QUEBEC — In another blow to the struggling Quebec Liberals, voters in the Quebec City riding of Jean-Talon have hopped aboard the governing Coalition Avenir Québec’s bandwagon.
After voting Liberal in every election since 1966, Jean-Talon flipped to the CAQ following a hard-fought byelection Monday to replace former cabinet minister Sébastien Proulx.
Not only does the CAQ gain a 76th MNA in the legislature, but the crushing defeat means the Liberals take a big symbolic hit politically. Jean-Talon, which had voted Liberal 18 consecutive times, was the only seat the party still held east of Montreal following the 2018 election debacle.
Proulx clung to the riding by 1,363 votes then as the CAQ swept the province, but this time it was not to be. The CAQ wields virtually all the power in the provincial capital.
As of 10:30 p.m. Monday, with 150 of 158 polls reporting, CAQ candidate Joëlle Boutin, 40, a chief of staff to CAQ minister Éric Caire, had bagged 43.35 per cent of the vote with 8,740 votes and was declared the winner.
That result put her well ahead of former nurse and hospital administrator Gertrude Bourdon, 64, the Liberal candidate, who was making her second attempt to get elected to the legislature. Bourdon’s score was 23.79 per cent of the vote, with a total of 4,796 votes.
In fact, the Liberals were even struggling to hold second place at various points of the evening, as Québec solidaire candidate Olivier Bolduc, a 32-year-old court stenographer, came on strong. He ended up in third place with 17.98 per cent of the vote, or 3,625 votes.
The Parti Québécois candidate, Sylvain Barrette, 61, who campaigned on a hardline independence platform, was a distant fourth with only 9.4 per cent of the vote, or 1,895 votes.
The participation rate was 51.29 per cent.
The CAQ’s win cast a shadow over the mood in the Ste-Foy brasserie where Liberals had gathered to watch the results roll in.
Many arrived with doubts they could hold the riding in the face of the CAQ’s rock-solid support in the polls. While the CAQ dropped six percentage points provincially in a Léger poll last week, it is still the hands-down leader in its political base of Quebec City.
The Liberals conceded early, with interim leader Pierre Arcand trying to look on the bright side.
“We knew from the start of the campaign that this would be a difficult fight,” Arcand told the small band of Liberals in a short speech. “But we fought well in this campaign.
“The Liberal Party of Quebec will continue working hard to regain the affection of Quebecers. In the history of political parties, it is completely normal that there be periods of reconstruction. Redefining ourselves is completely normal.
“In 152 years of history, the Liberal Party has experienced difficult periods. What we need to retain is that our party is the only one to have crossed through them all.”
Brushing aside a few tears, Bourdon added: “To all of you, I say: until the next time.”
Later, Arcand said it was clear voters opted to cast ballots for the government.
Across town, Premier François Legault was basking in the CAQ’s victory.
“Joëlle has managed to bring down the last Liberal fortress east of Montreal,” he told a packed hall of CAQ supporters. “Quebec is free of the Liberals.”
Monday’s loss hurts the Liberals even more because it comes as the party struggles to rebuild its image in ridings outside Montreal, which are dominated by francophone voters.
They now have no seats outside Montreal or the Outaouais region.
The party has just launched a leadership campaign to replace Philippe Couillard and could have used the bounce produced by a win in Jean-Talon.
With the stakes so high, the four main parties tossed everything in their arsenals at the byelection.
While the CAQ’s Boutin benefited from the support of the CAQ caucus, Bourdon arrived in the race with her load of political baggage. After flirting with both the CAQ and the Liberals in the 2018 campaign, she was accused of being opportunistic and without principles.
Monday’s results do not significantly alter the composition of the legislature. Before the vote, the CAQ held 75 seats, the Liberals 28, QS 10 and the PQ nine. There are two independents.