Legault's CAQ Won A Longueuil By-Election — Here's Why It Isn't Boring

The riding has been a Parti Québécois stronghold basically forever.

Deputy Editor
CAQ candidate Shirley Dorismond speaking alongside Quebec Premier François Legault.

CAQ candidate Shirley Dorismond speaking alongside Quebec Premier François Legault.

Coalition Avenir Québec candidate Shirley Dorismond won what has almost always been a Parti Québécois seat on Montreal's South Shore in a by-election Monday, a result that will have the parties and media — and Premier François Legault, surely — making all sorts of claims.

The Marie-Victorin by-election was billed, among other things, as a test of the CAQ's resilience, of the PQ's alleged fragility and of the new popularity of the fledgling Conservative Party of Quebec (CPQ — no relation to the federal Conservatives).

Whether it was any of those things, with only a bit more than a third of registered voters showing up, is a matter of debate.

Still, the CAQ win in Marie-Victorin at the very least indicates that the PQ's struggles are real. The PQ has basically owned the seat since it was created in 1981, and in 2014, the party won Marie-Victorin by over 3,600 votes. Catherine Fournier won the seat for the PQ by even more votes in a 2016 by-election, but in the 2018 general election, Fournier narrowly defeated the CAQ candidate by only 705 votes.

(Fournier quit the PQ in 2019 to sit as an independent, saying the party had lost its way. And yesterday's by-election took place after Fournier left provincial politics altogether to run — successfully — to be mayor of Longueuil.)

This time, Dorismond beat the PQ's star candidate, former federal NDP MP Pierre Nantel, by around 800 votes. Québec Solidaire's Shophika Vaithyanathasarma was a distant third.

Dorismond's win also suggests that voters aren't as upset about the CAQ's handling of the pandemic as opposition parties might have hoped. Some thought that recent revelations about the government's response to the pandemic in seniors' homes in early 2020 would wound them.

Also, some people in the CAQ's conservative base have been put off by what they see as the government's heavy-handed public health rules — perhaps fuelling the sudden rise of Éric Duhaime and his CPQ. An Angus Reid Institute poll in March found that 26% of people who voted for the CAQ in the past said they'd support the CPQ now.

The CPQ's Anne Casabonne got just over 10% of the votes in Marie-Victorin yesterday — lower than the numbers the party has been delivering in polls, but notably higher than the Quebec Liberal Party candidate, Émilie Nollet, who got around 7%.

The same Angus Reid survey for March put the CPQ's provincial support at 19%. Still, Casabonne's 10% is 10 percentage points more than the CPQ got in the 2018 election, when there was no CPQ candidate at all.

Heading into the next general Quebec election this coming October, that gain suggests things could get pretty interesting.

John MacFarlane
Deputy Editor
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