The governing Liberal Party surged to victory in a competitive northeastern Quebec riding Monday night, showcasing newfound strength in a rural stretch of the province it had arguably not seen there since the early 1980s.
Liberal candidate Richard Hébert beat back a spirited push from the Bloc Québécois and Conservatives to take the riding of Lac-Saint-Jean, previously represented by veteran Conservative Denis Lebel, who resigned over the summer, triggering the byelection.
Mr. Hébert, a local former mayor, surged past early leader Marc Maltais, the Bloc candidate, an hour or so after polls closed and never looked back, grabbing 38.6 per cent of the vote, with all 264 polls reporting as of 1:25 a.m. Tuesday.
Conservative candidate Rémy Leclerc, father of opposition leader’s office deputy chief of staff Marc-André Leclerc, came in second, taking 25 per cent of the vote, while Mr. Maltais, a trade unionist, finished third with 23.4 per cent.
The riding is located in the overwhelmingly white and French-speaking Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, which has historically served as the heartland of Quebec nationalism. Like most of Quebec, it was largely Liberal until flipping to Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives in 1984.
The Bloc picked up most of the ridings in the area after the implosion of the PCs in the early 1990s, holding on until the newly formed Conservative Party made inroads in the the mid-2000s.
But after a strong showing in Quebec in 2015, the Liberals were eyeing the riding as a potential pickup opportunity, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) spending two days in the area last week campaigning with Mr. Hébert.
Monday’s results mark only the second time the Tories have failed to retain a seat in a byelection since 2006, and may raise concerns about the electability of new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) in Quebec.
Mr. Lebel, a former mayor of Roberval, was first elected to a previous iteration of the riding in a 2007 byelection, winning re-election in 2008 and then in 2011, amidst the NDP surge in the province. He narrowly won Lac-Saint-Jean with 33 per cent of the vote in 2015.
The results might also raise concerns about the appeal of new NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in the French-speaking province. NDP candidate Gisèle Dallaire dropped from just over 28 per cent and second place in 2015 to a fourth-place showing on Monday with only 11.7 per cent of the vote.
However, it may not be wise to read too much into the results, with turnout for Monday’s vote hovering at around 41.06 per cent.
In the other race of the night, the Conservatives easily retained the central Alberta riding of Sturgeon River-Parkland, with candidate Dane Lloyd winning 77.4 per cent of the vote.
Liberal candidate Brian Gold finished a distant second with 12 per cent of all ballots cast, about four points points ahead of NDP flag-bearer Shawna Gawreluck, who took 7.7 per cent. Turnout in the riding for Monday’s vote was 23.69 per cent, not including voters who registered on election day.
The riding, located in the suburban reaches of the Edmonton region, was previously held by long-serving cabinet minister and interim Tory leader Rona Ambrose.
Mr. Lloyd, a former Conservative staffer, attracted controversy during the byelection campaign when it was revealed that he had attempted to start a Canadian chapter of the National Rifle Association and referred to feminists as “feminazis” in a Facebook post.
The Hill Times