The Quebec Liberals won a byelection in the eastern Quebec riding of Bonaventure Monday night, in a vote seen as a test for both Premier Jean Charest and Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois.

Liberal candidate Damien Arsenault stormed to victory with about 50 per cent of the popular vote.

PQ candidate Sylvain Roy took 37 per cent of the popular vote.

The Québec Solidaire candidate got almost 10 per cent support while the Action démocratique du Québec came in forth place with just over two per cent.

Premier Charest was unable to be in the riding because of poor weather. However, Arsenault said he was happy to bring a victory in the riding.

Arsenault said he will focus on developing the region's economy and reducing the current 13 per cent unemployment rate.

PQ makes progress: Marois

While the PQ was not expected to win a riding that has been Liberal for all but four of the last 55 years, Marois visited Bonaventure several times during the campaign.

Marois said the party did make progress.

She said the PQ vote climbed eight points, while the Liberals dropped 14 points.

Marois said her party was fighting the ghost of former deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau, who resigned in September, and Francois Legault's Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) party, which did not field a candidate.

Opinion polls indicate CAQ is way ahead of the PQ and the Liberals.

The byelection was a test for Charest but also for Marois.

The Liberals have been lagging in the polls, while Marois has been unable to assert herself as leader and has been rocked by a wave of departures from the party this year.

Candidates in the Bonaventure byelection

  • Damien Arsenault (Liberal) winner
  • Sylvain Roy (Parti Québécois)
  • Patricia Chartier (Québec solidaire)
  • Georges Painchaud (ADQ)
  • Jean Cloutier (Parti vert)
  • Martin Zibeau (Independent) 

Bonaventure – on the southern Gaspé Peninsula – has been Liberal since 1956, except for a four-year PQ interlude between 1994 and 1998.

The Liberals had 64 of the national assembly's 125 seats coming into the byelection, compared with 45 for the PQ. The Action démocratique du Québec had four and Québec solidaire one.

There were 10 Independents, most of them who quit the PQ earlier this year because they were upset with Marois' leadership.

The PQ won the riding in 1994 when the party formed the government under Jacques Parizeau.

Normandeau then grabbed it back for the Liberals with a narrow victory in 1998 before she romped to massive wins in 2003, 2007 and 2008.

The byelection is the first time Elections Quebec will use ballots that include pictures of the candidates.The new ballots are 7½ inches larger than the previous model.

With files from Canadian Press