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Bonaventure Byelection: High Stakes For Pauline Marois And Jean Charest

The last byelection in Quebec saved Pauline Marois’ leadership of the Parti Québécois. Will the next one end it?

The September resignation of Nathalie Normandeau, cabinet minister in Jean Charest’s Liberal government, has triggered a byelection in the riding of Bonaventure for December 5.

The riding on the Gaspé Peninsula in eastern Quebec had been held by Ms. Normandeau since 1998, and aside from a brief PQ period between 1994 and 1998, has been a Liberal fortress since the 1950s.

In the 2008 election, Ms. Normandeau won the riding with 64 per cent of the vote. The PQ finished second with 29 per cent.

By any measure, this is a riding that the Liberals should be able to win easily. They have enlisted a local mayor, Damien Arsenault, to run as their candidate against the PQ’s Sylvain Roy.

But the last byelection in Quebec was also supposed to be a Liberal lock. After the death of Claude Béchard, a byelection was held in the eastern Quebec riding of Kamouraska-Témiscouata in November 2010. That riding had been Liberal since 1985 and Béchard had won it by a margin of 32 percentage points in 2008.

The Parti Québécois won the byelection in Kamouraska-Témiscouata by less than 200 votes, but the upset gave Pauline Marois a much needed boost at a time when her leadership was being called into question.

The PQ leader is currently going through an even deeper crisis. After several MNAs resigned from caucus and calls from within the party for her resignation, Ms. Marois has sharpened her tone, saying that any dissent from a member of her caucus will result in a dismissal. A party council planned for shortly before the Bonaventure vote has been pushed back to the end of January. According to party officials, this is in order to concentrate all of the PQ’s energy on winning the race.

The PQ could very well pull off another upset as they did in Kamouraska-Témiscouata a year ago. While both Mr. Charest’s Liberals and the PQ are flat in the polls, discontent with the government could play into Pauline Marois’s hands. Fortunately for her, François Legault’s CAQ will not be running a candidate in Bonaventure.

The race in Bonaventure comes with tremendous risk for Ms. Marois. Despite the odds being stacked against the Parti Québécois in Bonaventure, a win by the Liberals could still be the final nail in the coffin of Ms. Marois’ leadership. Gilles Duceppe has recently been pegged as the only person able to beat both Jean Charest and François Legault, and if the results in Bonaventure are disappointing for the PQ the issue could come to a head in January’s council.

While a defeat would further sap the energy of Mr. Charest’s government, expectations are already low for the beleaguered premier. However, if history is any guide the Liberals should be very concerned if the December 5 vote does not go their way. The incumbent Liberals were defeated the last time the voters of Bonaventure cast their ballots in a byelection. In the general election that followed, the Liberal government that had held power for the previous nine years was thrown out of office.

Jean Charest’s government turns nine years old in 2012.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.

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