By-elections aren’t often held when minority governments are in power. Most of the time, minority governments don’t last long enough to schedule them.
But a trio of by-elections this month in Quebec may change the look of the minority legislatures in Quebec City and Ottawa, and will measure where the political winds are blowing in la Belle Province.
In two weeks, Quebeckers in three different ridings will vote to fill vacant federal seats.
Two of those seats – Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean and Saint-Hyancinthe-Bagot – have been held for years by the Bloc Québecois. They are both “bleu” francophone ridings – the kinds of places where the Conservative Party made great gains in last year’s general election, and where the Liberal Party suffered notable losses of support.
The results in both these ridings will give a sense of whether or not the Tories have consolidated those gains, if the Grits are beginning to recover in Quebec outside Montreal, and how well the Bloc has been able to ward off the Conservative threat to its base support.
The third by-election – in the Montreal Island riding of Outremont – may be the most interesting of all. Outremont is one of the Liberals’ few remaining safe seats in Quebec. The party has warded off challenges from the Bloc Québecois there in successive elections. But this time, the toughest fight might come from an unlikely opponent – the NDP, not often a player in Quebec politics.
The New Democrats have landed a star candidate in Outremont – former provincial Liberal cabinet minister Thomas Mulcair, who may have a shot at victory. The picture is complicated by controversy surrounding Liberal candidate Jocelyn Coulon, who has come under fire from some Jewish groups over published opinions on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Although Outremont is mostly an upper-middle class francophone riding, it also has a substantial population of ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews, who tend to vote as a bloc for one party. With the notoriously low voter turnout of by-elections, (small “b”) bloc voting can be particularly influential.
An observation after passing through the riding the other day: The Bloc candidate appears on his campaign sign with party leader Gilles Duceppe. Same with Mulcair, whose signs feature a photo of himself with NDP leader Jack Layton. The Liberal and Tory candidates have solo pics on their signs.
One final Quebec by-election worth watching this month: A provincial vote on Sept. 24 in the riding of Charlevoix, the beautiful region that hugs the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, between Quebec City and the Saguenay. New Parti Québecois leader Pauline Marois is running there in order to regain a seat in the National Assembly. When party leaders run in byelections, it is traditional for rival parties to step aside and decline to run a candidate in the race. Premier Jean Charest’s Liberals did just that in Charlevoix, but someone forgot to tell ADQ Leader Mario Dumont about the tradition.
The ADQ is running a candidate in Charlevoix who would have a credible shot of winning, even if the Liberals were in the race. If the ADQ does win, it would be a humiliating defeat for both Marois and Charest, and the latest in a series of momentum-building victories for Opposition Leader Dumont.
A lot of politics to watch for in a province that never disappoints politics watchers.