By-election in Jean-Talon: Tipping Point for the Coalition Avenir Québec

The by-election in Jean-Talon is the tipping point for the Coalition Avenir Québec. The surprise resignation of Joëlle Boutin, MNA for Jean-Talon, on July 19 shook up the Quebec political scene. She will officially resign her seat on July 31, and will reportedly join Levio, a technology consulting firm.

A by-election, at an estimated cost of $585,000, will have to be called within six months of this date. Ms. Boutin will have resigned 9 months after her re-election, without severance pay. She was elected in a by-election in December 2019, after being defeated in the 2018 general election.

She had hoped to be part of the cabinet in both the 2020 cabinet reshuffle and the current 2022 cabinet. Eight newly elected women have been appointed ministers, but not Boutin. She was appointed Parliamentary Assistant to Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon in charge of science and innovation.

Ms. Boutin holds a master’s degree in public administration. She previously worked for the public relations firm National and was Chief of Staff to the Minister for Digital Transformation, Éric Caire. Levio has numerous contracts with the Quebec government and hundreds of Quebec companies.

Yet another by-election

Jean-Talon has 46,714 registered voters. The electoral district located west of Quebec City includes the neighborhoods of Ste-Foy and Sillery, as well as the entire Université Laval campus. It is one of the most highly educated ridings in Quebec: 54% of its working population held a university degree as of 2016.

The riding is an intriguing one, with a social mix of affluent voters from Quebec City’s Upper Town and students from Laval University and the surrounding CEGEPs. Jean-Talon was a Liberal stronghold from its very beginning, between 1966 and 2019. In 2019, it was the only Liberal seat east of Montreal. A third by-election in three legislatures will be held in this riding.

A fierce battle ahead

According to the Qc125 electoral analysis and projection website, the Jean-Talon by-election will be a three-way race, in which anything can happen. The Parti Québécois (PQ) currently has 31% of voting intentions, Québec Solidaire (QS) 27%, and the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) 25%. In the 2022 general election, the CAQ received 32.5% of voting intentions, QS 23.8%, and the PQ 18.7%.

Three factors will determine the outcome of the election. First, the mobilizing power of the parties. The CAQ will mobilize not only the region’s activists, but also all cabinet staff. Québec Solidaire will be able to rely on a significant grassroots effort since many students live in the riding. The future PQ response is unknown: will its popular support translate into volunteer involvement?

Voter turnout will make a huge difference in the by-election. In the last two general elections, it was just over 66%. In the last two by-elections, it was about 36% and 31%. Every vote will make a difference in a context of low turnout. That’s why the fieldwork done by the parties will be decisive, especially as none of them is ahead of the pack.

Finally, the media performance of the party leaders could tip the balance. The by-election should coincide with the opening of National Assembly. In this context, the leaders will be under greater scrutiny. Their successes or failures could directly influence the vote of the Jean-Talon electorate. The latter will have the opportunity to send a message to the CAQ, which has abandoned the project for a third highway link.

A turning point

Ms. Boutin’s resignation reflects growing dissatisfaction within the CAQ caucus. With 90 MNAs and 30 ministers, and thus many egos to manage, the Prime Minister is experiencing a major setback in terms of caucus cohesion.

Other party MNAs have already shown signs of discontent, such as Youri Chassin and Gilles Bélanger, but this is the first resignation within the caucus. Could other MNAs be tempted to leave the CAQ?

The upcoming by-election in Jean-Talon comes at a pivotal time. The PQ is rising in the polls and in first place in Quebec City. However, the CAQ is comfortably ahead provincially. Its powerful electoral machine will be putting its weight behind holding on to the riding.

The PQ’s election could symbolize its rise and solidify its place as the de facto official opposition in the Quebec National Assembly. Jean-Talon is one of the few ridings where QS can hope to win. Despite its historical ties with the riding, the Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) is not in a competitive position.

A CAQ victory could mean that the abandonment of the third link hasn’t dented its support too much in the region. Is it an issue for Jean-Talon voters? Its defeat could illustrate its decline in favor of the PQ, just as the election of current Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault in a 2017 by-election symbolized the rise of the CAQ at the expense of the QLP.

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