The upcoming Marie-Victorin byelection would first be “a test for the Parti Québécois,” Premier François Legault said when announcing his candidate for the riding, Shirley Dorismond, on March 8.
Ten days later, Parti Québécois (PQ) leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said, on the contrary, the election would be “first and foremost a test for the government.”
According to three experts in Quebec politics interviewed by La Presse Canadienne, both are right and their respective parties will not be the only ones whose performance will be scrutinized after Monday’s vote.
Analysts are likely to spend a lot of time also discussing the results of Éric Duhaime’s Conservative Party and Martine Ouellet’s new party, Climat Québec.
Everything to lose
Marie-Victorin has been a PQ stronghold since its creation in 1980 and the party is running a star candidate, Pierre Nantel. The Liberals only managed to win the riding once, in 1984, in a byelection, and hung onto it for a year only. Besides that, for the first time in the 2018 general election, the PQ candidate Catherine Fournier – now mayor of Longueuil – wasn’t re-elected with the comfortable majority the PQ is used to. Fournier beat her CAQ opponent Martyne Prévost with only 705 more votes.
“It’s a stronghold whose foundations are crumbling a bit,” Thierry Giasson, professor of political science at Laval University, said. “Yes, it will be a test for the PQ because if it doesn’t go well in Marie-Victorin, they will have to justify themselves. It will be very worrisome for them if they aren’t able to win in Marie-Victorin.”
“It’s certain that, for the Parti Québécois, the issue is even more important than for the governing party,” Alain Gagnon, Canada Research Chair in Quebec and Canadian Studies of UQAM, said.
“When we follow the current polls, we don’t have the feeling that the Parti Québécois really has the wind in its sails, and if there were to be any good news on that side, at least that might allow it to recruit interesting candidates in other ridings for the fall elections and that would also motivate the troops.”
According to Éric Montigny, a political scientist at Laval University, the PQ is betting big, which is “why we feel that it is putting all its energy into it.”
“Its candidate, Pierre Nantel, enjoys a certain notoriety,” he said.
CAQ: Everything to win
Given the two other byelections took place at the start of the CAQ’s mandate, this one could serve as a litmus test for the Legault government.
“It is not a stretch of the imagination to say that this is a test for the party in power, even if it’s not a riding it won in 2018,” Thierry Giasson said.
“With the 2018 result and many other PQ ridings falling into the hands of the CAQ in Montérégie, the CAQ knows the ground is potentially fertile,” he said.
“They chose Ms. Dorismond on purpose. She is a diverse candidate who allows them to perhaps reframe certain [issues] that voters who are critical of the government may have.”
Alain Gagnon agrees.
“The byelection is super important to give dynamism to the governing party,” he said. “If the Coalition Avenir Québec is able to win this riding from the Parti Québécois, it will be an important vote of confidence.”
Whether Dorismond wins or loses, Montigny said, the CAQ finds itself in a win-win situation.
“The CAQ has less to lose in the sense that [the riding] is a historic stronghold of the Parti Québécois,” he said. “Any good performance can be viewed as positive, even in the event of a defeat. We feel a desire from the CAQ, all the same, to make efforts with a surprising candidate, a former vice-president of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec.”
“It’s clear that the CAQ is trying to please the riding.”
Fighting for third place
The contest for first place will be between the CAQ and the PQ, so the stakes are much lower for Québec Solidaire and the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ), which are expected to come in third.
Fourth in 2012 and 2014, Québec Solidaire managed to overtake the Liberals in third place in the 2016 byelection, but by only four votes. Then, in 2018, the left-wing party consolidated the third place with a lead of nearly 1,900 votes over the PLQ.
Québec Solidaire hasn’t become a threat to the PQ or the CAQ yet, but we will have to see if its new role of second opposition will allow it to take the lead.
Two women, Shophika Vaithyanathasarma and Émilie Nollet, will run under Québec Solidaire and the Liberals banners respectively.
Éric Duhaime: from zero to what?
The Conservative Party of Quebec (CPQ) had no candidate in 2018. Éric Duhaime’s party, which is running actress Anne Casabonne, will certainly find cause for celebration whatever the result, according to Thierry Giasson.
“Mr. Duhaime is going to say, ‘Look, we weren’t even here, we are running the first candidate in the history of the party and we’re coming for 15 per cent or eight per cent or nine per cent,” he said.
Should we see the result of the CPQ as a barometer of what is to come?
“This will perhaps be indicative of progress and the ability of this organization,” he said. “Much is said about the 57,000 new members of the Conservative Party … Will this translate into ballot box support on voting day?”
Éric Montigny is asking the same questions.
“They are running a candidate who also enjoys a certain notoriety, for better and for worse,” he said. “The challenge for parties like the Conservative Party, an anti-system party, is to get the vote out, and that will be interesting to compare with the polls.”
Eight polls have been carried out since the beginning of 2022, giving Éric Duhaime’s party between nine per cent and 19 per cent of voting intentions, except for a Mainstreet poll which gave him 24 per cent. Any result below nine per cent could be seen as difficulty in conveying voting intentions to the ballot box.
Above all, the CAQ will be closely monitoring the Conservative result, Alain Gagnon said.
“If the Conservative Party were to do well, it would be quite worrying for the Coalition Avenir Québec,” he said. “It would also mean that the CAQ has strayed too far from its platform, which was rather center-right, and so the Conservative Party could occupy grounds formerly held by the Coalition Avenir Québec”
“The space occupied by the ADQ [Action Démocratique du Québec] and the Coalition Avenir Québec has been freed up, and the right would be more easily mobilized by Éric Duhaime’s Conservatives. A strong result would be an indication there are regions, for example Beauce or the region of Quebec, which could consider voting for the Conservatives.”
The arrival of Martine Ouellet, leader of Climat Québec — the new party she founded, is also one to watch.
She is from the South Shore and has roots in the riding, said Éric Montigny.
“What will be interesting in her case is to see if she manages to recover some power for the Green Party, which is in disarray in Quebec,” he said. “There is an opening for her.”
Thierry Giasson thinks Ouellet lacks the organization needed to make a mark, let alone win a byelection.
“But she has a fairly significant local presence,” he said. “She is known … She was a minister in a government so she enjoys professional recognition and credibility.”
At the same time, he says, she had a rocky career, and some voters may be struggling to understand her aims.
For Alain Gagnon, Ouellet doesn’t stand much of a chance.
“I don’t think she will win much,” he said. “[Her running] allows an additional point of view to be expressed and after, she’ll have to draw her own conclusions from the little popular support she is likely to receive.”
Éric Montigny doesn’t think she’ll bow out easily.
“Her career hasn’t made us used to seeing her throw in the towel,” he said. “I assume she expects to perform well. At the same time, regardless of the outcome, if she is determined to build this greener political path, I don’t think she will demobilize.”
Ultimately, Montigny said, it would be unwise to draw many conclusions based on the byelection.
“In this case, the byelection is very close to the general election,” he said. “It’s interesting to see what will come out of it, but it’s still a byelection and that doesn’t mean that the result will have a major influence on the general election.”
Quebec’s general election is scheduled to take place Oct. 3.