After Hysteria, Contemplation

Wow. It was actually worse for the Liberals than the polls predicted.

Results courtesy Elections Canada

By-Election Results: Outremont
New DemocratsThomas Mulcair11,15648.4
LiberalJocelyn Coulon6,55428.4
Bloc QuébécoisJean-Paul Gilson2,49010.8
ConservativeGilles Duguay1,9078.3
Green PartyFrancois Pilon5042.2
New RhinosFrancois Yo Gourd1410.6
IndependentMahmood Raza Baig770.3
IndependentJocelyne Leduc660.3
Canadian Action PartyAlexandre Amirizian430.2
IndependentRomain Angeles420.2
IndependentRégent Millette320.1
IndependentJohn C. Turmel300.1
Total number of valid votes:23,042
Polls reporting: 166/168Voter turnout: 23,042 of 63,728 registered electors (36.2%)



For reference, opinion polls this past Friday suggested the Liberals and the NDP were neck and neck. This is not neck and neck.

There was a time, when I was eight, when the Liberals took 74 out of 75 of the federal seats in Quebec. How times have changed. Mind you, that election occurred on the same year as Rene Levesque’s Parti Quebecois took its second majority in the Quebec National Assembly, so I have to wonder if the Quebec nationalists at the time even bothered to vote. 1980 was the year the Creditistes died, after all.

In 1984, the Quebec nationalists appeared to discover the power of their vote at the federal level and aligned with the Mulroney Conservatives to help give him his super landslide majority. Then, in 1993, dissatisfied with the Mulroney Conservatives (like the rest of the country), the Quebec nationalists turned to their own home-grown party, the Bloc Quebecois, and propelled them to official opposition status. Through it all, it has been increasingly hard times for the Liberals in Quebec, dwindling to a rump of seats in Montreal and the Outauoais, only to have the NDP making an incredibly strong challenge, here.

Congratulations to the NDP for a strong campaign, and only their second elected MP from Quebec in the House of Commons. Dan Arnold over at CalgaryGrit is already calling Mulcair a possible NDP leader in waiting, one that might deliver the NDP’s long-awaited breakthrough in la belle province, perhaps?

But I would warn people about banking on these numbers. Look at the turnout of this election: 36.2% — about the level of a bad municipal election. The task for the NDP in holding this riding starts now, as it’s clear that a lot of support stayed home tonight. And despite the media clamouring on about this by-election being a referendum on Stephane Dion’s leadership, to the point of making it a cliché, I think they’re right.

The huge number of voters who stayed home (almost half of those who participated in the 2006 general election), have to include a lot of Liberal supporters, and staying home is about the biggest vote of censure a party member could make without actually going out and voting for the other team. Despite performing a minor miracle in his own riding back in 2004, and possibly single-handedly saving the Paul Martin Liberals from oblivion in Montreal at the time, little of that Dion magic appears in evidence today, and the Liberals had better take this as a wake-up call. If they’re wise, they’ll enter into open discussions on how to really rebuild the party. If they’re average politicians, they’ll simply blame each other and start fighting.

Quebec has made magnificent swings in popular support before, starting from the great wipe-out of the Conservatives following the execution of Louis Riel, which turned the province into a Liberal stronghold. Most recently, the provincial Parti Action Democratique rose from nearly nowhere to score the official opposition position in a rare minority provincial parliament. Given the collapse of the Bloc Quebecois vote here, and the loss of the Bloc’s seat in Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean (by a far more convincing margin and turnout), it seems possible that the Bloc are shedding as much tears tonight as the Liberals, as perhaps the voters of Quebec start to turn away from their latest political love.

Either way, there are interesting times ahead, and plenty of opportunities for the Conservatives and the New Democrats to make inroads on seats previously held by the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois. But if there are any lessons for the waxing parties to take from the political history of Quebec, it’s this: don’t get cocky. Already, Conservatives outside Quebec are complaining about the compromises Stephen Harper has had to make to make the Conservatives relevant in Quebec. Mulroney heard those words as well. Heard, and did not listen. And we know how the following election went.

P.S.: Election loss #65 for John C. Turmel

Further Reading

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