In the final weeks, the analysts said that the campaign had become surprisingly close. But when the votes were counted last week, Secretary of State Lucien Bouchard was the clear winner in the hard-fought June 20 federal byelection in the rural Quebec riding of Lac St-Jean. Buoyed by his longstanding friendship with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney—who gave him a senior cabinet post on March 31, even before he had a House of Commons seat—and armed with millions of dollars in federal grants and subsidies for the economically deprived region, Bouchard swept the riding with 16,951 votes. Liberal candidate Pierre Gimai'el, the riding’s onetime MP who lost by more than 12,000 votes to Tory Clément Côté in 1984, was second, with 10,746 votes. And Jean Paradis, carrying the standard for the New Democratic Party’s ambitions to become a serious force in Quebec politics, trailed badly with 2,903 votes.
In all, it was a cheerless week for opposition parties in Quebec politics. While the Tories’ Bouchard prevailed at the federal level, candidates for Premier Robert Bourassa’s Liberals beat the Parti Québécois in two provincial byelections. The voting—in Roberval, a riding in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region that partly falls within Bouchard’s riding, traditionally the heartland of PQ support, and the Montreal-area riding of Anjou, former PQ leader Pierre Marc Johnson’s old seat—brought to 30 the number of consecutive byelection losses that the PQ has suffered since it formed the government in 1976. But it was the battle for Lac St-Jean’s federal seat that generated the greatest interest.
With his victory, Bouchard delivered a brutal lesson to his opponents about political realities in Quebec. Opinion polling in the past two years in the province has shown a steady growth in support for the NDP, which has never had an MP elected from there. And the party recently announced plans to run candidates in all 75 Quebec ridings in the next federal election for the first time in its history. But the byelection result was a setback to NDP hopes of becoming a significant force in the next federal election. Said the visibly disappointed Paradis, who lost his campaign deposit of $200 for failing to win more than 15 per cent of the vote: “The Tories bought this riding for Lucien Bouchard.”
Few observers had given the NDP a chance of winning, and there was speculation in the closing days of the campaign that the Liberals were the real threat to Bouchard. In the end, Paradis drew just 9.5 per cent of the vote in Lac
St-Jean—almost double what the party’s candidate received in the 1984 election but less than the NDP’s declared expectations. Before the polls closed, NDP campaign manager Gérald Scullion said that 10 per cent or less would be “danger” for the party. But in Ottawa, federal NDP Leader Edward Broadbent said that it would be wrong to judge the NDP’S strength solely on the results in
Lac St-Jean. Said Broadbent: “I had hoped to do better, but being disappointed and having expectations shattered are two different things.”
For the beleaguered Mulroney government, a victory was important after three byelection losses last year. Highprofile cabinet ministers such as Transport Minister Benoît Bouchard and Industry Minister Robert de Cotret visited the riding, bearing grants and subsidies worth roughly $4 million—approximately $50 for every person in the area, or $235 per Tory vote—and Mulroney made a personal campaign appearance for his old friend. In an unusual move that provided an enormous boost to Bouchard,
Quebec Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa endorsed the Tory candidate, rather than the Liberals’ Gimaiel. But Bouchard’s opponents were serious contenders. Gimaiel, a popular 39-year-old local lawyer who was the favorite among many locals, attempted to portray Bouchard—who has not lived in the riding for 47 years—as a parachute candidate and a city slicker. Paradis, 39, is a bright and photogenic junior college professor whose father was a popular mayor of Alma, one of the riding’s largest communities. Aided by about 150 volunteers and some veteran bilingual NDP organizers from Saskatchewan and Ontario, Paradis crisscrossed the riding throughout the campaign, knocking on doors and showing up at local festivals and other public events. But his efforts were in vain. Concluded Scullion: “People here just couldn’t turn down all of the money that was being thrown around.” Bouchard, who was ambassador to France before Mulroney summoned him in March to help improve the image of Quebec’s scandal-ridden federal caucus, ran in Lac St-Jean after Côté resigned to make the seat available. Last week, he offered no apologies for the methods that propelled him to the House of Commons. “I am not shy to do something for my electors,” Bouchard told reporters on election day. “They will vote for 5me because I will help 5 them.”
2 In the end, the major victor of the week may have been Premier Bourassa. The provincial Liberal victories over the Parti Québécois indicated that leader Jacques Parizeau could not rally electors around his unequivocal call for separation from Canada. As for a federal election, political observers say that Bourassa will not necessarily endorse Conservatives in other ridings. But having supported all three byelection winners last week, Bourassa clearly retains a powerful role in the politics of his province. In the aftermath of last week’s byelection contests, both the NDP and the PQ will have to search hard for Bourassa’s secret.
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