A 26-year-old high school teacher has defeated former provincial cabinet minister Yolande James for the Liberal nomination in the riding of Saint-Laurent.

Emmanuella Lambropoulos beat both James and law professor Marwah Rizqy Wednesday night to secure the nomination.

Lambropoulos and her team couldn't hold back their surprise at winning out over James, the woman considered to be the Liberal party favourite. She said her victory was the result of a lot of hard work.

"I really went every day, door-to-door, with one or two other people. We worked really hard," Lambropoulos told Radio-Canada.

Leading up to the vote the media didn't pay much attention to her candidacy, she said, and often, people didn't even know there was a third candidate running.  

James was reportedly approached by the party to run and served as provincial immigration minister between 2007-2010 under former Quebec premier Jean Charest.

She had also recently worked as a commentator on CBC and Radio-Canada.

James didn't speak to reporters following the announcement, but sent a tweet congratulating Lambropoulos. She ended up finishing in third.

Lambropoulos teaches in Montreal's Rosemont neighbourhood and has worked for the Saint-Laurent riding association.

'We came from the bottom up'

Her supporters credited the fact she lives in the Saint-Laurent borough and wasn't parachuted in by the Liberal party as the main reason she came away with the victory.

Liberal Candidate Elections 20170308

Emmanuella Lambropoulos reacts after winning the nomination. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

"We came from the bottom up," said Petro Vouloukos, 22, who helped Lambropoulos secure her win. "We were the grassroots. Not from the top up like Mrs. James."

The Saint-Laurent riding has been Liberal for decades and is considered a safe seat for the party in the April 3 byelection. The seat was left empty when Stéphane Dion accepted the role of ambassador to the EU and Germany.

Lambropoulos was the only of the three candidates to live in the riding.

Second place was Rizqy, a tax lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for the Liberals in another Montreal riding in the 2015 federal election.

Controversy over blocking DeSousa 

The race has been the subject of controversy, as long-serving St-Laurent borough mayor Alan DeSousa was blocked from seeking the nomination by the party — without explanation.

His appeal of the decision was unsuccessful. 

A Liberal member at Wednesday's vote who has lived in the riding for 13 years, Bilal Hamideh, told CBC it was unfortunate DeSousa was not allowed to run.

"In general, I think it's discouraging to participate in the [nomination] system," Hamideh said.

"It does weaken the system in a way if it is not clearly explained why he wasn't allowed.

with files from CBC's Antoni Nerestant, Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press