With just about a year to go before the next provincial election, the leaders of Quebec’s political parties will be paying close attention to the results of Monday’s byelection in the Quebec City riding of Louis-Hebert.
As their parties remain mired in minority territory in the polls, the byelection is a chance for the leaders to gauge their support, according to Concordia University political science professor Guy Lachapelle.
Lachapelle says he was struck by how prominently the party leaders have featured in the candidates’ posters, ads and social media posts.
“We rarely see that (to that extent),” he said in a phone interview.
“Essentially, it might be perceived as a kind of evaluation of the leadership of the leaders of each party, and I think this campaign is essentially about that.”
Ten candidates, including representatives from the province’s four main parties, are in the running to fill the seat that was vacated in April by longtime Liberal member of the legislature Sam Hamad.
There are signs the election appears to be generating more interest than the usual byelection, according to a spokeswoman for Quebec’s chief electoral officer.
As of Friday morning, 15 per cent of registered voters had already cast their ballots, which is considered high since many byelections only get 30 to 40 per cent turnout, Alexandra Reny said.
The campaign has also been particularly active at the local level, according to Reny, who lives in the riding.
“There’s been a lot of phone calling, posters, door-to-door. It’s a pretty lively byelection,” she said in a phone interview.
The strong advance voting numbers could be because the riding has a history of high turnout, she suggested.
It could also because the race is perceived to be close, with no party in the legislature enjoying clear majority support from the voting public according to polls.
The election could be a chance for the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), which has been running neck-and-neck with the governing Liberals in recent polls, to gain momentum by scoring a win in a traditional Liberal stronghold.
The party has strong support in the Quebec City area and will be looking to score points with voters turned off by the corruption allegations and scandals that have dogged some high-profile Liberals of late, Lachapelle said.
Those include Hamad, who left cabinet in 2016 after he was connected to a former Liberal fundraiser facing corruption-related criminal charges.
He left politics a year later despite being cleared by the province’s ethics commissioner.
READ MORE: Liberal MNA Sam Hamad quits politics
But while a win by any party on Monday will mean bragging rights for its leader, Lachapelle says it may not mean anything in the next general election.
“Usually byelections are not very good to predict the outcome of future elections in Quebec,” he said.
As an example, he noted the Parti Québécois (PQ) lost every single byelection between 1976 and 1981 before winning the 1981 election.
The campaign in Louis-Hebert hasn’t been smooth for either the Liberals or the CAQ, who both had to name new candidates after their first choices withdrew amid allegations of psychological harassment in their former workplaces.
The Coalition’s new candidate is former coroner’s office spokeswoman Geneviève Guilbault, who has been described by leader François Legault as a contender for a cabinet post if the party wins the next election.
Ihssane El Ghernati, a former aide to Hamad, is now running for the Liberals.
The Parti Québécois’ candidate is biologist Normand Beauregard, while lawyer Guillaume Boivin will represent Québec Solidaire.
The governing Liberals currently have 68 of the 125 seats in the legislature, compared with 28 for the PQ, 20 for the Coalition, and three for Québec Solidaire. There are five Independent members.
The next general election is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 2018.
–With files from Louis Cloutier