Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Look at Bourassa

Bourassa in 2011

Recently, as everyone plugged in should be aware, Bourassa MP Denis Coderre has pretty much stated his intention to resign in order to focus on his run for the mayoralty of Montréal, a position he is in very strong standing to win despite a somewhat shaky start involving protests. That leaves open his seat on the north end of the Island of Montréal, setting up a very interesting race for the coming months ahead between the two big players in Montréal – the Liberals and NDP, both under close-by Montréal MPs. The Bloc, while there, isn't considered as big of a player - for not.

It should be delicious fun, but what awaits them, as well as the voters, in Bourassa? Lets find out…

Riding History

Riding History of Bourassa

Bourassa first came into being in the 1960’s as a portion of the historical riding of Mercier, which covered much of northern Montréal pre-60’s, as well as a small portion of the riding of Laval which stretched across the Rivière-des-Prairies. Bourassa initially took in the communities of Montréal-Nord, Rivière-des-Prairies, Saint-Michel, and parts of Ahuntsic, but was eventually cut down in size until it centered mainly on the growing communities in Montréal-Nord.

The riding’s first MP was Liberal Jacques Trudel, who was elected in 1968’s Trudeaumania wave and subsequently re-elected in 1972 and 1974 without much opposition. Both the Progressive Conservatives and Créditistes (Social Credit in Québec under Réal Caouette) fought for second in Bourassa during the Trudeau era, with the exception of 1980 when the NDP managed a second-place finish during the Liberal’s sweep of Quebec in that election.

Police officer Carlo Rossi succeeded Trudel when he retired in 1979, winning his first election by a wide margin despite the Liberals losing power overall. He won re-election in 1980 by a much larger margin, and was a Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism in Trudeau’s final government.

Now is a good time to mention that Montréal-Nord, which has made up the majority of Bourassa since 1971, is an extremely diverse section of Montréal that is one of the main destinations for allophone (non-franco- or Anglo-phone) immigrants coming into Québec. In 2006, 51% of Montréal-Nord’s residents spoke something other than English or French as a first language, with 40% were francophone and 8% Anglophone. This is the result of a steady pace of growth since the 1950’s.

The vast majority of immigrant voters in Montréal-Nord and other sections of Bourassa have tended to vote Liberal since the very beginning, which goes a long way to showcase why the Liberals do so well here. It also highlights the division that we’ll see coming into the next few elections, which should be pretty evident.

In 1984, Brian Mulroney’s PCs swept the francophone vote in Québec, and nearly swept Rossi – an Italian-Canadian, I might point out – out of office. He hung on with a bare plurality against the PC candidate in 1984, but fell short in 1988 when PC MP Marie Gibeau was elected just barely, 43.3% to 41.5% for Rossi.

In 1993, the Bloc Québécois managed to win the seat despite the presence of its current MP on the ballot, with Osvaldo Nunez winning over Denis Coderre by a razor-thin margin, 41.9% to 41.7%. Coderre easily took the seat in 1997 however, and went on the win with large majorities over Bloc candidates up until 2006, during the Liberal’s collapse in the province following the Sponsorship Scandal revelations, though even then he held an 11-point lead over the Bloc.

2011 Election

Bourassa Comparison: 2006 to 2011

Coderre ran into a bit of trouble in the past federal election, winning with a healthy 3,000 votes (or about 8%) over NDP candidate Julie Demers, though that was down severely from the 9,000-vote lead he managed in 2008 over the Bloc’s candidate. Coderre’s support was also limited to much of the immigrant base in the riding, with Demers’ won polls matching up almost perfectly with the Bloc’s 2006 comeback among the riding’s francophone communities (to the left), while also making some slight inroads among the immigrant voters in Bourassa.

Essentially, the farther away you got from Montréal-Nord’s core, away from the allophone communities and into the francophone areas, the more the NDP won. This is evident by the NDP polls that almost dominate in the portions of Sault-au-Récollet and Rivière-des-Prairies that Bourassa takes in.

Finally, Bourassa is covered by the provincial ridings of Bourassa-Sauvé and LaFontaine, both Liberal bastions, as well as a tiny portion on the southern tip by Crémazie, which is a relatively strong PQ riding.

By-Election Outlook

We unfortunately don’t know the date when it will be called, but Stephen Harper has a funny habit of trolling the Opposition parties by waiting until the six-month deadline to call ridings where he has little chance of winning. So, we’ll probably see it sometime by late autumn, though calling it over the summer may also suit Harper by burying it under news of good weather, a cabinet shuffle, and a possible Ontario election. It doesn’t really matter to him because the chances of the Conservatives winning here are extremely low, so, whatever.

What will matter is the state of the Liberals and New Democrats by the time the by-election is called. Bourassa, while friendly to the Liberals because of its large allophone communities, is by no means a lock. A large, motivated francophone bloc can steal the riding away from the Liberals, which I suspect will be the basis of strategy for both the Bloc and the NDP.

Essentially, if the Liberals retain their strong appeal among both their traditional base among allophones as well as expand it among francophones with Trudeau, it’s a sure Liberal riding. If they can only retain their 2011 base, then the picture is more muddled, but a vote split among the NDP and Bloc among francophones will likely keep Bourassa red. If Trudeau doesn’t pan out though, and Mulcair’s appeal to unite francophones behind the NDP works, then the Liberals better watch out.

Of course, a lot will depend on the candidates. Some names have been floated around for the Liberals, including former Honoré-Mercier MP Pablo Rodriguez, while some people mentioned Brian Topp as a candidate for the NDP (very, very unlikely, and very bad, choice). Daniel Paillé, the leader of the Bloc, has ruled himself out as a candidate, so who knows who they’ll put forward. All I know is that each party needs to nominate a candidate that will keep their bases interested, otherwise they’re handicapping themselves from the start.

It is early yet, but Liberals should be prepared for a possible fight on their hands. Take nothing for granted, folks. I’ll keep an eye and update anyone on developments in the future.


  1. in its dna bourassa is a liberal riding stronghold, isn't it?

    1. Well, I wouldn't say "stronghold" but I would say its a very likely Liberal riding. It can be taken away from them however, as '88 and '93 showed us.

    2. Denis Coderre is also very very popular in his riding. He speaks Creole and Italian (the two main non-official languages in the riding). I'd bet you anything that if he ran as an independent he'd still win. I don't know if that changes things a lot, as Montreal's main immigrant ridings are pretty much always liberal (Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel, Honoré-Mercier). Personally I'd project a liberal win. The island of Montreal is the liberal's core in the province, a surge in the polls for the NDP in Quebec would impact the suburbs before it hits the island.