Monday, March 9, 2015

Provincial by-election in Richelieu, Quebec today

Voters in the Quebec riding of Richelieu head to the polls today to elect a new Member of the Quebec National Assembly in a provincial by-election. The riding has been sitting vacant since September, when its MNA, Elaine Zakaib resigned to work as chief of restructuring and vice president of strategy for the struggling women's clothing chain, Jacob (which would later go bankrupt). Zakaib, a member of the Parti Quebecois was first elected in the 2012 election, and was re-elected in 2014.

Richelieu is anchored by the city of Sorel-Tracy, whose 35,000 inhabitants make up two-thirds of the riding's population. It is located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, between Montreal and Trois-Rivieres. The riding contains all of the Pierre-De Saurel Regional County Municipality plus four rural municipalities in Les Maskoutains Regional County Municipality. Roughly speaking, the riding takes in the lower valleys of the Richelieu and Yamaska Rivers, and the area between them.


Richelieu's demographics is that of a typical homogeneous French Canadian riding. It has very few immigrants, and is overwhelmingly Francophone, with 98% of its inhabitants citing French as their mother tongue. The riding is 98% White, and is 91% Catholic (with 7% being irreligious). Outside of the dominant French Canadian ancestry, about 2% of the riding is of Aboriginal ancestry, and at least 3% have Irish ancestry. Manufacturing is the main industry in the riding, employing nearly 20% of the work force. The riding is slightly poorer than the provincial average. The median income is $26,000, while the provincial median is $28,000. The average income in Richelieu is $32,000, compared to $36,000 in the whole of Quebec.


Richelieu has existed as a riding since confederation, except for a brief period during World War II when it was part of Richelieu-Vercheres. The riding voted mostly Conservative in the 19th Century, but then backed the Liberals continuously until 1948. Between 1948 and the rise of the PQ in 1976, the riding flipped back and forth between the Liberals and the conservative Union Nationale party. The PQ has held the riding almost continuously since then, except for the period between 1985 and 1994 when the Liberals had last held it. Despite being a PQ stronghold, the PQ has not been able win a majority of the votes here since 1998. Since then, the anti-PQ vote has been split between the Liberals and the ADQ/CAQ. In 2007, the ADQ came within 2000 votes of winning the riding, but fell back to a distant third in 2008, when the Liberals finished second, 3000 votes behind the PQ's Sylvain Simard. Zakaib's first win in 2012 was more comfortable, as she defeated the CAQ candidate by 3,600 votes. Her win in 2014 was another 3,600 vote margin against the CAQ candidate. However, both her and the CAQ lost a significant chunk of votes to the Liberals, who finished a relatively close second place, 4000 votes behind Zakaib.


1) Jos. Beaudreau, Cons. (1867-1869)
2) Pierre Gelinas, Cons. (1969-1871)
3) J.-A. Dorion, Cons. (1871-1875)
4) Michel Mathieu, Cons. (1875-1881)
5) Leon Leduc, Cons. (1881-1886)
6) L.-P-.P. Cardin, Liberal (1886-1892)
7) Louis Lacouture, Cons. (1892-1897)
*) L.-P.-P. Cardin, Liberal (1897-1912) 2nd time
8) M.-L. Peloquin, Liberal (1912-1923)
9) J.-B. Lafreniere, Liberal (1923-1929)
10) Avilla Turoctt, Liberal (1929-1939)
11) Felix Messier, Liberal (1939-1942)
12) J.-W. Robidoux, Liberal (1942-1948)
13) Bernard Gagne, U.N. (1948-1952)
14) Gerard Cournoyer, Liberal (1952-1956)
*) Bernard Gagne, UN (1956-1960) 2nd time
*) Gerard Cournoyer, Liberal (1960-1966) 2nd time
15) Maurice Martel, U.N. (1966-1970)
16) Claude Simard, Liberal (1970-1976)
*) Maurice Martel, P.Q. (1976-1985) 2nd time
17) Albert Khelfa, Liberal (1985-1994)
18) Sylvain Simard, P.Q. (1994-2012)
19) Ms. Elaine Zakaib, P.Q. (2012-2014)

Political geography

Richelieu is located in Quebec's sovereigntist heartland, an area north of Montreal that is one of the most reliably separatist parts of the province. Despite the orange wave of the 2011 federal election, the Richelieu area was still one of the few areas in the province to back the Bloc Quebecois. Before 2011, every federal riding along the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Trois-Rivieres voted for the Bloc, going back as far as their first election in 1993. In the 1980s the area backed Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives, which had the support of Quebec nationalists. Federally, the Richelieu area has not gone Liberal since 1980.

While Richelieu is a very homogenous riding, the fact that all three of the major parties did well in the 2014 election, revealed some political cleavages in the riding. The most noticeable cleavage is the urban-rural split. The PQ did slightly better in Sorel-Tracy than in the rural parts of the riding, while the centre-right CAQ party did slightly better in rural Richelieu. The Liberal's urban and rural numbers were about even, but most of their rural support was concentrated in the municipalities of Saint-Gerard-Majella, Saint-David and Yamaska in the eastern part of the riding. Saint-Gerard-Majella was the best municipality for the Liberals, where they won 49% of the vote. The central part of the riding was the best area for the CAQ. They won over 40% of the vote in the three rural municipalities there, Saint-Robert, Saint-Aime and Saint-Marcel-de-Richelieu. The strongest area for the PQ was also in the central part of the riding. The village of Massueville gave 45% of the vote to Zakaib, despite being surrounded by the Municipality of Saint-Aime, which went CAQ.

Historically, the rural parts of the riding have been less prone to support sovereigntist parties than in the urban centre of Sorel-Tracy. In 2008, much of the rural part of the riding went to the Liberals, but a lot of this vote had shifted to the CAQ in 2012. Federally, the BQ normally sweeps almost every poll in the riding. The 2011 federal election created a weird map, where the NDP won some suburban polls in Sorel-Tracy, as well as the village of Massueville, which was the PQ's best area in the last provincial election. The NDP also won a scattering of rural polls across Richelieu, and won all the Richelieu polls in the federal riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot (most of Richelieu is in the federal riding of Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet--Becancour). Most of the riding still backed the Bloc, however. Also of note was the municipality of Saint-Gerard-Majella, which may be the most conservative part of the riding. Not only was it the provincial Liberal's best poll in 2014, its lone poll was the only poll in Richelieu to vote Conservative in the 2011 federal election, and it also voted Conservative in 2006.

2014 election day results by municipality (or former municipality)


Running to replace Zakaib for the PQ is Sylvain Rochon, a former journalist who had also served as her adviser. Running for the CAQ is businessman Jean-Bernard Emond, the Liberals are running financial adviser Benoit Theroux and QS is running professor Marie-Eve Mathieu. The sovereigntist Option Nationale party is running their leader, Sol Zanetti, though that party has been irrelevant since the 2012 election. The Greens, Conservatives and Equipe Aotonomiste are also running candidates.

Province-wide polling in Quebec has been fairly constant since the provincial election last Spring. The Liberals are polling a little bit worse than the 42% they won in 2014 (they are now in the high 30s), while the PQ and CAQ are about even in the polls, at about the mid-20s, which is around what they won last Spring. Quebec Solidaire seems to have benefited the most from the Liberal dip in the polls, and are up into the low-teens from the 8% they won in 2014. With the little volatility in the polls, it stands to reason that the PQ's Sylvain Rochon should be able to win today's by-election. In 2014, the CAQ candidate finished 12 points behind Zakaib, and without a CAQ surge, I do not think they will be able to make up the difference. For what it's worth, SorelTracy Magazine conducted a poll last month showing Rochon with a 14 point lead over Emond (41 % to 27%). Theroux was at 20%. 

Polls close at 8pm.

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