The by-election in Bonaventure appears to have been completely normal. Nathalie Normandeau, a Liberal cabinet minister of Jean Charest, announced her resignation over two months ago. Subsequently, a by-election on December 5th was called in her district, and the people elected yet another Liberal MNA, Damien Arsenault. At first glance – business as usual, as the Québec Liberal Party retains control of the riding, and Mr. Charest keeps his majority government – albeit slim – in the National Assembly. However, upon further analysis of recent developments in Québec politics, it seems questionable whether this result represents a true victory for the Liberals.
As recent polls indicate, there is a new political force present in Québec: the Coalition-Avenir-Québec party (CAQ). Founded by former member of the Parti Québécois (PQ), Francois Legault, the CAQ, characterized as centre-right, believes it offers a vision for the province’s future that is an appealing alternative to those of other parties. In the next ten years, the CAQ will seek to put the issue of Québec sovereignty on the back-burner. Rather than amplifying the long-standing tensions that exist between the sovereigntists and federalists, Legault asserts that his Party will focus on province building.
While the CAQ did not, put a candidate forward in the Bonaventure election, a close examination of the election results may well signal Legault’s new political juggernaut. First, the Liberal victory was understated; reflecting their decline in province over the last few years. The Party received nearly 15% less votes in Bonaventure than they had in the 2008 provincial election. A number of factors, including charges of corruption against the Liberal government and Premier Charest’s high disapproval rating, explain the Party’s declining popularity. Second, despite the Parti Québécois’ leader Pauline Marois’ hard-campaigning in the week plus leading up to the election, their candidate, Sylvian Roy, come in second place with 37% of the vote. Lastly, as would be expected, Mario Dumont’s right-wing Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) finished in fourth place, behind the liberals, the PQ, and the Québec Solidaire. There are rumors that the ADQ will attempt some sort of merger with CAQ in light of their severe decline in popularity since the 2008 provincial elections.
Based on all of these developments, it appears that the major parties in the province are in decline, signaling an opportunity for Francois Legault’s CAQ. Liberals might have won a seat in Bonaventure on Monday, but the outcome of this election, when put in perspective, reinforces the notion that political change is coming in this province. It already happened back in May when Québec was swept by the “Orange wave;” perhaps it is now Francois Legault’s turn to sweep up La Belle Province in a wave of conservatism. Québecers can only hope that if Mr. Legault does indeed form a government, it won’t be a Maurice Duplessis repeat.
– Matthew Eidinger