Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Charest wins, Marois loses, neither does good enough

Before getting to last night's results in Bonaventure, I invite you to take a look at my article at The Huffington Post Canada on Sunday's NDP debate.

Normally, Bonaventure does not showcase gripping electoral races. Nathalie Normandeau and Gérard D. Lévesque were both long-time and popular local MNAs, and the riding is solidly in the Liberal camp. But with Jean Charest's numbers tanking, Pauline Marois's doing worse, and the emergence of François Legault's CAQ, all eyes were on the by-election. RDI, Quebec's equivalent of CBC News Network, kept a running tally of the votes as they were coming in.

To many, this election was a test of Marois's leadership, which is already on the rocks. She could have lowered the stakes in Bonaventure, but instead she spent a lot of the campaign beside her candidate, Sylvain Roy. This made it personal. And the results are in the uncertain gray area of not good enough, but not bad enough to topple her.
This first chart compares the vote share of the parties in the 2008 general election and last night's by-election, with the 2008 result on the left and the 2011 result on the right.

As you can see, it was a much closer race between the Liberals and the PQ. The Liberals dropped 14.7 points to below the 50% threshold, while the PQ picked up 8.1 points.

Legault's CAQ did not present a candidate. Marois said that had he done so, the federalist vote would have split and the PQ would have won. I'm not sure I agree, as the last poll from Segma (which turned out to be very close to the result) showed that the CAQ would take more support away from the PQ than it would the Liberals.

The ADQ dropped 1.2 points while the Greens did not run a candidate in 2008.

Québec Solidaire improved its score dramatically, picking up 5.7 points to go from 3.2% to 8.9%. Bonaventure is part of the federal riding that elected an NDP MP in May, so this may not be surprising. Patricia Chartier, the QS candidate, even works for the federal NDP. But that QS can do as well as this in a rural riding is a good sign for them. Their generally decent poll results, at least compared to their election results, seem to be for real.

I don't think the PQ was ever in the running to take this riding. If the Parti Québécois was more popular at the moment this Liberal fortress could have easily fallen as Charest is extremely unpopular. It happened last year in Kamouraska-Témiscouata. But Marois's troubles always made a PQ victory here unlikely.

This puts her in a gray area. There was some talk that after being defeated in Bonaventure a whole swathe of PQ MNAs would resign from caucus. If the PQ had gotten over the 40% threshold I would have thought that Bonaventure would have been an unmistakeable moral victory for the PQ and Marois. Below 35% would have been only a few ticks better than 2008 and so would have sunk her. But at 37%, Marois neither did badly enough to force her opponents within the party to act nor did she do well enough to shut them up completely.
Turnout in Bonaventure was actually quite good for a by-election: 54.6%. Accordingly, there were only 725 fewer valid ballots cast in the by-election than there was in the last general election in the riding. This makes it easy to compare total votes.

The difficulty for Charest to claim anything but a disappointing victory is clear. Damien Arsenault, the new MNA for the riding, took 2,820 fewer votes than did Normandeau only three years ago.

The Parti Québécois gained 1,091, a modest but positive amount, while Québec Solidaire almost tripled their vote haul, going from 533 to 1,422.

The only winner from last night's vote is, in my view, Québec Solidaire. They increased their support by a significant amount in the kind of riding that isn't supposed to be fertile territory for QS. Had this by-election taken place in central or eastern Montreal, we might have easily seen a second QS MNA elected.

Both the Liberals and the PQ can't take too much from last night's vote. The Liberals won, yes, but they were always supposed to win. Their vote dropped significantly, and had the CAQ been in the race it would have dropped even more. For the PQ, it was a good showing but not nearly as good as it should have been if Pauline Marois really isn't the problem. To have the party leader in the riding for much of the campaign during the tenure of a supremely unpopular government and for the PQ to only gain eight points is not much to boast about. But at the same time, it is not a step backwards.

The big loser then, has to be the ADQ. The ADQ took fewer votes from a slightly smaller pool. While this isn't a mark against the CAQ, which is in talks for a merger with the ADQ, it certainly doesn't give Gérard Deltell a lot of bargaining power. A merger now more easily becomes a takeover.

The Bonaventure by-election was probably not going to be a decisive moment in Quebec's politics. The next 24 hours could prove me wrong, but it appears that things are still in limbo for the time being.


  1. The Teflon Don strikes again !!

  2. I'm wondering how much the caquistes actually missed out by not running in this by-election. I mean, sure, the riding may not have been the friendliest territory and a low result could maybe dampen momentum, but by how much? The risk would have been worth it. Look what it did for the Wildrosers when they won Calgary-Glenora.

    I think it was a missed opportunity. A CAQ candidate could've garnered maybe 15-20% of the vote, more than enough to show they're serious contenders. Oh well.

  3. Off topic FYI,

    Denise Savoie (NDP MP from Victoria) endorsed Peggy Nash.

  4. Also off topic - CRA just put out their Atlantic Canada provincial polls:

    NL: PC 60, NDP 26, Lib 13
    NB: PC 45, Lib 28, NDP 23
    NS: NDP 45, PC 29, Lib 22
    PEI - who cares?

    Bottom line - Liberals spiralling down to third place across Atlantic Canada

  5. Worth noting that the Liberals do still have a big lead in PEI, and that they have no party leader in New Brunswick or Newfoundland and Labrador.

    But Atlantic Canada is going to be a little quiet for awhile, the next election anywhere is not required until 2014!

  6. DL,

    I like how you skip over the fact that the Tories hold major leads in the two provinces the NDP is supposedly on its way up in. I mean, sure, you can croon about the Liberal losses but you do know where those voters are going, right?

    And of course you write off an entire province as "who cares?" Typical NDP arrogance.

  7. The federal Liberals tend to do pretty well when their provincial counterparts do badly for some reason lol. Case and point is actually Atlantic Canada right now.

  8. If those Nova Scotia numbers hold up, I wouldn't be surprised to see Dexter to call a new election before the four-year mark. While governments sometimes suffer for early elections (e.g. David Peterson's Liberals), they can also capitalize on early elections. The 2009 election split was NDP 45.2%, Lib 27.2%, PC 24.5%. These poll numbers would see the NDP flat, the Liberals down five and the PCs up 5. With the NDP holding its vote, and a swap from Liberal to PC, only a couple NDP seats would be in danger (I'm thinking of Lunenburg West and Cumberland North), while several ridings could be put into play for the NDP (Dartmouth East, Preston and potentially Halifax-Clayton Park). Considering that the NDP majority is five seats, they have a cushion to work with.

  9. Whoa wait, DL ommitted a key piece of evidence that undermined his point ?

    PEI may be small but its a province like any other and thus makes up 1/4 of Atlantic Canada. Not to mention it has 4 federal seats and 3 of them currently belong to the Liberals.

    What's key is that in the '04, '06, '08, and '11 federal elections the variance between the actual results and the results that the CPC were polling at increased in one direction only.

    Bottom line is that the Tories are spiralling up but we won't know it until the next election day.

  10. Chareast retains a seat without helping a weak PQ leader or forcing her to resign. Seems like the ideal result for Charest.


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