Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Riding History: Beauce

Tucked away in a corner of Quebec along the American border, the riding of Beauce has not changed much since it was created in 1867. And for six decades between 1887 and 1949, it never voted anything but Liberal. But since then, Beauce has been a bit of a rainbow riding, having been represented by Liberals, Conservatives, Progressive Conservatives, Social Credit, and Independents. Today, it is one of the few safe ridings the Conservatives still have in Quebec.

This is the fourth riding the history of which I am profiling as part of the 2013 Kickstarter campaign. This riding was requested by backer Thomas Barré, who generously contributed to the project that led to Tapping into the Pulse: Political public opinion polling in Canada, 2013. The ebook can be ordered here, or directly from Gumroad hereAmazon for your Kindle here, or from Kobo here.

Beauce's first Member of Parliament was a Liberal, Christian Henry Pozer, who defeated a man named Taschereau by 1,180 votes to 629. Pozer was from the region and a lawyer, and he simultaneously represented the provincial riding of Beauce for the Liberals until 1874.

Pozer was not a very active member of the House of Commons. The first recorded statement he made (apart from reporting on the findings of a committee investigating a case of alleged electoral fraud in the riding of St. Hyacinthe, and having another MP ask a question for him in his absence) came only in April 1869, almost two years after he was first elected. But he was no wilting flower, apparently, as the statement came when he contradicted something the Premier of Quebec, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau, had said.

Christian Pozer
Chauveau, like Pozer, was also a member of Quebec's National Assembly. In a debate, another MP was saying that some "members might find it a good thing in a pecuniary point of view to attend both Legislatures, and draw indemnities from the Local as well as the General Governments." The member then charged that Chauveau had said in Quebec City that it was within the federal government's jurisdiction to rule on this question. Chauveau disputed this.

But then Pozer spoke up - seemingly for the first time as an MP: "Mr. Pozer was a member of the Legislature of Quebec, and said that if his memory failed not, the hon. gentleman had stated that the Local Legislature could not decide the point, as the Federal Parliament was the proper tribunal."

Chauveau's response? A single word: "Jamais."

Pozer was re-elected in 1872 with a larger majority, and in 1874 no one bothered to oppose him. He was then named to the Senate, where he would sit until his death in 1884.

With Pozer gone, the Conservatives took the riding. Joseph Bolduc won it in a close race, defeating De Lery, a man whose affiliation history records as unknown. Bolduc was just 29 years old at the time, a volunteer in the militia and mayor of St-Victor-de-Tring.

Bolduc, as Senate Speaker
Bolduc's hold on the riding solidified in 1878, when he won it with 79% of the vote. He was re-elected again in 1882. He did not run again in 1884, as he was also named to the Senate, where he would be the Speaker from 1916 to 1922. In all, Bolduc would serve for 48 years in the House of Commons and Senate.

His replacement was Thomas Linière Taschereau, a lawyer and, at 34 years of age, another young man. But Taschereau would not run for re-election in 1887 (though he would get the itch again, and fail, in 1896 and 1900 in the riding of Kamouraska).

Instead the riding swung back to the Liberals in 1887, or at least 'Independent Liberal' Joseph Godbout (he would later run as a Liberal). Godbout was a physician, and would be re-elected three more times.

Joseph Godbout
Beauce got itself another senator when Godbout was named to the upper chamber, where he would sit until 1923. He was replaced by Henri-Sévérin Beland, another physician, who was acclaimed in 1902.

Beland had been the provincial Liberal MNA for Beauce, and was the mayor of St-Joseph-de-Beauce from 1887 to 1899.

Beland would dominate the riding for the next 20 years. He won it in 1904 with 73% of the vote and again in 1908 with an astounding 96% of ballots cast. After winning again in 1911, he was named Postmaster General.

When war broke out, he went overseas and 'served with the Belgian surgical hospital staff'. His work was cut short when he was captured by the Germans, and he would be a prisoner-of-war for three years. He wrote a book about it.

Henri-Sévérin Beland
He was acclaimed in 1917 (one assumes he was re-elected while a POW) and, after winning 90% of the vote in 1921, was named the Minister of Soldiers' Civil Re-Establishment and Minister presiding over the Department of Health. In 1925, Beland would follow in the footsteps of past Beaucerons, and was named to the Senate. He sat there for 10 years.

Édouard Lacroix, a lumber merchant, won the 1925 vote for the Liberals with 78%, hardly missing a beat after Beland's massive majorities. He would take 81% of the vote in 1926, 65% in 1930, and 89% in 1935 against a Reconstruction candidate. He won again in 1940, but crossed the floor in 1943 to sit with the Bloc populaire canadien, a French Canadian nationalist party. He resigned his seat in 1944 to enter provincial politics, representing the party at the provincial level until 1945. Lacroix was the grandfather of Robert Dutil, who is a current Liberal MNA.

With Édouard off the ballot in 1945, his brother Charles tried to hold the riding as an independent, but was defeated by Liberal Ludger Dionne, mayor of St-Georges from 1934 to 1942. The 1945 election would be notable in Beauce for the first candidacy of Social Credit, which took 25% of the vote.

Beauce in 1895
Dionne was defeated in 1949 in a close election, as Raoul Poulin took it with 46% to Dionne's 45% (a Union of Electors candidate took 8%). Poulin was another physician and an independent, but had previously represented the riding for Union Nationale at the provincial level and had also sought election as a provincial Conservative.

Poulin was re-elected twice, first against another Poulin in 1953 (Louis, a Liberal) and again in 1957 against Dionne. One assumes that with Poulin's provincial conservative background, the PCs at the time did not bother to put up a candidate of their own.

This is seemingly confirmed by Poulin's defeat in 1958, when a PC candidate took 17% of the vote and Jean-Paul Racine of the Liberals won with 42% to Poulin's 41%. Racine, mayor of St-Honoré from 1955 to 1957, did not last long, losing in 1962.

He lost to Gérard Perron, a hotelier and candidate for Social Credit. He took 59% of the vote, winning a majority again (and again against Racine) in 1963.

Racine returned to office in 1965, when Perron was defeated in part, it would seem, by the candidacy of Robert Cliche. Associate President of the federal NDP who was named leader of the Quebec NDP in 1965, Cliche took 29% of the vote in a three-way race with Perron (28%) and Racine (41%). Cliche would later improve his share to 44% when he ran in 1968 in Duvernay, but again he fell short.

In Beauce, Ralliement créditiste (as Social Credit was then known in Quebec after a split) returned in 1968 under Romuald Rodrigue, an accountant. Rodrigue took 48% of the vote, but was defeated in 1972 when Yves Caron of the Liberals narrowly edged him out.

Caron defeated Rodrigue again in 1974, and was named Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture in 1977.

In 1979, however, Caron lost as Pierre Trudeau's Liberals were booted from office nationwide. Instead, Fabien Roy won the riding for Social Credit with 57% of the vote. Roy was the party's leader, and had previously represented the provincial wing in the National Assembly from 1970 to 1975 (he then was part of an off-shoot party called the Parti national populaire until 1979). Though Roy would hold Social Credit's leadership for just a year, he made a mark on Canadian political history by abstaining from the vote of confidence that led to the defeat of Joe Clark's government in 1980.

But Roy was also defeated that year, as Normand Lapointe of the Liberals took the riding back. Lapointe was an insurance agent, and was named Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour in 1983.

Results since 1984
Lapointe was swept away by the PC tide in 1984, and Gilles Bernier, a popular radio personality, won the riding for the Tories with 53% of the vote. He won it again in 1988 with 69%.

But in 1993, Bernier was facing fraud charges (he was acquitted) and so could not run under the PC banner. He instead ran as an independent, winning 41% of the vote against just 8% for the PC candidate. The Bloc Québécois, with 36%, came the closest it has ever come to winning the riding that year.

Bernier was named ambassador to Haiti in 1997 (he would serve until 2001), and so the riding was up for grabs in 1997. It was won by Claude Drouin, formerly of the air force and a political advisor, with 49% of the vote. Drouin was re-elected in 2000 and 2004, and would serve as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, Secretary of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Rural Communities) over that time.

Drouin did not run again in 2006, and this opened the door for Maxime Bernier, son of Gilles Bernier. A lawyer and businessman and locally popular due to his family ties, Bernier took 67% of the vote in a landslide win (his was the best performance of any Conservative outside of Alberta). The Bloc finished second with 20%.

Bernier was named to cabinet as Minister of Industry in 2006, and was promoted to Minister of Foreign Affairs (and responsible for La Francophonie) in 2007. His career at cabinet was short-lived, however, as he resigned in 2008 after a scandal related to his relationship with Julie Couillard, who had past romantic links to the Hell's Angels. Bernier also left some classified documents at her house.

Nevertheless, Bernier was re-elected in 2008 with 62% of the vote. The Bloc took just 14%. Bernier would be re-elected again in 2011, this time with 51%, as the New Democrats surged to second place with 30% support. The Bloc fell to fourth.

Bernier returned to some favour within the government, and was named Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism) in 2011, with Agriculture being added to his portfolio in 2013.

Beauce is an interesting riding in Quebec, being one of the few in the province that has had a strong conservative/populist bent over the last few decades (since 1962, the Tories have won six times, if we include Gilles Bernier's 1993 win, the Liberals seven, and Social Credit four times). Bernier and the Conservatives remain favoured there. But Beauce is no stranger to significant swings in support. Whether or not the Conservative edge will last beyond Bernier remains to be seen.

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