PQ election in Jean-Talon: A valuable lesson for the CAQ

The by-election in Jean-Talon took place on Monday, October 2. At advance polls, some 22% of the electorate cast their ballots.

According to the latest projections, the Parti Québécois (PQ) and the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) were statistically tied, with 31% and 29% of voting intentions respectively.

The by-election ended in a defeat for the CAQ rather than a victory for the PQ. The population sanctioned the government. They voted massively for Pascal Paradis, the PQ candidate. He won 44% of the vote. The CAQ candidate, Marie-Anik Shoiry, obtained 21.5%. What’s more, 57.4% of voters cast their ballots, which is exceptionally high for a by-election.

Historically, by-elections are difficult for the party in power, as François Legault himself has said. This one was no different. It symbolized support or rejection of the CAQ government, as written in a previous blog. The people sent a strong message to the government.

Campaign overview

The candidacies of the main political parties were announced at the end of August. Voters could cast their ballots for 10 candidates. Even before the campaign got underway, the parties began to duke it out.

The CAQ and the PQ got the ball rolling. According to the CAQ, the then-prospective PQ candidate had discussed running in the 2022 general election with the party. He countered by claiming that the CAQ had told him that they already intended to abandon the 3rd link highway project. This episode was a foreshadowing of a two-man race.

The CAQ used its formidable electoral machine to pinpoint its supporters, and then get out the vote. Staff from ministerial offices, numerous riding offices, and elected officials all pitched in. The party was counting in particular on high turnout and support in seniors’ residences and at advance polls. According to the first results announced live, that was not the case.

The PQ wanted to establish itself as the opposition party. Its rise in the polls coincided with the resignation of the Caquist MNA for Jean-Talon last July. Its support in the polls translated into unparalleled militant mobilization. 728 volunteers took part in the campaign, according to the new PQ MNA. Jean-Talon being a Liberal riding, voters voted against the CAQ rather than for the PQ. The PQ was able to channel the protest vote, which seems to be boiling over in the Quebec City area.

Québec Solidaire (QS) had a quiet campaign. The party attracted more attention for its internal diatribes over the nomination of its candidate, Olivier Bolduc. A better QS campaign would have benefited the CAQ, by splitting the vote in its favor. The PQ moved to the right to win over CAQ voters. QS could have seized this opportunity to win over PQ voters further to the left. It didn’t, and it didn’t mobilize its electoral base. The absence of campus polling stations in by-elections didn’t help either. The result was a meager 17.4% of voting intentions.

The Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) and the Quebec Conservative Party (QCP), for their part, took votes away from the CAQ. They were virtually absent from the campaign. They did not garner enough votes (15%) for half their election expenses to be reimbursed by the DGEQ. The QLP needs a new leader to regain its place in the political dialogue. The PCQ needs to develop its organization in order to capitalize on the discontent rumbling through the Quebec City region in the next general election.

The ins and outs of a PQ victory

For the PQ, this by-election is symbolic for several reasons. It puts an end to the party’s slide by winning a riding it had never won before. Despite having only 4 MNAs, the party stands out as the de facto official opposition in Quebec. Its rise in the polls materialized with the election of Pascal Paradis. Party leader Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon was rewarded for his work.

However, the party’s eternal dilemma briefly resurfaced during the campaign. The new PQ leader had promised to put the party’s raison d’être, Quebec independence, front and center. However, as the party approached an electoral victory in the by-election, the subject was completely absent from their campaign. The party knows it’s not a mobilizing issue. How can the party combine Quebec independence with the immediate concerns of the electorate, in order to move closer to power?

The Prime Minister made an act of contrition by taking responsibility for the defeat. The disavowal of the Capitale-Nationale region, to which the CAQ owes its rise, hurt the party. The day after the election, François Legault took the PQ’s victory off the media agenda by bringing back the project for a third highway link. The idea of the project reappeared as quickly as it had disappeared. This defeat is a wake-up call for the CAQ. It caused a certain panic among the troops.

Voters in Quebec City may have objected to more than just major projects – they objected to the government’s attitude. An MNA resigning 6 months after the general election, a pay raise for MNAs in the midst of negotiations with public sector employees, the refusal of ministers to be held accountable… The ball is in the government’s court. With three years to go before the next election, it still enjoys a high level of sympathy.

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