is a significant percentage of business, management and public admin degrees (17.3%) but comparatively few in architecture or engineering (7.5%).

On a similar note, occupations in social science/education/government service (15.5%) or in art/culture/recreation and sports (8.5%) were overrepresented compared to both the provincial and federal averages. Business/finance jobs, the second largest occupational category following sales and services (which were underrepresented compared to Ontario or Canada), employed 19.2% of the labour force and 14.3% had management occupations. The major industries, according to the NAICS categories, are professional, scientific and technical services (15.9%); finance and insurance (11.6%); healthcare (8.9%) and educational services (8.5%). Retail trade, which employs 11.3% of Canadian workers, in contrast employed only 7.8% of residents in this riding.

Individuals by income decile in Toronto Centre, Ontario and Toronto CMA (2011 NHS)

Individuals by income decile in Toronto Centre, Ontario and Toronto CMA (2011 NHS)

The riding’s major contrasts are best seen when looking at income. Although it is a well educated, fairly young, highly mobile and cosmopolitan riding, there are significant pockets of deprivation contrasting with wealthy enclaves. The median household income of $49,773 in 2010 was significantly below the Canadian level ($61,072) and Toronto CMA level ($70,365). On the other hand, the average household income – $95,451 – was slightly above the Toronto CMA and significantly higher than the Canadian average household income ($79,102). The prevalence of low income, 26.4%, was over ten points higher than the Canadian average. In poor neighbourhoods, up to 50% of residents may fall under the low income cutoff rate while in Rosedale, that proportion drops to low single digits.

There are there major wealth gaps in Toronto Centre. According to the 2011 NHS, 20% of individuals were in the bottom decile while an almost identical number were in the top decile – that makes 40% of the population living at the extreme ends of the income scale. The graph to the left clearly shows the income disparities in the riding compared to the province and the Toronto CMA.

In economic, social and political terms, Bloor Street forms a sharp boundary between the ‘north’ and ‘south’ of the riding. North of Bloor, the neighbourhoods of Rosedale, Moore Park and Yorkville are all very affluent (Rosedale, it is worth repeating, is one of the wealthiest places in all of Canada) with leafy, secluded residential streets with single-detached homes and sprawling lawns. Yorkville, a more central neighborhood, is a high-end shopping district with some of the most expensive real estate (condos) in Toronto.

South of Bloor offers a wide mix of neighborhoods. Regent Park, St. James Town, Trefann Court and parts of Moss Park are low-income neighborhoods, with large immigrant (visible minority) populations and a significant share of the population living in poverty. These areas have historically been low-income, originally home to Irish or ‘ethnic white’ working-class immigrants, and today home to immigrants from Asia, Africa or the Caribbean. Regent Park has a large South Asian (Bengali) population while St. James Town, the most densely populated area in Canada, has a large Filipino population. Housing largely consists of older high-rise apartment towers or social housing projects.

Other parts of the riding, along Yonge Street near Ryerson University, UofT and further south towards the waterfront, are bustling commercial, business or retail downtown areas. Church and Wellesley, in the centre of the riding, is known as Toronto’s gay village.

Cabbagetown, formerly an Irish working-class neighborhood, has been at the forefront of gentrification since the 1970. Rowhouses have been refurbished and have attracted well-off and highly educated professionals – lawyers, doctors, journalists – but also artists, musicians, academics and social workers. Corktown has been gentrifying in the past decade or so.

The riding was historically something of a Conservative stronghold, as much of Toronto was prior to World War II and mass immigration. The riding of Rosedale, an elongated riding similar to the present-day seat, was created in 1933. The Tories represented predecessor seats for the bulk of the period since Confederation, and held Rosedale between 1935 and 1949, when the Liberals gained the seat and held it by narrow margins until Diefenbaker’s victories in 1957 and 1958. Liberal candidate Donald S. Macdonald went on to hold the seat between 1962 and 1978, serving in cabinet under Trudeau and famously chairing a Royal Commission which recommended a free trade agreement with the US. David Crombie, an urban reformist who served as mayor of Toronto between 1974 and 1978, gained the seat for the PCs in 1978 and held it until 1988. While the Tories held the seat by a hair in 1988, the Liberals, with Bill Graham, won the seat in 1993 with a 28% margin over the PCs. Graham, who later served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (2002-2004) and Minister of National Defence (2004-2006), was reelected with large majorities four times. The NDP became the Liberals’ main (distant) rival in the riding after 2004 (they also placed second in 1997), winning around 24% in 2004 and 2006 against over 50% for the Liberals.

Graham, who briefly served as Liberal interim leader after 2006, stepped down in 2008, allowing Bob Rae to win the seat in a by-election with a 46-point majority over the NDP (who won only 14%). In 2008, he was reelected with 53.5% against 18% for the Tories and 15% for the NDP. The Greens performed well in both the earlier by-election and the October 2008 general election, taking 13% and 12% respectively.

The 2011 election was the closest race since 1988, as the Liberals suffered heavy loses largely at the NDP’s expense. Rae was reelected, but with a much thinner (but nevertheless fairly comfortable) 10.8% majority, taking 41% to the NDP’s 30.2%. The Conservatives won 22.6%, their best result in years. However, the Conservatives are now rather weak in the riding. The Harper Tories, too closely tied to the Western right-populist tradition of the Reform/Alliance and perceived as socially conservative, are a poor fit for this riding, even in the affluent areas which should normally provide a solid base for the Tories. The quip about the Liberals’ 2011 voters being “too smart to vote Tory, too rich to vote NDP” holds some weight in Toronto Centre, and other similar ‘urban core’ ridings.

The Liberals’ much-reduced majority made for a very interesting map in the 2011 election. In their previous landslides in the 1990s and 2000s, the Liberals had won almost every single poll, north or south of Bloor, masking the differences between the northern and southern halves of the riding. Indeed, one of the main reasons behind the Liberals’ strength in this riding since the 1990s has been their ability, unmatched by the Tories or NDP, to ‘bridge’ the two halves of the riding and win substantial support both in affluent polls and in the high-rise, multiethnic neighbourhoods. The 2011 election did not break that pattern, but the Liberals suffered loses to the Tories in the affluent polls and to the NDP in the yuppie/artsy downtown polls and the low-income immigrant areas.

Results of the 2011 federal election in Toronto Centre (source:

In 2011, the NDP won slightly more polls than the Liberals (125 regular polls vs. 108, 22 for the Tories). However, they did not win any poll north of Bloor – in fact, the NDP only placed second (ahead of the Tories) in one poll north of Bloor, a small poll covering high-rise apartments. In the most affluent parts of Rosedale and Moore Park, the NDP won less than 10% of the vote. On the other hand, the NDP were very strong south of Bloor. The Dippers won low-income immigrant areas such as Regent Park, St. James Town and Trefann Court; but also the areas around Ryerson University, the socioeconomically diverse Garden District and Moss Park, housing coops near the waterfront and the trendy cosmopolitan Church and Wellesley area. The Liberals had done well in all of these areas prior to 2011, in fact Regent Park had usually been one of the Liberals’ strongest neighbourhoods, with over 60% (if not 70%) support in years such as 2006 and 2008. There were large swings to the NDP in Regent Park, but also in most areas south of Bloor, including in more middle-class parts of neighbourhoods such as Moss Park, where the Greens had done very well in 2008.

North of Bloor, the Conservatives won the wealthiest parts of Rosedale, Moore Park but also the high-end downtown Yorkville area. In between the two, the Liberals’ best results came from Cabbagetown, a place where the line “too smart to vote Tory, too rich to vote NDP” might really apply; the NDP doesn’t do all that well there – in 2008, they placed behind the Greens in most polls – and the Conservatives are very weak. The Liberals did well in the Old Town, a bustling downtown area where most votes are probably cast in new condo developments. That area is also one of the few places south of Bloor where the Conservatives do decently well, often placing second behind the Liberals.

The 2011 maps show a clear contrast between north and south, and explain why the Liberals have the upper hand. The NDP, in 2011, was able to record major swings south of Bloor, but it failed to make any inroads in the riding’s affluent northern end. The Conservatives’ hopes of actually winning the seat are even lesser, given that the bulk of votes are cast south of Bloor, where the Conservatives place third in almost every single poll. The Liberals, in contrast, placed first or second in just about every poll in 2011, regardless of location, and effectively did just as well in affluent homeowner areas of Rosedale and Moore Park than in poor(er) renters areas south of Bloor.

Toronto Centre was the most closely watched race, even though it wasn’t the closest battle. It received so much attention from the media because of its location (by-elections in Toronto tend to draw far more media coverage, at least in English Canada, than by-elections in some far-off rural place nobody knows about) and because the Liberals and NDP both recruited high-profile candidates. Both Trudeau and Mulcair invested significant political capital in the riding: for Trudeau, holding the highly mediatized riding was a must, while for the NDP, winning a seat from the Liberals would be a huge boost. However, the NDP likely understood that winning the seat as it stands was an uphill battle given the NDP’s challenges mentioned above. Instead, the NDP was more realistically aiming for a strong result in preparation for 2015. The 2015 federal election will be fought on entirely new boundaries across Canada, in 338 ridings instead of 308. Toronto Centre, which saw significant population growth (with condos and whatnot) since 2003, was overpopulated with over 130,000 residents in 2011.

The final report of the boundary commission shrank the riding of Toronto Centre, removing everything north of Bloor (and also the area around UofT) and the waterfront area. Rosedale and the other areas north of Bloor were merged with the northern half of the neighbouring riding of Trinity-Spadina to create the seat of University-Rosedale. The University-Rosedale riding, the two-thirds of which come from NDP MP Olivia Chow’s riding of Trinity-Spadina, has a solid NDP notional majority of 12.3% (43.2% vs. 30.9% for the Liberals). The new Toronto Centre is still notionally Liberal, but with a small 3.1% majority. Therefore, it’s understandable why the Dippers wanted to hit the ground running with a strong campaign, even if ultimately unsuccessful, in the old riding before the 2015 election. A solid run would provide the NDP with solid footing for the next federal election.

% vote for the NDP by poll in Toronto Centre, 2011 federal election (source:

The Liberals nominated Chrystia Freeland, a journalist who worked for the Financial Times and later The Globe and Mail. Freeland moved to Toronto in the summer of 2013, having previously lived in New York City. She published a book on income inequality, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, in October 2012. The NDP nominated Linda McQuaiq, a former journalist, columnist and writer. As a columnist (often for the Toronto Star) and a writer, McQuaiq has focused on issues such as universal social programs, ‘big oil’, progressive taxation and income inequality. Indeed, like her Liberal rival, McQuaiq published a book on income inequality, The Trouble with Billionaires, in 2010.

The Tories nominated corporate lawyer Geoff Pollock and the Greens nominated John Deverell, another journalist. Seven other candidates also ran, including John Turmel, who ran in his 79th election.

The battle between Freeland and McQuaig was rather bloody. McQuaiq accused her rival of not seeing inequality as a problem in her book (referring to it as part of the ‘creative destruction of capitalism’), although Freeland insists she does see it as a problem – but mostly because of the ‘hollowing out’ of the middle-class. Freeland’s rhetoric in the campaign mostly focused on the middle-class, an issue at the forefront of Trudeau’s pitch and a major problem in Toronto, where researchers have pointed to the ‘disappearing’ middle-class and the polarization of the city between rich and poor – a gap very much visible in Toronto Centre, which might have one of the highest Gini indexes in all of Canada. Freeland said that McQuaiq and the Dippers subscribe to the ‘outdated’ “simple take-from-the-rich, give-to-the-poor” solution. In her book, McQuaig advocated for steep marginal tax rate increases of 60% for those earning about $500,000 a year and 70% for those earning $2.5 million. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair having ruled out income tax increases, McQuaig was forced to fall in line with NDP policy. Freeland said she opposes the income tax hikes backed by her rival but also the corporate tax increases which form part of NDP policy, arguing that taxation is part of the middle-class ‘squeeze’ and that corporate tax increases would hurt Canada’s competitiveness in the global economy. She is critical, however, of new tax credits introduced by the Conservative government, which many feel offer tax breaks for the wealthy.

The two candidates and their campaigns threw mud at one another and tried to play on wedge issues. Freeland was attacked for spending too much time outside Canada and only moving back to the country this summer; the NDP also said she admired Margaret Thatcher and she drew flack for referring to Sarah Palin as a ‘feminist hero’ in a newspaper column once. The NDP tried to capitalize on potential unease about Trudeau with left-wing progressive voters by drawing attention to Trudeau’s support for the Keystone XL pipeline and criticizing Freeland for campaigning with Liberal MP John McKay, one of the few Grit MPs to vote against same-sex marriage. The Liberals, on the other hand, drew attention to a column by McQuaig praising Hugo Chávez (and a photo of her shaking hands with Chávez) or to her former opulent home in suburban Oakville.

Forum Research confirmed the Liberals were the favourites, although the NDP made inroads as the campaign progressed. In June, before candidates were known, Forum found the NDP in third with 20%, against 49% for the Grits and 25% for the Tories. However, in October, Forum showed the Liberals leading the NDP by 15 (45-30), a lead which narrowed to 8 in the last poll on November 24, which had the Liberals up 47-39 to the NDP. While the Liberals and NDP increased their standings, the Tories and the Greens saw their support decline over the course of the campaign.

Turnout was 38.2%, down 24.7% from 62.9% in 2011.

Chrystia Freeland (Liberal) 49.38% (+8.37%)
Linda McQuaig (NDP) 36.30% (+6.09%)
Geoff Pollock (Conservative) 8.63% (-14.01%)
John Deverell (Green) 2.97% (-2.05%)
Dorian Baxter (PC) 1.3%
Judi Falardeau (Libertarian) 0.68% (+0.18%)
Kevin Clarke (Ind) 0.24%
John Turmel (Ind) 0.16%
Leslie Bory (Ind) 0.15%
Michael Nicula (Online) 0.12%
Bahman Yazdanfar (Ind) 0.07% (-0.12%)

The Liberals held Toronto Centre with an expanded majority of 12.8% (up from 10.8% in 2011). Both the Liberals and the NDP made gains, however – as far as percentages of the vote are concerned. The Liberals won 49.4%, up about 8.4% from 2011, while the NDP expanded their share of the vote by about 6 points, winning 36% – which is certainly their best result since I don’t know when. In contrast, the Tories were very much squeezed by the extremely polarized contest and depressed turnout, and their vote share dropped to only 8.6%, an horrible result. While the Tories have been on a downwards trend compared to the 1980s, the Tories have always been able to maintain a decent vote (their lowest being 12% in another by-election, in 2008), even during the days of the divided right when the PCs nevertheless polled between 21% (1993, with an incumbent) and 17% (2000). It is of course worth remembering that this is not unusual for by-elections: they tend to turn into two-way races far more than general elections (when a favourable national trend for the party may lift the local candidate up, even if the local candidate’s campaign is weak) and the Tories have a record of ignoring by-elections which they know are unwinnable (to focus their resources on defending seats or attacking winnable seats).

Winning was always an uphill battle for the NDP given the current make-up of the seat. However, they ran a strong campaign and won a good result, which kind of makes up for the terrible results in Manitoba and the flat result in Quebec. The NDP, perhaps with McQuaig as their candidate, will stand a good chance of winning the redistributed riding of Toronto Centre in 2015. tweeted that her rough calculations on election night still gave the Grits an edge in the redistributed riding, with 48% to the NDP’s 43% – up from 39.6% and 36.5% on the 2011 notional results. According to these same rough numbers, the Liberals also made substantial gains in the portion of the new University-Rosedale in the current riding, from 45% in 2011 to 59% in the by-election (the Tory vote collapsed from 35.8% to about 19%, tied with the NDP).

It is important to temper the talk of “Liberal gains” or “NDP gains” or stuff about the NDP or Liberal building on/solidifying their 2011 vote. In reality, neither the Liberals or NDP made substantial gains when it came to raw votes: the Liberal vote fell by 5,638 ballots and the NDP shed 4,178 votes. Of course, the Conservatives were much heavier – they lost 9,600 votes compared to the 2011 election (the Greens also lost substantially, polling a full 1,762 votes less than in 2011). While there were likely voters who turned out in both 2011 and 2013 who switched their votes from one party to another (for example, there were likely some 2011 Conservative voters in Rosedale who voted Liberal; the Liberals apparently swept Rosedale, like in pre-2011 elections), the more likely explanation of the results overall is that the Liberals and NDP did the best job at retaining their votes from 2011 while the Tories and Greens did a terrible job at it.


By-elections remain by-elections: trying to draw nationwide conclusions from them will always remain a complicated, futile and often silly exercise. By-elections have different dynamics than general elections: the local ‘can’t win here’ parties are squeezed in more polarized races and poll less than they would in a general election, turnout is in almost all cases down rather significantly from the last general election (and in almost all cases the turnout in the next general election is higher than in the by-election) and some races may be more affected by local factors and candidate notoriety/strength than in general elections. That being said, it’s obviously not impossible or completely useless to draw some conclusions from the results. And, at the very least, by-elections offer an often reasonably accurate snapshot of what certain people in certain parts are thinking.


The table above shows the results expressed in raw votes rather than percentages, which is arguably just as important to look at than raw percentages in a by-election scenario.

The Liberals are the clear winners of these four by-elections: they made gains, in percentage terms, in all four riding; they held their two seats; they made major gains in two hitherto Conservative citadels where the Liberal brand had been dead in the last two elections (at least) and they increased their raw vote across all four ridings by 1,637 votes despite turnout being much lower than in 2011 (-65,499 votes). Of course, the Liberals fell short of winning what had been looking to be a likely gain (Brandon-Souris) and underperformed the polls in Provencher. In Bourassa and Toronto Centre, while the Liberals expanded their majority and their share of the vote, they lost votes from 2011 and their share of the vote was – while higher than in the annus horribilis 2011 – still on the lower end of historical Liberal results in those seats since 1993 (the same wasn’t true, of course, for the two MB seats where the Liberal result was the best in years if not decades). Still, those are fairly minor issues. The Liberals had the best retention of any party in Bourassa and Toronto Centre and they directly gained at the Tories and Dippers’ expense in Manitoba. These elections confirm that, for the time being, Trudeau’s Liberals are being seen as the strongest alternative to Harper’s Conservatives for 2015. That may change, especially in a fickle country like Canada. Trudeau is still showing clear signs of weakness when it comes to being coherent with policy and a knack for saying or doing boneheaded things. On election night in Toronto, he somewhat disgracefully attempted to claim Jack Layton’s mantle by presenting the Liberals as those showing that ‘hope is stronger than fear, that positive politics can and should win out over negative’ and saying that the NDP is now a negative, divisive party and no longer Layton’s hopeful and optimistic party. In the heat of a gruelling federal election campaign – one which is shaping up to be close to a three-way toss-up – Trudeau’s really going to need to step up his game against two strong opponents.

The NDP, on balance, were net losers of the by-elections. Their major bright spot was Toronto Centre, where their strong and high-profile candidate won a solid 36% of the vote and held about three-quarters of the NDP’s 2011 votes. That places them on solid footing for 2015 in the new riding, and might be interpreted as a sign that the progressive base in downtown Toronto isn’t all that enamoured by Trudeau. Their result in Bourassa wasn’t too shabby either, although they only retained 47% of their 2011 ballots. Still, it does show that the NDP is still in the game in Quebec, where its ability to defend its 2011 Orange Crush results might be make-or-break for the party come 2015. In Manitoba, however, the NDP was crushed – squeezed by Lib-Con battles, worn down by the unpopularity of the provincial Dipper government and hurt by low turnout.

The main losers were the Conservatives, who had a bad night. The only bright spot proved to be the surprise hold in Brandon-Souris, a relief for many Tories and salvation from a near-death experience in a Tory stronghold. They also overperformed their polling numbers in Provencher. On the whole, however, there are few silver linings for the Tories in these numbers. They ignored Bourassa and Toronto Centre, so understandably they were crushed, but even the size of their shellacking they got in those seats was surprising. Unlike in past by-elections, the Conservatives were not able to go on the offensive in any of these by-elections, a strategy which had worked for them in by-elections under the 39th and 40th Parliaments (seat gains in Quebec, Ontario). In the two Manitoba ridings, despite Tory holds, the Conservatives lost over 10,000 votes in each and their share of the vote fell drastically from 2011. The Liberals proved to be a threat to the Tory hold on hitherto solid Tory citadels in the Prairies, and if that’s repeated across Western Canada in 2015 that is very bad news for the Tories (who are already facing some trouble in Ontario, the other part of the winning formula from 2011).

As mentioned in the introduction, the Tories are perhaps at their lowest ebb since 2006. Harper’s teflon is wearing off and there is rising unease within Tory ranks about PMO centralism in his governance. Although Harper insisted over the summer that he will be a candidate in 2015, but an informed comment piece by John Ivision in the National Post on December 4 indicated that there is speculation that Harper may actually resign after returning from an Israel-Mid East trip pushed up to early 2014. In the past few days, there have been cracks in the Conservative cabinet. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Employment Minister and potential leadership contender Jason Kenney confronted one another over Toronto’s embattled right-wing mayor Rob Ford, with Flaherty offering an angry response (“shut the fuck up”) to Kenney’s call on Ford to resign – and it apparently almost got physical. Ivision commented on simmering divisions between cabinet ministers.

The Bloc Québécois was unlucky that the first post-2011 by-election in which it had a chance to prove itself was held in a Liberal stronghold where the Bloc has been increasingly weak. With a poor candidate adding to the Bloc’s troubles across the province, they had a poor showing. Bloc leader Daniel Paillé stood down as leader of the party on December 16 for health reasons (he has epilepsy); but it’s also perhaps partly because he knew that the Bloc is increasingly going nowhere. The party has a tiny caucus, an anonymous leadership, low coverage in the media and little interest from the public. They will have a tough time recruiting a leader who feels that they can take the Bloc somewhere in 2015, and be able to successfully challenge the NDP and the Liberals for the attention and support of Quebec Francophone voters.

The Greens had a poor run as well, losing votes in every riding and increasing their vote share in only a single seat (and not by much). Elizabeth May’s ill-advised decision to promote Laraque in Bourassa in a futile attempt to give the Greens a beachhead in a province where the party is dead fell flat on its face and may have hurt the financially cash-strapped party a lot. In other ridings, the Greens had little-known candidates and the national party did not target any of those seats. In Toronto Centre, the Greens, who have potential in the riding, found themselves squeezed even more by the high-profile Liberal-NDP contest. There, the Greens’ vote suffered the most – falling 2.1% and retaining only 37% of their 2011 ballots (compared to 60-70% in the 3 other seats). Elizabeth May’s micro-targeting/beachhead strategy yielded positive results in 2011 (the first Green MP, May herself) and 2012 (strong results in Victoria and Calgary by-elections), but on the other hand that strategy will not increase the Green vote in ridings not targeted – in 2011, the Greens’ support nationally fell and the Greens have done poorly in by-elections where they weren’t campaigning hard.

The table confirms my observations on the by-election dynamics which create two-way battles and squeeze third parties out. The Tories retained the most votes – 55% and 47% respectively – in the two seats where they were competitive while in the two other ridings they held only 25% and 24% of their 2011 ballots. The NDP similarly held 47% and 75% of its votes in those seats where they were strong seconds in 2011 but held only 23% and 26% in the two Manitoba seats where they were not competitive and squeezed by the Grits.

These by-elections ultimately yielded a status-quo result. But they also confirmed that the 2015 federal election is looking to be one of the most exciting in recent history, especially if it does turn out to be a three-way race for first and second.

Quebec (municipal) 2013

Map of Quebec (source: Atlas of Canada, Natural Resources Canada)

Municipal elections were held in the province of Quebec (Canada) on November 3, 2013.

The mayors and municipal councils of 1,111 local municipalities, directly elected for four year terms, were up for reelection. The mayor is directly and separately elected by FPTP, while municipal councillors (a minimum of 6 per municipality) are either elected in single-member wards/districts (in municipalities with a population over 20,000, electing at least 8 councillors) or at-large by the entire municipality (in such cases, the seats are numbered and candidates may only stand for one seat), again by FPTP. Some municipalities, such as Montreal, elected other offices (borough mayors, borough council etc) while 13 Regional County Municipalities (see below) directly elected their prefects.

Canadian local politics stand out from local politics in the United States or most European countries because of the absence of national or state/provincial political parties. Rather, local politics are either non-partisan or feature a number of municipal political parties (in the larger towns). In Quebec, unlike in Ontario, most large cities have municipal parties (often alongside independent candidates). However, these municipal parties are oftentimes little more than empty personal vehicles for a leading mayoral candidate or other local politician, and they come and go with their leaders. Furthermore, while ideology and federal/provincial partisan ties do play a role in Quebec local politics, they are not central to local politics – candidate quality and personality, personal ties, local issues and parochialism play larger roles.

Why care about all this? These elections were made all the more interesting and important by the recent developments in Quebec local politics with regards to high-level political corruption and collusion in the administration of major cities in Quebec. This blog post explains in thorough detail all the background to these elections and the corruption in Quebec local politics.

Municipal government

Quebec is divided into 1,111 local municipalities (municipalités locales) in addition to Indian reserves, northern (Inuit) villages, Cree and Naskapi villages/lands and unorganized territories administered by a supralocal body. Of these 1,111 local municipalities (map and list), 637 are designated as municipalities (municipalités), 223 as towns (villes), 161 as parishes (paroisses), 44 as villages, 44 as townships (cantons) and two as united cantons (cantons unis). These designations do not impact their powers, although the towns (and four municipalities and one village) are governed under the Law on Cities and Towns while the rest are governed under the Municipal Code.

Municipal governments are solely responsible for fire protection, water and water treatment and waste management. They share responsibility with the provincial government over housing, roads (the local level being responsible for streets and local roads), public transportation, policing, recreation and culture, parks and green spaces and land use/spatial planning policies.

Local government in Quebec also includes supralocal structures which share some powers with or have been delegated powers from municipalities. There are eleven agglomerations (agglomérations) grouping 41 municipalities, which have a council made up of delegates from the municipalities. Their powers may include real estate appraisal, policing, fire protection, public transit, water management, waste management, tourism and economic development. Most municipalities (1,067 municipalities and 94 territories) are covered by 87 Regional County Municipalities (Municipalités régionales de comtés, MRC) which have a council made up of the municipalities’ mayors and led by a prefect who is, in thirteen cases, elected directly by voters. The MRC has powers over land use, planning for waste management and fire protection, preparation of evaluation rolls, creation and funding of local development centres. There are fourteen structures holding powers of an MRC: four agglomerations and nine cities. The Greater Montreal and Greater Quebec City areas also form metropolitan communities, with a council responsible for planning and coordination on select issues.

Eight municipalities, including Montreal and Quebec City, are further subdivided into boroughs (arrondissements) aiming to provide localized services to citizens including (in Montreal) fire protection, parks and recreation, maintaining local roads, land use and waste management.

In Canada, like in other federal states, municipal governments are the creation of the provincial governments and while they have administrative autonomy, they are limited by provincial legislation and regulation in their behaviour. Municipal by-laws must be cleared by the provincial government, and the organization of municipalities (their powers, their structure and their boundaries) are determined by the provincial government.

For example, in 2002, the provincial Parti Québécois (PQ) government proceeded to the forced amalgamation of a large number of municipalities – most significantly, merging all municipalities on the island of Montreal into a single city and amalgamating the suburban municipalities of Quebec City, Gatineau, Lévis, Longueuil or Saguenay into a single city. The government was following in the footsteps of major municipal amalgamations in Ontario in the 90s. A number of former municipalities opposed these amalgamations. After 2003, a new provincial Liberal government carried out its promise of holding referendums on municipal de-amalgamations in those former municipalities where 10% of residents signed a petition asking for such a vote. 89 referendums were held in June 2004, resulting in the successful re-creation of 32 former municipalities in January 2006.

Background: Corruption and collusion in Quebec municipal politics

Municipal politics in Quebec have been shaken up in the past year by the Charbonneau Commission on the awarding and management of public construction contracts (at the municipal and provincial level), which has revealed deep and ingrained corruption in municipal politics – notably in Montreal and Laval, Quebec’s largest and third largest cities respectively. As a result of revelations and allegations, a number of mayors (including the mayors of Montreal and Laval) were forced to resign.

Corruption allegations had been swirling around the world of municipal politics, especially in Montreal, since 2009 with concerns over the high prices charged for construction contracts, rumours of illegal party financing by entrepreneurs and collusion between municipal politicians and shady entrepreneurs. Right before the 2009 elections, Benoit Labonté, the former leader of the main municipal opposition party in Montreal, was forced to admit his links with corrupt developer Tony Accurso from whom he had allegedly solicited and received money. In an interview which shook the political milieu, Labonté said that illegal financing of municipal and provincial parties was the norm and that a cartel in cahoots with the mafia ruled public works contracts in Montreal.

In late September and early October 2012, Lino Zambito, a former construction contractor, testified before the commission and spilled the beans about an organized system of collusion in the construction industry which controlled access to public construction contracts, and the role played by engineering firms and the mafia in the illegal financing of political parties/candidates at the municipal level.

Zambito claimed that his (bankrupt) construction company was one of ten companies in Montreal (all or most of which were formed by natives of the Sicilian village of Cattolica Eraclea) which formed a cartel controlling and dividing (amongst themselves) public contracts in Montreal. The cost of contracts were inflated by up to 25-30%, and the cartel – in tandem with the mafia – used intimidation to prevent other construction firms from bidding for or obtaining a contract from city hall. It was clear that the tendering process for public works contracts was rigged in favour of the cartel, and those companies which tried to ‘enter’ the closed world were unceremoniously told off by the cartel’s members – or their allies in the mafia.

In return for membership in this cartel, Zambito said that he needed to pay 2.5% of the contracts’ values to Nicolo Milioto, a middleman who gave the funds to the Rizzuto mafia clan (the Sicilian-led clan which controlled the Montreal underworld from the 1980s to 2006-2007). Video footage from a social club run by the Rizzuto family showed Zambito and other contractors handing over money, in cash, to Milioto.

In Montreal, unlike at the provincial level or in suburban municipalities, engineers employed by the city were responsible for designing plans, specifications and tenders for contracts and, later, for supervising the work. Zambito claimed that several engineers employed by the city were involved in this close cartel, being corrupted by developers (through bribes, hockey tickets, paid trips to Mexico, dinners etc) to approve fake cost overruns (faux extras) which further inflated costs. Zambito revealed that he paid 1% of the value of his contracts to Gilles Suprenant, a city engineer responsible for designing projects.

Other municipal employees also received their ‘share’ of money from contracts. He later claimed that two high ranking members in Tremblay’s administration – the former director general of the city of Montreal and the former president of the executive council, Frank Zampino – intervened in the awarding of contracts for personal gain or to favour certain firms. Elio Pagliarulo, a businessman who was once business partner with Paolo Catania, the boss of a major construction firm (with ties to the mafia), claimed that Zampino – Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay’s erstwhile right-hand man (and perhaps éminence grise) – had received $550,000 in bribes from Catania during the construction-ridden Faubourg Contrecoeur housing project. Zampino had intervened to ensure that Catania would receive the contract for the Faubourg Contrecoeur project.

Surprenant, in his own testimony, admitted that he collaborated with the cartel to inflate contract costs and received $700,000 in bribes. He also admitted to having played golf with Vito Rizzuto, the godfather of the Montreal Sicilian mafia, at the invitation of Tony Conte, a construction contractor. Luc Leclerc him to admitted to having received bribes, totaling $500,000. Both men said that they were able to partake in the cartel’s games through the ‘tactic complicity’ of site supervisors and their superiors. These men denied these allegations.

Beginning in 2005-2006, Zambito claimed that he also paid out 3% to Union Montréal (UM), the municipal party of then-mayor Gérald Tremblay (2001-2012). Other entrepreneurs confirmed these claims, and said that it was understood that payment of these ‘contributions’ to the mayoral party was the sine qua non to participate in the construction industry in Montreal.

Zambito also commented on the system in place in Laval and Montreal’s North Shore suburbs. Concerning Laval, Zambito claimed that a similar sum of 2.5% of the contracts’ value was to be paid to mayor Gilles Vaillancourt. A similar closed cartel of entrepreneurs ruled supreme in Laval when it came to awarding contracts; furthermore, the mayor was quite aware of this state of things – Zambito said that Vaillancourt had told him that ‘his turn’ would come and that he would get ‘his job’ soon. In November, an anonymous contractor claimed that he paid $15,000 a year to Vaillancourt, twice directly to the mayor himself. Vaillancourt was forced to resign one day later. A police raid later found $110,000 in the mayor’s safety deposit boxes.

On the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, private engineering firms were in charge of preparing plans, tenders and subsequently supervising works. Zambito talked of a complex system of collusion and corruption where engineering and law firms associated to ‘find’ potential mayoral candidates, run and finance their campaigns using cost overruns paid out by cities to construction contractors. Construction firms which wanted to obtain contracts in these municipalities needed to have connections to private engineering firms which had ties to the municipal councils, and partake in the financing of candidates and parties. These existence of these so-called ‘élections clés en main’ were confirmed by other witnesses.

Zambito’s shocking testimony was followed, in late October 2012, by the bizarre (and somewhat discredited) testimony of Martin Dumont, a former political organizer for UM and aide to mayor Tremblay. Dumont claimed that Milioto threatened his life in 2007 when he questioned the nature of the inflated costs. His most shocking claims, however, was that Tremblay himself had closed his eyes on an unofficial, parallel campaign budget funded with dirty money during a 2004 by-election campaign. Dumont had been told that there were two campaign budgets: an official budget, and a much larger unofficial budget fed with illegal money. His second extraordinary revelation was that he had seen Bernard Trépanier, UM’s financing guru, unable to close a safe stuffed with cash. Dumont also claimed that, during a fundraising event for UM, he received a brown enveloppe with $10,000 in cash from Milioto – in the bathroom! The veracity of Dumont’s testimony was later called into question when he was cross-investigated and information about the conditions in which he lost his job at city hall (and stories involving him looking at porn on his work computer).

In late November, Érick Roy, an investigator for the commission, exposed the results of his research into the clients of the ‘357c’ private club in Montreal. Lists of clients and guests at the private club between 2005 and 2012 showed that several high-ranking municipal and provincial politicians and businessmen had been invited to exclusive events or dinners at the club. Two former cabinet minister in then-Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government were found to have met entrepreneurs tied to the cartels, having been invited by Frank and Paolo Catania, whose company is linked to the Rizzuto mafia clan. Other municipal politicians including Frank Zampino, Tremblay’s former chief of staff Martial Fillion, Bernard Trépanier or other city councillors and borough mayors were among the guests. The private club apparently served as a meeting place for politicians, city employees, construction contractors and engineering firms.

In January 2013, Michel Lalonde, the president of an engineering firm, confirmed the deep entrenchment of corruption and collusion in Montreal and the North Shore suburbs. Lalonde said that, in 2004, Trépanier had sought $100,000 or $200,000 in contributions from engineering firms to finance the 2005 electoral campaign. The 2009 campaign, instead, was financed by the aforementioned 3% ‘contribution’ by contractors from the cost of the contracts. Lalonde said that engineering firms made these payments thanks to the faux extras which were granted to the construction contractors – who paid a sum, in cash, equivalent to 20-25% of these faux extras to engineering firms. Clearly, obtaining contracts and jobs in Montreal was conditioned to generous illegal contributions to the ruling party. Successive witnesses confirmed this state of fact, most of them naming Trépanier as the guy behind the whole scheme.

Construction contractors contributed generously to all provincial and municipal parties. To circumvent the electoral law, a number of firms have made (illegal) use of ‘figureheads’ – employees who contribute financially to political parties, and are reimbursed by their employer. At the municipal level in Montreal, both UM and the main opposition party, Vision Montréal (VM), received illegal campaign contributions of this type. Provincially, developers (and their ‘figurehead’ employees) gave to both the Liberals and the PQ (and the former ADQ in lesser amounts).

In a bizarre and outlandish testimony (March 2013) filled with holes, Trépanier admitted that he knew of and participated in a system of collusion; he was informed of the results of tenders in advanced and used this information to solicit contributions from the firms which had been awarded the contract. Trépanier, however, had trouble explaining the the origin of some $900,000 he or his company (‘Bermax’) received from engineering-construction firm Dessau between 2002 and 2010, allegedly in return for lobbying work Trépanier had done to allow Dessau to obtain contracts from Montreal airports. The commission, through phone records, proved Trépanier’s strong personal ties with Zampino and major construction contractors including Paolo Catania and Tony Accurso (whose yacht hosted numerous politicians).

Trépanier worked as UM’s chief financier between 2004 and 2006, when he was fired by mayor Tremblay, but other witnesses all confirmed that Trépanier continued his activities for UM until 2009 in full sight of all, the mayor included.

Appearing before the commission in mid-April, Frank Zampino categorically denied all accusations against him and said that he had been unaware of collusion. However, the commission was able to prove Zampino’s close ties to contractors such as Catania and Accurso – having been on trips with both of them, often paid by the contractors themselves, while contracts were being awarded. Zampino, the commission also showed, had attended the marriage of Frank Cotroni’s son with the daughter of another notorious mafia lord. Frank Cotroni’s brother, Vic Cotroni, had been one of the godfathers of the Calabrian mafia in Montreal, dominant in the 1970s until the Sicilians took over.

In May 2013, after the shocking arrest of the former mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt, the commission shifted attention to Laval. Witnesses confirmed the existence of a large system of collusion in the suburban city. The city decided who would be awarded contracts before the period for bidding was over. In return, the lucky contractor would ‘pay back’ with cash contributions to the mayor’s party, the PRO des Lavallois. Once again, contributing to the mayoral party was necessary for any contractor wishing to do business in Laval.

A construction engineer collected, between 2003 and 2009, the equivalent of 2% of each contract’s value and gave the money to the PRO – over the years, he collected $2.7 million. Unlike in Montreal, where it may appear that the mayor was not directly involved in the dirty financing of his party, Vaillancourt was at the centre of the whole scheme in Laval – which he coordinated himself.

In June 2013, Jean Bertrand, the official agent for the PRO between 1984 and 2013, declared before the commission that the quasi-entirety of PRO municipal councillors had served as ‘figureheads’ for engineering consulting firms which were contributing to the party. Bertrand said that he gave the illegal money he received to the municipal councillors, who provided him with an official cheque in return. Therefore, municipal councillors participated in money laundering – and also claimed their tax credits for their ‘clean official’ donation. Bertrand said that he told the councillors that the money was illegal, an allegation denied by the councillors later called to testify (although they confirmed Bertrand’s other revelations).

The Charbonneau Commission continues to reveal high-level corruption in municipal politics, provincial politics and major trade unions.

Political fallout

Many of the witnesses’ allegations directly mentioned high-ranking municipal (and provincial) politicians and political parties.

Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay, in office since 2001, was not cited in name by many witnesses – the real power in city hall and at UM, it appears, laid with Frank Zampino (mayor of Saint-Léonard from 1990 to 2008, president of the executive council until 2008) and Bernard Trépanier (for the financial aspects). However, what is unclear is to what extent Tremblay was aware of the corruption which surrounded him and what he did (if anything) to address that issue. Tremblay, to the point of ridicule, has constantly denied all accusations and insisted that he was not informed of the situation.

However, several witnesses and investigators confirmed that city hall had been aware of collusion and corruption – perhaps as early as 1997 (it is clear that corruption predated Tremblay’s election). Two reports drafted by city hall employees in 2004 and 2006 attempted to draw attention to the situation, but it appears that Zampino and his allies successfully covered up these reports and shut down any attempts to change the system. The 2004 report had found that, for the same type of works, the city of Montreal was paying 35-50% more than other cities in the province. The 2006 report showed that four construction groups had obtained 56% of public contracts in 2006 and that 96% of the contracts were awarded to local firms.

Tremblay’s defense that he was unaware of the corrupt games at city hall found itself shot to pieces when Martin Dumont, the former UM organizer, alleged that Tremblay was in the room when illegal money was being discussed (to which he closed his eyes). That day, Tremblay announced that he was taking a few days off. When he returned on November 5, he announced his resignation as mayor. However, in his speech, he posed as the wronged victim and the lone foot-soldier in the fight against corruption.

While Tremblay was probably not personally corrupt, it is likely that he was aware of the corruption and deliberately decided that he did not want to know (rather than not knowing altogether, as he claims). If indeed he did not know anything, wouldn’t that by extension mean that the city was governed by a gullible fool?

UM began collapsing in mid to late October 2012, when councillors started leaving the party to sit as independents – first a small trickle, quickly transformed into an avalanche after the Dumont allegations and Tremblay’s resignation. UM quickly lost its majority on city council.

On November 9, Michael Applebaum, the president of the executive council and borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, resigned from the presidency of the executive council – infuriated that UM was, he said, trying to cover up the 2004 report. Applebaum was passed over by the UM’s caucus in an internal vote to nominate the collapsing party’s candidate for interim mayor, which would be elected by city hall. He left UM to stand as an independent, arguing that the city needed an independent interim mayor who would not run in 2013 and promised to form a ‘Grand Coalition’ with independent councillors and the three parties. On November 16, Applebaum narrowly defeated UM candidate Richard Deschamps (the UM nominee) by 31 votes to 29. He became Montreal’s first Jewish mayor and the first Anglophone mayor since 1912 (an anonymous Deschamps supporter had previously said that Applebaum’s French skills were not good enough).

Applebaum presented himself as some kind of anti-corruption outsider who would fix the city, despite having been at the core of municipal politics as borough mayor since 2002 and president of the executive council since 2011. As it turns out, Applebaum’s image was an act. He was arrested by the anti-corruption unit UPAC on June 17, 2013 and charged on 14 counts, including fraud, breach of trust and corruption. Having spent a day in detention, the “anti-corruption” mayor resigned the next day. Court documents released last month show that Applebaum is suspected of having been a key player in a real estate and zoning-linked system of corruption in his borough. The UPAC believes that Applebaum asked real estate developers for cash in return for zoning changing.

He was replaced by Laurent Blanchard, the president of the executive committee under Applebaum and a former member of the opposition party, VM.

Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, the strongman of Laval politics and incumbent mayor since 1989, saw his unshakable hegemony collapse in a matter of days with the Charbonneau Commission. Vaillancourt had previously been accused of corruption, most notably in 2010 when Bloc Québécois MP Serge Ménard claimed that the mayor had offered him $10,000 in cash in 1993, when Ménard first ran for office for the PQ. A provincial Liberal MNA also claimed to have been offered cash by Vaillancourt. But none of those cases really stuck to him. In October 2012, the UPAC searched the mayor’s house, city hall and other administrative buildings. The next day, police searched a condo which belonged to his family. During this raid, it was later revealed, Vaillancourt’s cousin threw stacks of banknotes into the toilet (but the new polymer notes floated and blocked the toilet).

Vaillancourt was forced to resign on November 9, but he too claimed he was innocent and attempted to draw attention to his record as mayor of the city, the third most populous in Quebec. He was replaced by Alexandre Duplessis, a PRO councillor.

On May 9, 2013, Vaillancourt was arrested by the UPAC following a massive raid which led to the arrest of the former mayor, the former city manager and 35 other people including Tony Accurso (arrested thrice in 2013 alone). They were charged on various counts including fraud, breach of trust, corruption, conspiracy and – most importantly – the rare charge of ‘gangsterism’. Vaillancourt and others were released on bail the next day.

Laval’s interim mayor Duplessis saw his office searched by UPAC and police in December 2012. In June 2013, he was hit by Bertrand’s accusations that, as city councillor, he partook in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO; in addition to allegations that he had solicited prostitutes (after he himself filed a complaint claiming that two women, including a prostitute, had attempted to extort money from him). He resigned on June 28. Martine Beaugrand, a former PRO councillor (the party dissolved on November 19, 2012) who had been one of two councillor not alleged to have been involved in the corruption scandal, replaced him. The city was placed under trusteeship by the provincial government.

The mayor of the North Shore suburban municipality of Mascouche, Richard Marcotte, was targetted by an arrest warrant in April 2012 while vacationing in Cuba; he was alleged to have vacationed on Tony Accurso’s yacht in exchange for giving Accurso’s companies favourable business dealings with the city and local water treatment agencies. Arrested upon his return to Canada, he was charged with corruption, fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust. He did not resign until November 30, 2012. Altough Marcotte said his resignation was due to family issues, many felt it was linked to a new bill introduced by the PQ provincial government which allows court to provisionally remove mayors and councillors from office if they are charged during their terms. Marcotte had previously criticized the law.


Montreal, Quebec’s largest city (and Canada’s second largest city), is a diverse metropolis: a mix of rich and poor; Anglophone, Francophone and allophone; urban and suburban.

Montreal City Council is composed of 64 councillors and the mayor (a fairly large body for a local council in Canada). The makeup of the city council is rather confusing to understand at first. 18 of 19 boroughs (arrondissements) have a directly elected mayor who sits on the city council and their borough council; the downtown borough of Ville-Marie has no directly elected mayor, rather the mayor of Montreal is ex officio borough mayor. All but two of the 19 boroughs (Outremont and L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève) additionally elect one or more city councillors in single-member districts (Anjou and Lachine elect only one, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce elects the most, 5). The borough mayors of Outremont and L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève serve as members of the city council. Some borough councils have additional members (city councillors and the borough mayor already serve on borough councils as well), who do not serve on city council.

Montreal, since 1914, has generally been ruled by a small number of long-serving mayors: Médéric Martin (1914-1924, 1926-1928), Camillien Houde (1928-1932, 1934-1936, 1938-1940, 1944-1954), Jean Drapeau (1954-1957, 1960-1986), Jean Doré (1986-1994), Pierre Bourque (1994-2001) and finally Gérald Tremblay (2001-2012).

Of the pre-war era mayors, Houde is the most famous. He was a Canadien nationalist (as opposed to a French Canadian nationalist) and populist, he led the provincial Conservatives between 1929 and 1932, before Maurice Duplessis – who would become his enemy – ousted him. As a Canadien nationalist, he was strongly anti-militarist and opposed national registration/conscription in World War II. His call to oppose compulsory national registration in 1940 led to his arrest and internment (without trial) in concentration camps (in Ontario and New Brunswick) until 1944. His internment by the federal government for his opposition to conscription in controversial circumstances made him an hero in Quebec, but he was widely despised in English Canada. As mayor, in the pre-war era, he supported government intervention to help low-income families and homebuyers, oppose large corporations (notably in electricity) and protect the urban environment.

Reelected in 1944, the post-war era saw a moralizing campaign, backed by the Catholic Church, which sought to crack down on organized crime and ‘immorality’ (gambling, prostitution). Houde retired in 1954, and was succeeded by Jean Drapeau, a lawyer very active in the moralizing campaigns (and, prior to that, in the anti-conscription movement and the Asbestos Strikes of 1949) whose Civic Action League campaigned for good government, integrity and public morality.

Opposed by unions and Duplessis, Drapeau was defeated in the 1957 election by Sarto Fournier, a federal Liberal senator backed by Duplessis’ conservative machine. However, a reenergized and reorganized Drapeau, at the helm of the Civic Party, won the 1960 election and would remain in office until his retirement in 1986. Drapeau remains one of Montreal’s most memorable mayors, for his visionary vision – which some would say was perhaps a bit megalomaniac. Under his rule, which coincided with the rapid modernization and secularization of the province as a whole, Montreal developed and gained international notoriety. He spearheaded the construction of the Montreal subway, the Place des Arts and managed the extremely successful Expo 67. However, the 1976 Olympic Games were a disastrous flub, marred by embarassing delays and huge cost overruns which indebted the city for decades after his rule.

Drapeau’s Civic Party ruled with little opposition until 1974 – Drapeau won reelection with over 90% in 1966 and 1970. However, in the waning days of his rule, Drapeau began facing criticism for his authoritarianism, his costly projects, his little interest in environmental issues and his alleged biased in favour of ‘previleged classes’ and homeowners. A centre-left party, the Rassemblement des citoyens de Montréal (RCM), emerged in the 1970s and became Drapeau’s main opposition. In 1982, following the 1980 report of a commission of inquiry into the 1976 Olympics which blamed the Drapeau administration for cost overruns, Drapeau was reelected over the RCM’s Jean Doré with 48% against 36%. Drapeau’s retirement in 1986, with no apparent successor, led to Doré’s landslide victory with 68% of the vote. The Civic Party collapsed quickly thereafter, in 1994.

Doré’s administration saw the redevelopment of the Old Port as well as parks and beaches on Île Sainte-Hélène. However, Doré’s popularity was eroded from the right by criticisms of ineffective management and laxness towards city employees, while the left broke with him in the wake of the Overdale fiasco (the expulsion of low-income tenants to clear land for a condo project which was never built). He was reelected with a reduced majority in 1990 over a divided centre-right opposition and weak left-wing/green opposition.

Doré lost reelection to Vision Montréal (VM) candidate Pierre Bourque in 1994. Bourque won 47.6% against 32.3% for Doré, with Jérôme Choquette (a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister) winning 13.1% on a centre-right pro-cars platform. Bourque became known for his pro-environment and greenspace policies, supporting the creation of parks, tree-planting initiatives, recycling and the reopening of the Lachine Canal. However, his passionate support for municipal mergers – under the slogan of ‘Une île, une ville‘ or one island, one city – proved to be his undoing. Backed by PQ provincial cabinet minister Louise Harel, the mergers were through for January 1, 2002. The forced mergers proved to be unpopular in many suburban municipalities of the island of Montreal, particularly the affluent and English-speaking municipalities of the West Island.

The merger controversy was the major issue in the 2001 campaign. Gérald Tremblay, a former provincial Liberal MNA and cabinet minister in Premier Robert Bourassa’s government, founded the Montreal Island Citizens Union (MICU/UCIM), which ran on a platform promising to reevaluate the mergers (which was done by Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government after 2003) and decentralize power to the boroughs. Tremblay was elected with a narrow margin over Bourque, 50.4% to 45.1%. Tremblay’s MICU won by crushing margins in the former municipalities of the West Island, a protest vote against the Bourque-led merger.

Tremblay won reelection in a low-key and boring race in 2005, once again defeating Bourque – 53.7% to 36.3%, with environmentalist candidate Richard Bergeron (candidate of Projet Montréal, PM) winning 8.5%. The MICU won a massive majority on City Council. Going into the 2009 election, however, Tremblay was weakened by the first rumours of corruption (water meters scandal) and was expected to lose reelection. He went up against Louise Harel (VM), a former PQ MNA and cabinet minister (known for her hardline separatist views), who was criticized for her poor English skills. Richard Bergeron, the leader of the left-wing environmentalist PM party, surged during the campaign, benefiting from dissatisfaction with both major candidates (especially after Harel’s lieutenant, Labonté, was forced to resign for his corrupt ties) and anti-corruption image. Tremblay was reelected with 37.9% against 32.7% for Harel and 25.5% for Bergeron. Tremblay’s UM held its absolute majority on City Council.

We all know by now what ensued.

For quite some time – before Tremblay’s resignation, the open secret was that federal Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who had represented the northern Montreal riding of Bourassa in the House of Commons since 1997, would resign from Parliament and throw his hat into the race. Coderre served as Minister of Immigration and Citizenship between 2002 and 2003 and as President of the Privy Council between 2003 and 2004, under Prime Minister Paul Martin, but was forced to resign from cabinet when his name was cited in the sponsorship scandal. Reelected in 2006, when the Liberals lost, he nevertheless remained a prominent figure in the reduced Quebec Liberal caucus and was briefly touted as leadership material. Known for his straight-talking and rather flamboyant style, Coderre resigned as Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s Quebec lieutenant in September 2009, criticizing the control of the party apparatus by the Liberal Party elites in Toronto. The cause of the dispute was Ignatieff’s decision to appoint former justice minister Martin Cauchon as the Liberal star candidate in the NDP-held riding of Outremont, over Coderre’s objections. Having broken all bridges with the Liberal leadership, Coderre was marginalized within the Liberal Party, even if he remained as one of the party’s most senior MPs after the 2011 rout. Coderre announced his candidacy for mayor on May 17, and resigned from the House shortly thereafter.

Coderre founded his own personal machine, Équipe Denis Coderre (EDC), to run in the election. Simplistically, the EDC – like UM before it – could be considered as centrist parties close (but not tied) to the provincial/federal Liberal parties, often winning over the same kind of voters (Anglophones, ethnic minorities, more affluent voters and homeowners). There are, of course, no formal ties between any municipal parties and provincial or federal parties, but provincial politics and parties have influenced Montreal politics in the past. Camillien Houde was opposed by Liberal-backed candidates in the 1930s and by Duplessis-backed conservatives until 1947. Pierre Bourque was seen as close to the PQ, although he ran for the centre-right autonomist ADQ in the 2003 provincial elections. Gérald Tremblay was a former provincial Liberal MNA and cabinet minister. His main opponent in 2009, Harel, was, of course, a longtime supporter of the PQ.

Coderre had been joined by 17 incumbent city councillors prior to the election. Most of them came from UM, including Michel Bissonnet (borough mayor of Saint-Léonard), Helen Fotopulos (councillor, Côte-des-Neiges) and Alan DeSousa (borough mayor of Saint-Laurent). EDC also recruited Pierre Gagnier, the ex-PM borough mayor of Ahuntsic-Cartierville and Anie Samson, the ex-VM borough mayor of  Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.

Coderre’s platform was rather vague. His biggest policy proposal was to create an Inspector General at city hall with powers to investigate and fight corruption, including investigation of all events before, during and after the awarding of public contracts. He faced some criticism over allegations that the Bourassa Liberal association had received donations from individuals and companies cited by the commission, and in September 2013 two former union leaders revealed that Coderre had met Eddy Brandone, close to the Montreal mafia, to facilitate a meeting with a union leader (currently the subject of controversy and allegations at the commission). The rest of his platform was mostly vague pablum: more reserved bus lanes, increase safety on streets and bike paths, invest in infrastructure upkeep, true pay equity for city employees, ‘state-of-the-art’ communication systems (WiFi in public spaces, GPS on buses, 3G in the subway), stimulate public housing construction or a program to buy abandoned land and buildings to use for community housing projects.

Coderre very much played on his notoriety, wit and populist demeanor – and to maintain his early lead, he laid low and avoided getting caught in the crossfire.

Vision Montréal (VM), a vaguely centre-left party which served as the main opposition to Tremblay since 2001, was led by Louise Harel since the 2009 election. She served as the leader of the official opposition to Tremblay, but given her failure to make inroads with ethnic minorities and English voters, she understood that she stood little chance of becoming mayor, especially against Coderre. In July 2013, Harel announced that she would not run and Marcel Côté, an economist and founding partner in a strategic management consulting firm. Politically, Côté ran for the conservative Union nationale (UN) in the 1973 election and later worked for provincial Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa and federal Tory Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Therefore, Côté had little political experience and his name recognition was very low.

VM rebranded itself as ‘Coalition Montréal’ (CM), expanded to independents and ex-UM members. On corruption, CM proposed to create an ethics commissioner which would report directly to the audit committee; it also proposed to make all members of the executive council subject to police screening, promote openness and transparency and reviewing the way in which contracts are awarded. Otherwise, again, it was a lot of fluff or local issues: more bike lanes, extending the blue line of the subway to Anjou, more funding for public transit, reduce layers of bureaucracy that have built up, modernize city manage, restructure the executive council, promote ecoroofs and urban agriculture, accelerate organic waste collection, help 5,000 families buy property and build 15,000 social and community housing units over five years.

Côté ran into trouble when he was forced to admit that he was behind anti-PM/Bergeron robocalls. This kerfuffle added to an already disastrous and chaotic campaign. He lagged far behind the other candidates because of his low name recognition, his lack of charisma and his difficulty to connect with voters like a ‘polished politician’ (which he is not). He was also a last minute choice by a makeshift party which had been unsuccessful in its attempts to recruit a star candidate. His campaign, in which he spoke of his work for the federalist campaigns in the 1980 and 1995 referendums, was thrown into chaos when Harel proposed to create a linguistic watchdog on Montreal executive council – something much feared by English-speaking Montrealers.

Richard Bergeron was the only candidate in the race who had already run for mayor in the past – in 2005 and 2009. Bergeron leads a left-wing and environmentalist party, Projet Montréal (PM), which has traditionally emphasized issues such as sustainable development, development of green spaces or promotion of cycling and high-end public transit. With the corruption scandals, in which both UM and VM have been involved, PM has also played a lot on ethics, integrity and presents itself as the only clean party. PM’s green policies are not out of the mainstream in Montreal, where municipal politics generally skew to the left, especially in comparison to Toronto. All other parties have fairly green policies as well, favouring bike paths, green spaces, noise/pollution reduction or recycling.

Bergeron, however, is a controversial character and might be a net drag on his party. His personality (autocratic) tends to be off-putting for some voters, worsened by his image as far-left, anti-car dogmatist. Bergeron also made controversial and strange comments in the past; he once said that tobacco doesn’t cause cancer (although he might have walked that one back) and, most famously, alleged that George W. Bush might have been behind 9/11 (specifically the plane which hit the Pentagon and UA93 which crashed in Pennsylvania). He recently said that his 9/11 comments in a book were made in a previous life outside politics and were meant to shock, although I don’t think he has publicly recanted his 9/11 truther stuff.

PM’s platform emphasized its traditional green issues: reduce car traffic downtown by 50% in 20 years, extend three subway lines, build an electric tramway, demolish Bonaventure Expressway to build affordable housing, urban noise reduction policies, reducing the use of concrete in construction, promoting artistic and cultural activities, creating new parks and playgrounds and emphasizing urban development in areas close to public transit hubs. On corruption issues, Bergeron wanted to reduce the powers of the executive committee and boost transparency/openness. Again, Bergeron played on PM’s integrity and cleanliness, but he did draw some flack for his alliance with Applebaum in return for executive committee seats and tax concessions. He also said that the corruption problem had mostly been resolved.

The surprise of the campaign was the outsider candidate, Mélanie Joly, a 34 year old lawyer and PR professional. Earlier this year, Joly worked on current federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s leadership campaign, and she was endorsed by Trudeau’s brother Sacha. Joly’s outsider campaign generally leaned left, with an emphasis on improved public transit and keeping the city’s cultural identity. Her main proposal was to build a 130km rapid service/express bus system with reserved lanes, which she said would be less expensive than subway expansion or a tramway. Other policy proposals included a Charter of Nightlife, extending weekend business hours on busy commercial arteries to 9pm, greening the city with 300k new trees, encouraging entrepreneurship by simplifying business creation and a fight against social exclusion.

Integrity and transparency were also highlights of her platform, with proposals for an ethics code or abandoning the practice of awarding contracts to lowest bidders. However, The Gazette, Montreal’s English daily, said that Joly had “the most soft-on-crime platform” of the main mayoral candidates. She proposed to offer an amnesty to contractors that have committed acts of corruption and collusion if they compensate Montreal for the amount their illegal acts cost the city. That proposal, however, did not outrage any of her opponents.

Joly saw her support increase rapidly in the polls. However, she was forced to dump one of her candidates, Bibiane Bovet, a former escort, who was under investigation by the financial market authority. One candidate in Saint-Léonard had a history of domestic violence. These candidate kerfuffles, by no means limited to Joly’s party, did however highlight her inexperience and perhaps unpreparedness. Her makeshift party, Vrai changement pour Montréal (Real change for Montreal, VCM), ran only 26 candidates for City Council against a full slate for CM and PM and all but one candidate for EDC.

Turnout was 43.3%, which is up from 39.4% in the last election.

Denis Coderre (EDC) 32.15% winning 27 seats
Mélanie Joly (VCM-GMJ) 26.47% winning 4 seats
Richard Bergeron (PM-EB) 25.52% winning 20 seats
Marcel Côté (CM-EC) 12.79% winning 6 seats
Michel Brûlé (Integrity Montreal) 1.36% winning 0 seats
All others under 1% winning 0 seats
Borough parties winning 7 seats
Independents winning 1 seat

Denis Coderre was elected mayor of Montreal, which was quite predictable given that he had been the runaway favourite for over a year and at times his victory was taken as a near-certainty, reducing the stakes (and probably turnout) and making for a rather stale and boring predetermined campaign. However, there was nothing spectacular about his victory, especially if you consider him to be the strongest in a fairly weak field and take into account how he had been running for mayor, at least unofficially, for so long. Coderre won only 32% of the vote, which is even less than Tremblay’s anemic 38% in 2009. If there had been a second round or if the race had been fought with a preferential voting IRV system, it is quite likely that Coderre could have lost if the other candidates’ supporters coalesced behind Joly.

There were only two polls conducted with the actual candidates: Coderre led both by wide margins, with 39% support on October 5 and 41% on October 15. Joly placed second, with 24%, on October 15, with Bergeron in third at 21% and Côté at 11%. Of course, polling a municipal campaign – where parties are empty shells, voters extremely fickle with little ties to candidates and races based heavily on personality and candidate quality – is very difficult. Nevertheless, the polls badly overestimated Coderre and slightly underestimated Bergeron and Joly. Why? Might the apparent certainty of Coderre’s victory have depressed turnout amongst his potential supporters?

Furthermore, while Coderre is a strong candidate, he is not a fantastic candidate. A lot of voters know him, but I doubt very many are all enthused about him (and others dislike him outright). His campaign, finally, was rather low-key and failed to excite voters (who had very little to be excited about on the whole). It was boring, un-innovative and stale. Voters were likely looking for big ideas, a candidate with stances on issues which mattered most (corruption and infrastructure degradation) and an ability to channel voters’ feelings (a mix of anger, despair, resignation, stress). However, no candidate really stood out – their positions on most issues, including the most important ones, were very similar and all offered pablum and fluff rather than actual coherent policies.

Mélanie Joly, the surprise of the race, was perhaps the real winner (although her showing at the polls was not, in the end, a surprise – many felt she would do well, with the slightly overblown talk of Jolymania in the waning days). She was a political outsider and rookie like Côté, but what did she offer that he didn’t? For starters, her youthfulness and relative charisma. Her inexperience may have been a bit of an asset given the disrepute of municipal politicians with corruption: she stood out in a field with a longtime parliamentarian (Coderre), an increasingly worn-out old municipal politician with political baggage (Bergeron) and a no-namer possibly perceived as too close to big business (Côté). To a certain extent, she was seemingly able to capitalize on voters’ mood for change and something ‘different’, even if it was ultimately with a tagline like “real change” and through a general image of young (and thus less corrupt/not in the old guard.

Bergeron performed well, like in 2009, but he was unable to breakthrough. The party has potential, because it can benefit from CM/VM’s collapse and the high likelihood that Joly’s empty party of no-namers may deflate quickly. However, Bergeron, again, might be a drag on his party, keeping PM from appealing to a wider electorate and breaking the image of leftist and green dogmatists. Bergeron has announced that he will retire within two years. Bergeron’s departure gives PM a chance to detach himself from his ideological baggage and controversial past. But beware – one of the frontrunners to succeed him is Luc Ferrandez, the borough mayor of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, a controversial figure with an image as leftist/green dogmatist (anti-car, ‘anti-business’).

Results of the mayoral vote by borough

Results of the mayoral vote by borough

The geography of Montreal municipal elections is interesting in that they show the interplay of candidate, parochialism, traditional demographic factors (language, wealth, tenure etc) and federal/provincial partisan affinities. In 2009, the latter two proved rather important; this year, the first two might have proved more important.

Denis Coderre’s support did not quite reflect traditional provincial or federal Liberal support. His best performances came from his home turf in particular and ethnic suburbs in general. He won 66.7% in the multicultural (largest Haitian population in Canada) and low-income borough of Montréal-Nord (which has a bad reputation for crime and drugs, known for riots in 2008 and sometimes referred to as ‘the Bronx’), which also happens to be entirely covered by his former federal riding of Bourassa. Coderre also did very well in neighbouring boroughs: 55.2% in Saint-Léonard, another multicultural (a large Italian population with more recent Haitian, Arab and Latin American immigrants) borough which is rock-ribbed Liberal country; and 48.9% in Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, a suburban borough which includes Rivière-des-Prairies, a largely Italian suburban community (Pointe-aux-Trembles is heavily Francophone, I would think that Coderre did not do as well there). However, Coderre also did very well in Anjou (45.3%), a largely Francophone (71%) and 60s suburban borough. Anjou had voted in favour of demerger in 2004, but the vote did not meet turnout requirements; UM was dominant in the borough until 2013. All of these boroughs have a common trait: they’re all located in northeastern suburban Montreal, close to Coderre’s home turf.

Coderre also performed well in Saint-Laurent (41.3%) and LaSalle (39.1%); both are former suburban municipalities which vote to deamalgamate in 2004 but fell short on turnout. Saint-Laurent is majority-minority (50%), it is known for its very large Arab and Muslim population (17% Muslim) – the largest in Quebec and probably in the country. LaSalle is 34% Anglophone and 37% non-white. Coderre narrowly won Ahuntsic-Cartierville, with 32.9% against 25.6% for Bergeron; almost certainly due to heavy support in Bordeaux-Cartierville, a multicultural district (44% visible minorities).

With the exception of Anjou and the parts of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles which aren’t Rivière-des-Prairies, Coderre’s strongest areas are Liberal strongholds, federally and provincially (although LaSalle voted NDP in 2011).

Mélanie Joly drew supports from all parts of the city, giving a map which transcended partisan leanings and demographic factors. She did best, by far, in the western suburban borough of L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where Joly won no less than 45.6%. Demographically, the borough, which has a small population, is largely Francophone (55%) with an Anglophone minority (30%) and predominantly upper middle-class, although mansions on L’Île-Bizard contrast with trailer parks. But it would seem that the main reason behind Joly’s success is that her party recruited former mayor Normand Marinacci (mayor of the island between 1999 and 2002), who was elected borough mayor on the VCM banner with 42.1% against the ex-UM incumbent, Richard Bélanger.

Joly also did well in Pierrefonds-Roxboro, which was her second best borough with 35%. Located on the West Island, the middle-class suburban borough has an Anglophone plurality (42%) and sizable visible minority population (38%). Joly performed well in the southwestern boroughs of Lachine (33.4%), LaSalle (33.6%) and Le Sud-Ouest (30.3%). The first two are largely suburban, with Lachine being a largely Francophone (57%) lower middle-class/working-class area. The latter is a more central area, historically working-class and ethnically diverse (Francophone, black, Irish, European, English etc) area which has seen gentrification in recent years, with condos and cheaper housing attracting young professionals – although pockets of severe deprivation remain, notably in Pointe-Saint-Charles.

So, Joly did rather well in western and southwestern suburban bedroom communities, both French-speaking and English-speaking. Perhaps her proposal for an express bus system to reduce commute times was attractive to those voters? L’Île-Bizard complains that it is linked by only one bridge to the island of Montreal, while the long commute times in Lachine or LaSalle are major local issues.

However, Joly also did quite well in less suburban areas. She won 31.3% in Ville-Marie, which covers Montreal’s revitalized and bustling downtown core from the Gay Village to McGill University on the slopes of Mont Royal. She narrowly topped the poll in her home borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (28.8%), a large and contrasted borough which includes low-income and immigrant-heavy Côte-des-Neiges, young student areas around the Université de Montréal and the trendy gentrified neighborhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG, where Joly lives). On the other hand, Joly didn’t do so well in the Francophone trendy bobo areas of Le Plateau (23.8%) or Rosemont (22.9%).

Most of the areas where Joly did well tend to vote Liberal provincially and NDP or Liberal federally. This is rather unsurprising: Joly appealed to federal NDP and Liberal supporters, but had less appeal to left-wing souverainiste voters.

Richard Bergeron’s best results, very unsurprisingly, came from the boroughs of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal (43.3%) and Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie (41.3%), in central Montreal. Le Plateau is Montreal’s stereotypical downtown artsy/trendy/bobo neighborhood, historically working-class (Jewish and Francophone), but today extensively gentrified. It has a large population of young adults (28% are 25-34, against 18% for the whole city), many singles (53.5% one-person households vs. 41% city-wide), very highly educated (50% with a university degree, against 28% in the whole city) and low religious practice (40% with no religious affiliation, against 18% for the city of Montreal). The borough of Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie is more diverse, but the western end of the borough (La Petite-Patrie) is very similar to the Plateau. Directly north of that, Bergeron won the very diverse borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension by a hair, 32% against 31.7% for Coderre. I would easily wager that Bergeron did best, by a mile, in Villeray, a predominantly white Francophone area which, through gentrification, has become the latest trendy/hip neighborhood for highly educated young professionals in Montreal. In contrast, Coderre probably did much better in Parc-Extension, a low-income immigrant neighborhood (57.6% non-white, formerly Greek, now with a large South Asian population) and Saint-Michel, a similar minority-majority neighborhood at the other end of the borough (63% non-white).

Bergeron also won Outremont (28.7%), a predominantly Francophone upper middle-class neighborhood which attracts highly educated young families (53% have a university degree) because of the quality of life and vibrant cultural scene (theaters etc). At the other end of the income scale, Bergeron won Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve by a hair with 27.2% (the borough was split three ways). The borough was historically known as Montreal’s Francophone working-class ghetto, and the borough as a whole remains rather poor (only 20% have a university degree, 9% less than the city-wide average) and very much Francophone (81%) and white (17.6% visible minorities). However, the western end of the district – by its proximity to downtown Montreal – has seen gentrification, although the growth of condos and influx of wealthier young residents ‘pushing out’ poorer residents has not been without controversy. Indeed, Hochelaga still has numerous low-income areas, which now contrast with rapidly growing gentrified parts.

CM’s goal was to transcend the east-west (and municipally, old city vs. post-2002 city) divide in Montreal politics which had sunk VM in 2009 (Harel, like Bourque in 2001, would have won on the pre-amalgamation boundaries – ironic!). The distribution of Côté’s support shows that he was somewhat successful in doing this, but obviously with his disastrous result he didn’t even come close to putting together a winning coalition. Côté’s best result was 21.6% in Outremont, good enough for third place (behind Bergeron and Coderre, ahead of Joly). He also performed well in Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (19.3%), Verdun (15.1%), Le Plateau (15.3%), Ville-Marie (14.9%) and the old VM stronghold of Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (14.6%).

QC - Montreal council 2013

Results of the city council and borough mayor elections

On city council, Coderre’s EDC will not have an absolute majority (33 seats required), having only 27 seats. Although Coderre has spoken about the need for unity and working together, I have little doubt he will be able to patch together a solid working majority with some of the seven councillors representing borough parties, all of them led by ex-UM members. The proliferation of so many borough-specific parties, largely concerned with decentralizing powers to boroughs and lobbying for their borough’s interests, made these elections far more confusing than the 2009 election, which had almost everywhere featured only the three city-wide parties. A lot of the races were decided by tiny margins.

EDC won eight borough mayoral races, against two for PM, three for CM, one for VCM/Joly and the remaining four by borough-specific parties. Joly’s party, which did not have a full slate and few well-known candidates, did poorly in city council races – winning only 11-12% overall. Joly’s slate, VCM, won only four seats.

EDC’s support in city council races largely reflected Coderre’s results in the mayoral race, with the exception of those places where borough parties (notably in Anjou) were dominant. It did best in the northeastern suburban and ethnic boroughs where Coderre’s support was strongest.

In Montréal-Nord, incumbent borough mayor Gilles Deguire (EDC, ex-UM) was reelected with 65% of the vote. CM had hoped that their candidate, Guy Ryan, the son of Yves Ryan – the pre-merger mayor of the city for 38 years, would do well on some kind of dynastic vote but he only won 20.8%. In the district of Ovide-Clermont, Coderre’s ‘co-candidate’ (running mate whose victory in a city council race gives a defeated mayoral candidate a seat on council) and ex-UM incumbent Jean-Marc Gibeau won no less than 72.2% of the vote. In Saint-Léonard, the incumbent UM-turned-EDC borough mayor Michel Bissonnet, a former Liberal MNA and President of the National Assembly from 2003 to 2008, was easily reelected with 65.7% of the vote. However, in the race for city council in Saint-Léonard-Est, EDC incumbent (ex-UM) Robert Zambito was forced to withdraw from the race when he was accussed of having offered a bribe, in 2010, to another UM councillor to get a good price on land. In a CM-PM contest, CM candidate Domenico Moschella won with an 82 vote majority, although there were more invalid votes (3,039) than votes in his favour (2,468)! In the other seat in the borough, EDC (ex-UM) incumbent Dominic Perri, who has sat on city council since 1982 (in Saint-Léonard prior to 2001), was reelected with 67.8%.

Coderre’s party did extremely well in Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, very much transcending that borough’s deep political divide between Rivière-des-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Trembles. The incumbent borough mayor, Chantal Rouleau (who had denounced the system of collusion in 2011), elected in a 2010 by-election for VM before switching to Coderre’s party, was reelected with 65.9% of the vote. EDC candidates, including one incumbent (ex-VM), won the predominantly Francophones districts of La Pointe-aux-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Trembles with over 50% of the vote; in the former, VM/CM incumbent Caroline Bourgeois was defeated by her EDC opponents 50.9% to 28.6%.

In Saint-Laurent, incumbent borough mayor Alan DeSousa, an important player in the Tremblay era for UM, was handily reelected with 53.5% of the vote against 28.6% for VCM candidate François Ghali, a pre-merger councillor.

The three other wins for EDC in the boroughs were far narrower. In Ahuntsic-Cartierville, incumbent borough mayor Pierre Gagnier, originally elected for PM in 2010, won reelection for Coderre’s team with 30.4% against 27% for the PM candidate. EDC won two races for city council in the borough; in immigrant-heavy Bordeaux-Cartierville, ex-UM EDC incumbent Harout Chitilian was easily reelected with 48.9%. In Saint-Sulpice district, the EDC candidate won by only 9 votes over PM. PM incumbent Émilie Thuillier was reelected in Ahuntsic, a middle-class and well educated neighborhood, with 39.8% of the vote. Mélanie Joly’s mother, Laurette Racine, placed third with 20.9%. In the district of Sault-au-Récollet, however, VCM’s ‘star candidate’, Lorraine Pagé (a former union leader), won by 8 votes against EDC.

In Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, borough mayor Anie Samson, originally elected for VM, was reelected for Coderre’s party with a 730 vote majority over PM, 35.6% to 33.5%. CM held a seat in Villeray, where incumbent councillor and former PQ MNA Elsie Lefebvre held her seat quite easily with 45.6% against 36.9% for PM. Two EDC ex-UM incumbents held their seats in Parc-Extension and Saint-Michel by wide margins, while PM narrowly won an open seat in François-Perrault by a margin of only 11 votes over EDC.

In the southern borough of Verdun, EDC real estate agent Jean-François Parenteau won an open seat for borough mayor with a tight 553 vote majority over PM, in a very contested race which featured two borough parties, each led by ex-UM incumbent borough councillors. Parenteau won 24.8% against 22.4% for PM. ex-UM city councillor Alain Tassé, running for CM, won fourth with 14%. André Savard, one of the ex-UM borough councillors running for ‘Équipe Savard – option Verdun / Montréal’ placed fifth with 12.9% while Andrée Champoux, running for ‘Équipe Andrée Champoux pour Verdun’ won 7.5%. For city council, EDC triumphed in Champlain–L’Île-des-Sœurs by 329 votes, or 26.3% in a 6-candidate race. In Desmarchais-Crawford, a PM candidate won by 211 votes (only 24.8%) against Sébastien Dhavernas (EDC), a comedian and federal Liberal candidate in Outremont in 2008.

In Pierrefonds-Roxboro, EDC borough councillor (ex-UM) Dimitrios ‘Jim’ Beis was elected mayor with a 557 vote majority, with a VCM candidate placing second. CM’s candidate, ex-UM city councillor Christian Dubois placed last with only 13.6%. Joly’s party won the city councillor and borough councillor races in the district of Bois-de-Liesse (eastern Pierrefonds and Roxboro). Catherine Clément-Talbot, an incumbent borough councillor, won the other city council race.

As aforementioned, Joly’s major success in the city council race was in L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where VCM candidate Normand Marinacci won with 42.1% against 34% for incumbent mayor Richard Bélanger, formerly UM running for his own thing, ‘Équipe Richard Bélanger’. Marinacci had been mayor of L’Île-Bizard between 1999 and 2002. VCM candidates won two of the three races for borough council, the last one being one by one of Bélanger’s candidates.

One of the most closely watched races was in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, where incumbent PM mayor Luc Ferrandez drew controversy and much ire from shopkeepers and business owners with his ‘anti-car’ policies (higher parking metre fees, more one-way streets, removed parking places, expanded bike lanes). It would appear his critics are only a minority in his borough and he has a strong following of silent supporters: Ferrandez was reelected in a landslide, with 51.3% against 30.7% for CM candidate Danièle Lorain, an actress. In 2009, Ferrandez had won 44.8%. PM held all city and borough council seats with wide majorities.

In Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie, PM mayor François Croteau, who switched from VM in 2011, won by an even larger margin: 59.5% and an 18.1k vote majority. Croteau implemented “green revolution” policies similar to Ferrandez, but they proved far less controversial. PM candidates swept all four city council seats.

Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the most populous borough, had a number of closely watched races. In the race for borough mayor (held by the disgraced Michael Applebaum between 2002 and 2012), CM candidate Russell Copeman, the provincial Liberal MNA for NDG between 1994 and 2008, narrowly won the open seat with a 1,134 vote edge – or 29.4% of the vote (a fairly mediocre result considering Copeman was a ‘star candidate’ for CM) – against PM candidate Michael Simkin, who won 26.2%. Joly and Coderre’s candidate placed third and forth respectively, with about 22% each.

One very contested race for city council was in Côte-des-Neiges district, a district mixing university students, well-educated academics and a substantial number of ethnic minorities (40%). The incumbent councillor since 2009 was Helen Fotopoulos, a senior city councillor who was mayor of Le Plateau until 2009 and a close ally of former mayor Tremblay. Fotopoulos ran for reelection, this time under the EDC banner. She faced Magda Popeanu (PM), who had placed second in 2009, and Marcel Côté’s co-candidate, Albert Perez. Popeanu won by 77 votes, taking 30.9% against 29.7% for Fotopoulos. Côté/Perez placed fourth with only 18.7%.

In the district of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, held by PM’s Peter McQueen, a former provincial Green candidate, McQueen went up against Mélanie Joly’s co-candidate, Marie-Claude Johnson – the daughter of former Quebec Premier Pierre-Marc Johnson (PQ). However, McQueen was reelected by 649 votes, taking 38.3% against 31.4% for Joly/Johnson. Mélanie Joly has said that she would run in a by-election to win a seat on city council, although I’m not sure if she intends to get one of her four members to step down for her or wait for a genuine vacancy to arise.

In Loyola, a predominantly Anglophone and allophone district with a large immigrant population, an independent candidate, former councillor Jeremy Searle, won by 354 votes although with only 23.4% of the vote. The seat was open with the retirement of the independent ex-UM incumbent.

Marvin Rotrand, a member of city council since 1982 and UM-turned-CM councillor, was reelected for CM with 48.2% in Snowdon, a majority-minority district with a large Jewish population. In immigrant-heavy Darlington district, ex-UM incumbent Lionel Perez, who had been borough mayor since Applebaum’s election to the mayor’s chair in 2012, was reelected with 35.7% against 30% for a CM candidate.

Ville-Marie doesn’t elect a borough mayor, but all three races for city council were highly disputed. In Saint-Jacques district, a lively area which includes the Old Port, Old Montreal, the hip Quartier Latin, the Gay Village and the new entertainment district; Richard Bergeron ran, represented by his co-candidate Janine Krieber, who is former federal Liberal leader (and current MP) Stéphane Dion’s wife. He faced VM/CM incumbent François Robillard and a star candidate from EDC, former Radio-Canada journalist Philippe Schnobb. Bergeron/Krieber won by only 81 votes (36 votes after recount), taking 29.2% against 28.2% for Schnobb. The incumbent member placed fourth, behind VCM, with 16.7%.

In Sainte-Marie district, covering the poorer eastern extremity of Ville-Marie borough (old French working-class neighborhood), Louise Harel (VM/CM), elected in Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in 2009, ran for a seat on city council – held by Pierre Mainville, elected for PM in 2009 but sitting as an independent since last year. Harel lost, effectively ending her long political career. PM’s Valérie Plante won by 263 votes, taking 33% against 29.5% for Harel and 21.2% for the indie incumbent.

VCM won Peter-McGill district, a multicultural and predominantly Anglophone district which includes McGill University and some of downtown Montreal’s skyscrapers.

Coalition Montréal was decimated in Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the old VM stronghold. Only the incumbent borough mayor, former Bloc Québécois MP Réal Ménard (VM/CM) was reelected, with 36.3% against 31.1% for a PM candidate. In Hochelaga district, outgoing interim mayor Laurent Blanchard (CM) lost by 669 votes to a PM candidate. PM also won Harel’s old district, Maisonneuve–Longue-Pointe, while EDC won Tétrautville and Louis-Riel.

It was a similar story in Le Sud-Ouest, where CM held all but one seat (a borough councillor seat held by PM). Only the incumbent VM/CM borough mayor, Benoit Dorais, was victorious: by 115 votes over PM, taking 27.5% of the vote against 27% for PM. PM won all other races – the two city council districts and the two additional borough councillor races.

In the former municipalities of Anjou, Lachine, LaSalle and Outremont, borough parties were successful. In Anjou, the incumbent mayor, Luis Miranda, was reelected for his Équipe Anjou party with 56.5%. Miranda, a proponent of decentralization and, formerly, de-amalgamation (in 2004), has been mayor of Anjou since 1997. He was reelected for Tremblay’s MICU in 2001, but perceiving Tremblay’s administration as insufficiently bold on decentralization, he was reelected for  Équipe Anjou in 2005 – before switching back to UM for the 2009 election. He left the party to recreate Équipe Anjou in 2012, followed by the city councillor and the three borough councillors. Équipe Anjou candidates swept all other races with comfortable majorities.

In Lachine, Claude Dauphin, a former president of the executive committee under Tremblay and one of Paolo Catania’s guests at the ‘357c’ private club, was reelected with 54% as the candidate of the Équipe Dauphin Lachine. His party also won the borough’s one city council seat and all 3 borough councillor seats, although with much narrower majorities.

LaSalle borough mayor Manon Barbe, another ex-UM member who founded her own party, Pro action LaSalle, upon quitting UM, was reelected with 36.6% and a 2,901 vote majority. While EDC won one of the two districts for city council, Barbe’s party won all other races.

Outremont mayor Marie Cinq-Mars, a former UM member who now leads the ‘Équipe conservons Outremont’ whose main cause is keeping the small borough from being merged into an adjacent borough, won reelection with a small majority of 390 votes against PM – with 39.1%. There was a close race for borough council in Claude-Ryan district, which has a large Jewish community (45% of residents are Jewish). Mindy Pollak, a Hasidic Jewish woman running for PM, won by 168 votes (35.3%) against Pierre Lacerte, an independent candidate who is very critical of Hasidic Jews in the area. Pollak said that she wanted to bridge community divides.

Quebec City

Quebec City, the provincial capital, is Quebec’s second largest city. Since 2007, the city has been governed by the very popular Régis Labeaume.

Between 1989 and 2005, the capital was governed by mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier, a cabinet minister in Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa’s first government in the 1970s. L’Allier’s party, the Renouveau municipal de Québec (RMQ), leaned to the left. After presiding over the forced mergers which saw suburban municipalities such as Sainte-Foy, Beauport, Charlesbourg, Sillery or Vanier merged into a new Quebec City, he retired in 2005. He was suceeded by the very colourful Andrée Boucher, an anti-merger crusader who had been mayor of Sainte-Foy between 1985 and 2001. Boucher ran a shoestring campaign, almost invisible, but won handily with 46% against 33.5% for the RMQ candidate and 10.5% for Marc Bellemare, who had briefly been justice minister in Liberal Premier Jean Charest’s cabinet. Lacking a majority on city council as she was an independent, Boucher’s tenure was fairly unstable and her mercurial behaviour annoyed some who worried about how she would manage to successfully organize the huge celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Quebec City’s foundation in 2008.

Boucher died in 2007, precipitating a mayoral by-election. Régis Labeaume, a businessman running as an independent, surged from 5% in September to 59% on election day in December 2007. He handily defeated Ann Bourget, a RMQ city councillor, who placed second with 33%. The celebrations for Quebec City’s 400th anniversary were a huge success, bringing worldwide acclaim to the city. In 2009, Labeaume was reelected in a landslide with 80% of the vote, his only semi-relevant opposition coming from controversial (but popular) right-wing talk radio host Jeff Fillion (8.5%) and Yonnel Bonaventure, leader of a local Green party (8.1%). His party, Équipe Labeaume, won 25 out of 27 seats.

Régis Labeaume remains very popular. He is a rather populist right-leaning mayor, known for his ‘straight-talking’ style – often lashing out at ‘incompetents’ and criticizing municipal employees. The city has been doing well economically, and many credit Labeaume from injecting dynamism and pride to the provincial capital.

His populist, pro-business and entrepreneurial style is a good fit for Quebec City, which despite being a capital city with a large civil servant population, is known for being one of the most right-wing regions in the province. In his first full term in office, Labeaume’s landmark initiative has been the construction of a new amphitheatre/indoor arena, part of a popular bid to bring back the Québec Nordiques, the city’s old NHL (hockey) team which left for Colorado in 1995. Work has begun on the new arena, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2015. The construction of the amphitheatre stirred much controversy and political debate in the province in 2011 and 2012, after Labeaume announced that Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s media empire, Québecor, would have management rights over the arena. L’Allier’s former city manager, Denis de Belleval, took the decision to court, arguing the deal was illegal. Labeaume successfully lobbied the then-Liberal provincial government and the then-opposition PQ to pass a law, law 204, which banned judicial challenges to the Québecor deal, although de Belleval’s case continued. The passage of law 204 notably led to a crisis in the PQ, with a number of PQ MNAs quitting the party and throwing Pauline Marois’ leadership of the party into chaos for a while. In June 2012, the Superior Court found in favour of Quebec City in de Belleval’s case. In June 2013, a strike paralyzed work until the PQ government passed a back-to-work law in July 2013, ending the strike.

Labeaume faced more serious opposition this year, from a new centre-left party, Démocratie Québec, whose mayoral candidate was David Lemelin. DQ also included the two independents elected in 2009 and two dissident councillors from Labeaume’s team. David Lemelin was shaken when it was revealed that he had been convicted for domestic violence 20 years ago.

Labeaume’s crusade in this election was against municipal employees and public sector unions. With the municipal employees’ pension fund in deficit, he was to get municipal employees and their union – rather than taxpayers – to foot part of the bill. He also wants to increase their working hours to 37.5/week (currently 35) and cut employee costs by 5%. Labeaume spoke of the need for a “strong mandate” for him to do this, because he wants the provincial government to change collective bargaining laws to give the city additional powers against unions in negotiations, perhaps forcing them to accept the city’s conditions if there is no agreement after one year. DQ’s platform focused on direct democracy and sustainable democracy, but talked about the need for healthier and normal relations with city employees and limiting subcontracting.

Turnout was 54.9%, up from 49% in 2009.

Régis Labeaume (EL) 74.07% winning 19 seats
David Lemelin (DQ) 24.03% winning 3 seats
Others 1.90%

Labeaume obtained the “strong mandate” he was looking for from voters. With turnout well over 50% and up from 2009, and Labeaume himself winning nearly 75% of the vote (despite much stronger and organized opposition than in 2009), there’s no question that he has his mandate. In his victory speech, the reelected mayor pressed the provincial government to take heed of his landslide – saying that the population wanted ‘change’ – and called on the PQ government, notably labour minister and downtown Quebec City MNA Agnès Maltais to “make heard their opinions on our proposals” (on pension reform). He also called on the unions to negotiate, “in a calm and civilized manner” with his administration. However, the PQ minister of municipal affairs, Sylvain Gaudreault, has already commented that he does not feel that Labeaume’s mandate rests solely on this one issue.

In a reduced city council shrunk from 27 to 21 members, Labeaume’s candidates won 18 out of 21 districts (the additional seat always being the mayor’s seat) while the opposition DQ won three districts. DQ incumbents Yvon Bussières and Anne Guérette, the two independents elected in the Labeaume tsunami in 2009, were reelected in their districts in La Cité-Limoilou borough. Their districts, Montcalm-Saint-Sacrement and Cap-aux-Diamants respectively, cover downtown Quebec City – including the beautiful Vieux-Québec, which is the most left-wing part of the city. Both won over 55% of the vote. However, in Maizerets-Lairet, the ‘turncoat’ EL-turned-DQ incumbent was defeated, winning only 31.6% of the vote. In the district of Saint-Louis-Sillery, which includes the very affluent old suburb of Sillery, DQ candidate Paul Shoiry – a pre-merger mayor of Sillery – was elected by an even wider margin an EL-held open seat, winning 60.6% of the vote. However, in Cap-Rouge-Laurentien, DQ mayoral candidate David Lemelin (represented by his co-candidate) was defeating, taking only 27.1% against 53.1% for Laurent Proulx (EL), a 26-year old candidate known for his opposition to the 2012 student strikes in the province (he was a ‘carré vert’ – supporter of the tuition fee increases). In suburban and right-leaning boroughs like Les Rivières, Charlesbourg, Beauport and La Haute-Saint-Charles, EL candidates and incumbents won all seats, often with upwards of 70% of the vote.


Laval, a suburban island located north of the island of Montreal, is Quebec’s third largest city (pop. 401,553). Unlike the other large cities in Quebec, Laval was not concerned by the difficult forced mergers over ten years ago – fourteen municipalities (Chomedey, Duvernay, Laval-des-Rapides etc) were amalgamated to form the city of Laval, which covers the whole island, in 1965. Since amalgamation in the 1960s, Laval has been a growing suburban community, which has attracted new businesses (high-tech, services, pharmaceuticals) and new residents (including upwardly-mobile immigrants); suburban growth led to the expansion of the Montreal subway across the river to Laval, with three new stations opening (after massive cost overruns) in 2007. As in a lot of suburban municipalities, local politics have usually been dominated by pro-business politicians and/or businessmen keen on rapid development, but not as active on environmental or sustainability issues. Although the city’s economy has been diversified, it remains very much a suburban community, lacking a true downtown.

Laval has had few mayors since 1965, a lot of the city’s mayors staying in office for a long time. Lucien Paiement, who is said to have brought in the system of organized corruption which was blown up to pieces last year, served between 1973 and 1981. In 1989, Gilles Vaillancourt, the candidate of outgoing mayor Claude Ulysse Lefebvre’s party (the Parti du ralliement officiel des Lavallois, PRO), was first elected. Vaillancourt, as noted above, stayed in office until the revelations of the Charbonneau Commission and his frontline role in the corruption system forced him to resign in November 2012. Vaillancourt was reelected comfortably in every election thereafter, and after 2001, he ruled without opposition on city council – basically making Laval a single-party state.

The city’s rapid development under his rule, which saw – among others – the expansion of the Montreal subway to Laval and the inauguration of a new bridge linking Laval and Montreal on highway 25, was one of the factors in his political longevity. However, Vaillancourt and the PRO’s control of resources and access to illegal campaign funds from developers and engineering firms made the PRO a well-oiled electoral machine which would attract the strongest candidate and discourage opponents. In 2005, for example, Vaillancourt’s strongest opponent (who won 16% to the mayor’s 74.6%) was a 18-year old student! In 2009, Vaillancourt, facing slightly more serious but still badly disorganized, divided and underfunded opposition, was reelected with 61% against 22.6% for his closest opponent.

One witness at the Charbonneau Commission testified how Vaillancourt, in 1997, had intervened to neutralize a potentially strong rival (the son of his predecessor), a business partner of the witness. Vaillancourt allegedly told him that if he dissociated himself from his friend, he would get more contracts and tripling the engineering fees he was getting from the city. Refusing to do so, Vallée’s firm became persona non grata in Laval and the city apparently told North Shore municipalities to boycott his firm.

This election marked the beginning of a new era for the city. Only three incumbent municipal councillors ran for reelection, most of the councillors having been cited as accomplices in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO. The PRO, the dominant party of Laval politics since 1980, dissolved last year and a number of its leaders are officials are under investigation.

There were four major candidates in the race, each running under their own party banners.

Marc Demers, a retired police officer and PQ candidate in Laval-des-Rapides in the 2007 and 2008 provincial elections, ran for the Mouvement lavallois, whose candidate had placed second with 22.6% in the last election. In 1982, Demers, as a police officer, had investigated Vaillancourt (then a PRO municipal councillor) and his family (his brother, arrested in May 2013, owned a furniture store) for fraud but he was transferred to another service quickly thereafter and that case was later closed. Corruption, ethics and integrity formed the cornerstones of his campaign: he proposed to review the rules for awarding contracts, more transparency (open data initiative) and taking judicial action to recovery money stolen by corruption and collusion. His platform also emphasized environmental issues (a moratorium on the destruction of wetlands until 2020, reducing greenhouse gas emissions), direct democracy and a property tax freeze in 2004.

The legality of Demers’ candidacy was questioned by his opponents because he did not live in Laval between July 2012 and January 2013, while the law requires a candidate to have lived in the municipality for at least one year before the election – but at the same time, the law is vague over whether this means one full year, uninterrupted, from the election or not. Demers’ lawyer argued that his client fulfilled this requirement given that he had resided for years in the city before summer 2012. His opponents, however, argued that his candidacy was not legal and they may still take the issue to court. They accused Demers of using his ties to the PQ to ask the provincial government to change the law to accommodate him, a claim which he denies.

Jean-Claude Gobé, the candidate of a new party called Action Laval, a provincial Liberal MNA for LaFontaine (Rivière-des-Prairies in NE Montreal) between 1985 and 2003 (but he left the party to sit as an independent in 2003) and a federal Liberal candidate in 2006 (Alfred-Pellan riding in eastern Laval). His tenure as MNA must have been fairly unremarkable given the absence of a Wikipedia article on the guy! Naturally, Gobé’s campaign focused on change as well, and emphasized much of the same things: direct democracy, proximity to citizens, annual investments of $350 million in infrastructure, decontamination of industrial lands, security cameras, a property tax freeze for at least two years, spending increases under 2.5% a year and a symphony house. Gobé was very critical of the fact that the city is under the trusteeship of the provincial government

Claire Le Bel, an incumbent one-term city councillor elected for the PRO in 2009, ran for a new party called Option Laval. As one of the new councillors elected in 2009, Le Bel (along with the outgoing mayor) had not been involved in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO. Her campaign received much attention after she accepted to meet with Vaillancourt. She smartly taped the whole meeting, in which the former mayor offered her his very discreet help. In the meeting, Vaillancourt said that he could gets “his guys” (sounds legit!) to help her out a bit. Le Bel, who found the whole thing disgusting, understood that the disgraced former mayor was offering her money (he also talked about other things in the taped meeting, and it’s rather interesting). However, any good press her actions in that episode that might have gotten her were eclipsed when her campaign manager, a Bloc Québécois candidate in the 2008 federal election, shortly thereafter alleged that he had been assaulted on the highway. It later turned out that he had made the story up, and he faces charges of public mischief under the Canadian Criminal Code. He stepped down as campaign manager. Many believe he made this story up to boost Le Bel’s campaign (but probably without her knowing he made it all up), but you kind of need to an idiot to do such a thing.

Robert Bordeleau, who had run for mayor in 2009 for the Parti au service du citoyen (PSC) and won 14.9% of the vote, ran again this year. I don’t know much about the guy or his campaign, but he apparently owes the provincial revenue agency $120,000 in taxes and Demers accused him of leading a mudslinging campaign.

Turnout was 41.1%, up from 35.7% in 2009.

Marc Demers (ML) 44.19% winning 18 seats
Jean-Claude Gobé (AL) 24.3% winning 2 seats
Claire Le Bel (OL) 12.4%
Robert Bordeleau (PSC) 10.86%
Jacques Foucher (Ind) 3.18%
Others 5.08%
Independents winning 2 seats

Marc Demers, who was kind of the favourite, won by a wide margin. Demers was likely helped by his strong campaign focus on integrity and probity, and his own image as a police officer, longstanding opponent of corruption (and Vaillancourt) and as a man of integrity; this probably made him the most credible and appealing candidate in a field without any ‘star candidates’ and generally low-calibre candidates. Demers’ priority will be getting the city back on track, by fighting corruption and ending the provincial government’s trusteeship of the city (he says he wants to keep the trustees as advisers for a few months).

Demers will have a strong majority on city council. His candidates won 17 out of 21 districts, with two seats going to Gobé’s Action Laval and two seats to independents (one of whom is an ex-PRO incumbent; the two other incumbents seeking reelection lost). Gobé’s party won the districts of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and Chomedey; in the mayoral race, Chomedey, a very multicultural neighborhood.

Other cities

The election in Gatineau, Quebec’s fourth largest city located across the river from Ottawa, was quite a surprise. The incumbent mayor, Marc Bureau (independent), elected in 2005 and reelected in 2009, lost reelection by a wide margin to Buckingham city councillor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, the candidate of a new left-leaning party, Action Gatineau, which had three incumbents. Bureau won just 36.2% of the vote, against 52.6% for Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin. Bureau had a solid lead in one poll taken, and was not considered as being endangered, making his defeat somewhat puzzling. But a lot of results in the smaller cities and towns in Quebec local elections often are just that – puzzling and surprising. Turnout was 41.9%, up from 2009.

Bureau never was a wildly popular mayor (he won reelection with only 44% over a divided field in 2009), but he did not face any major scandals or popular protest. On the other hand, his name was not attached with any big projects and a lot of campaign promises went unfulfilled. In his last term, he promoted ‘Destination Gatineau’, a new tourist project on the Ottawa River which is projected to cost $137 million (with federal and provincial funding and the private sector for most of it) and open in 2017 for the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Pedneaud-Jobin did not hide his lukewarm feelings for the project, which he says focuses too much on tourists (and besides, he says it’s the wrong way to attract tourists to stay in the region) and he wants to revitalize other ‘downtowns’ of the spread out and amalgamated city (Aylmer, Old Hull, Gatineau, Buckingham). Jacques Lemay, a former fire chief running as an independent, proposed to attract tourists with a rollercoaster and big wheel, a covered dome for year-round cross-country skiing and a large park with fountains.

Bureau received some criticism after the mid-October roll-out of Rapibus, a new bus rapid transit system (similar to Ottawa’s Transitway) ran into problems and users complained of longer daily commute times. The Rapibus project also had cost overruns. Pedneaud-Jobin cited the Rapibus ‘flop’ as one of the factors contributing to his victory.

A desire for change, the mayor’s unfulfilled promises and his mediocre record likely explain Bureau’s defeat. It was, however, an ambiguous result: Pedneaud-Jobin won by a large margin, but only four of Action Gatineau’s candidate for the 18 city council seats were elected – and two AG incumbents, in Aylmer and Lucerne, lost reelection.

In Longueuil, a South Shore suburb of Montreal which is Quebec’s fifth largest city, incumbent mayor Caroline St-Hilaire, a former Bloc MP, was reelected to a second term in office with 87.3% of the vote against 12.7% for a little-known independent candidate. St-Hilaire was first elected in 2009, ending 27 years of rule by the Municipal Party of Longueuil (PML). She won 52.9% against PML candidate Jacques Goyette, who took 47.1%. Goyette was backed by outgoing mayor Claude Gladu, the PML mayor between 1994 and 2001 and 2005 and 2009. Already in 2009, the PML candidate suffered from accusation of impropriety and talk of illegal financing of the party and cost inflation in public contracts. Since then, the PML, which had won 15 seats against 12 seats for the mayor-elect’s Action Longueuil party, has collapsed. Witnesses at the Charbonneau Commission confirmed that a similar system of collusion to that in Laval and Montreal existed in Longueuil, with firms obtaining contracts in returning for donations to the PML. PML councillors either switched to Action Longueuil or became independents. St-Hilaire’s campaign and party played a lot on the issue of integrity and transparency, and warned voters of not going back to the past. And they didn’t: St-Hilaire won reelection with only token opposition from a last-minute and little-known independent, Pardo Chiocchio, who apparently has ties to the old PML. For city council, St-Hilaire’s Action Longueuil won 13 out of 15 districts, giving then a large majority. 3 AL candidates had already been acclaimed. One independent incumbent (ex-PML) won reelection in the Laflèche district of Saint-Hubert borough, and another independent (ex-PML) incumbent in Greenfield Park, a borough with a substantial Anglophone minority, was reelected for a local party, Option Greenfield Park. However, two prominent figures of the old PML, Claude and Robert Gladu – the son and nephew of former mayor Claude Gladu – lost reelection in their Vieux-Longueuil districts to AL candidates.

Sherbrooke mayor Bernard Sévigny, elected for a first term in 2009, won reelection to a second term with 73.4% of the vote in a four-candidate field. His closest rival won 14.3%. It’s a much more comfortable victory than his initial win in 2009, when he had won by only 122 votes. However, Sévigny will still face trouble on the municipal council: his party won nine out of 19 districts, against 10 seats for independents.

The mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, won reelection to a fourth term with 63% of the vote – a disappointing result after he won 78% in 2009. Tremblay, first elected in 2001, something of a YouTube star for his folksy and wacky way of talking. But he is also a controversial character, for his Catholic traditionalist and conservative views. He was criticized for reciting a prayer at the start of every session of the municipal council, and despite a 2008 decision of the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission which found that the prayer infringed on freedom of conscience and religion, continued the practice. In 2011, the Tribunal des droits de la personne ordered the mayor and the city to stop reciting the prayer, remove religious symbols from public buildings and pay $30,000 in damages to the complainant. The city appealed the judgement to the Quebec Court of Appeals found in favour of the mayor in May 2013, but that decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In August 2012, during the provincial electoral campaign, Tremblay criticized PQ candidate Djemila Benhabib, a feminist and anti-fundamentalist writer of Algerian descent, who had criticized the presence of the crucifix in the National Assembly. Tremblay said that French Canadians were ‘soft’ and were being told how to behave by a person from Algeria, “and we aren’t even able to pronounce her name.” He said that he didn’t like that “those people” (immigrants) come to Quebec and establish “their rules.” His remarks were denounced as xenophobic and created an uproar, but a majority of his constituents sided with him.

Tremblay remains very popular, despite some accusations of mismanagement and mishandling of public contracts. He won 63% of the vote against 37% for Paul Grimard, who campaigned on the topic of integrity. Tremblay is an independent, and independents hold 17 of the city’s 19 districts. Grimard’s party won two seats.

Additional results for other cities are available here. Maps of the results in all cities explored above are available on the Canadian Election Atlas blog.

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

Election Preview: Quebec 2012

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 (source: Natural Resources Canada)

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.

Results of the 1995 independence referendum by provincial constituency (YES in green, NO in red)

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

Results of the 2008 provincial election, on original 2001 borders

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.

The language divide in Montreal: % of francophones by census tract, 2006 Census (source: Stats Can)

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.

Regional Outlook

Results of the 2007 provincial election

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.

Quebec provincial by-elections 2012

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.

Bonaventure (Quebec) 2011

Map of the provincial riding of Bonaventure

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…

Canadian by-election bonanza

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.

Federal by-elections

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.

Provincial by-election

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.

Saint-Laurent (Quebec) by-election 2010


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.

Vachon (Quebec) by-election 2010

Vachon (source: QuebecPolitique)

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.