Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Quebec By-Elections Show Charest Still Treading Water

The Premier who many people have written off dozens of time before, just in this past year alone, came out with a middling performance last night in two by-elections in Liberal-held ridings, showing that despite their supposed desire for change, Quebeckers continue to support the dominate Parti libéral and Parti Québécois.

Let's go party-by-party and figure this out.

The Parti Québécois had the best night of all, wresting a more-or-less safe riding in 2008 from the Liberals, while not (solely) relying on the CAQ candidate, former BQ MP Mario Laframboise to drag down the Liberal vote. With a slight increase in percentage over their 2008 result of 33.6%, they held on their vote and Roland Richer is the new député for Argenteuil, the first péquiste to represent that riding ever. It's a slight moral victory for those old-school sovereigntistes, given that it was federalist stalwart Claude Ryan's district for years. So everyone wins on that side.

At the same time, the péquistes fell flat in LaFontaine, a provincial riding which falls within the federal riding of Honoré-Mercier, represented currently by an NDP MP but was for years a Liberal bastion represented by Pablo Rodriguez. Even in that May election, the LaFontaine part of the riding leaned Liberal. So not any assumed that the péquistes would pick up this riding - but do lose 2% of their vote in the riding, and nearly lose second place to the caquiste candidate? Not impressive. The low turnout (25%, compared to 51% in 2008) could have done this, people probably expected the Liberals to win it, but that is a definite lack of motivation there.

The Liberals lost a stronghold, never a good sign, and they can blame a lot of that loss on the CAQ candidate - though definitely not for reasons of a federalist split, given that the candidate was a former BQ MP. This has to worry the Liberals because it is fairly clear, in this first electoral test for the CAQ, where their votes are likely going to come from.

But, they just lost it and the péquistes did not increase their vote very much, and the CAQ failed to replicate the 2007 results in the riding, where the adequiste candidate won just short of 30% and was hardly a star candidate like Lafromboise. The Liberals can look at Argenteuil and say that, yes, it is a black eye but it could have been a hell of a lot worse.

LaFontaine is their saving grace, of course. Marc Tanguay, the new député for the district, won easily with over 53% of the vote... but with 25% turnout, that's not a riding endorsement. I would not expect it to change much with a higher turnout, however, so they can be pleased with the result. It still represented a large drop in support, but it was almost irrelevant when you have that much padding in your vote, and the simple expectation that you'll win.

The Coalition Avenir Québec, or François Legault's party, have to be disappointed by these numbers, because they represent the reality that their polling is currently in the crapper since last last year, and it isn't just down to evil pollsters. Québécois are not jumping on the bandwagon, even when there is a star candidate running. They can't replicate that Dumont 2007 magic as of yet, and that is all there really is to say. Soul searching as to why - should they have decided not to swallow the ADQ whole? - will take time.

Québec solidaire, the little communist separatist party that could, had a bit of a sad night in my opinion. Maybe I'm artificially inflating expectations here, but the student protests, for which their sole MNA, Amir Khadir, spastically supports and was even arrested alongside (as well as his daughter), did not seem to help them. Maybe those protesters don't vote, or maybe they vote for the péquistes (who support the protesters... sort of), but either way, they didn't vote for the QS and that led to sad results in the by-elections. They increased their percentages, yes, but remain fairly irrelevant.

Speaking of irrelevance, the Others, which range from the Parti vert, whose leader Claude Sabourin ran in Argenteuil and failed miserably; Option nationale, a separatist party with a sitting MNA and failed to garner above 2% in either riding; and the Parti conservateur and Équipe autonomiste, two conservative spinoffs, failed to garner much support. At the same time, the PC and EA earned more votes together than the ON, a surprising fact given that neither of these parties have managed to get in the news, while Jean-Martin Aussant keeps screaming at everyone.

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