Montreal

Five ridings to unlock Quebec's political puzzle

The race is close, things are in flux, but these races will help you understand what's going on.

The race is close, things are in flux, but these races will help you understand what's going on

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard visits a zero-waste grocery store earlier this month. Polls are pointing to a close race. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

All signs are pointing toward Monday being one of the closest elections in recent Quebec history.

That's partly because so much in Quebec politics is in a state of flux.

The province could see a new party take power for the first time in 40 years, for example. It could see only its third ever minority government. It could see the decline of one sovereigntist party, and the rise of another.   

Here are five ridings to watch on election day. What happens in these races will provide some answers to Quebec's current political riddles.

Laval-des-rapides

Laval-des-rapides is the quintessential bellwether riding. For the past 30 years, voters here have elected the party that forms the government.

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard held a large rally in the riding in the last week of the campaign. That might give a boost to the local Liberal incumbent, Saul Polo, who has spent the past four years in the backbenches.

Couillard campaigned with Laval-des-Rapides candidate Saul Polo earlier this month. Laval-des-Rapides has been a bellwether riding for 30 years. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

His main challenges come from the Coalition Avenir Québec's Christine Mitton and Jocelyn Caron of the Parti Québécois.

Mitton worked for a number of PQ luminaries, including Jacques Parizeau, Bernard Landry and Louise Harel, before giving up her party membership in 2003.

She is one of five CAQ candidates in the Montreal area from the Haitian community, and is running in a suburban riding with a significant non-francophone population.

"It is through the force of our culture that we will succeed in integrating newcomers," Mitton said when she launched her campaign.

The PQ's candidate, Caron, runs a small investment company. He's been campaigning on improving public transit in Laval and helping small and medium-sized businesses.

Key question: How strong is the CAQ's appeal in the Montreal suburbs?

Orford

The Eastern Townships could very well seal the fate of the incumbent Liberals, or deliver the CAQ a majority government.  

In 2014, the Liberals won all six Township ridings. Polls suggest they are unlikely to repeat that feat, but they still have a shot at holding onto some of these seats.

Orford is among the ridings that will be hotly contested. Counting in the Liberals favour is the riding's sizeable anglophone community, which counts for 14.5 per cent of the population.     

But the Liberals have been polling below their traditional levels of support within the non-francophone population.

The CAQ is running a well-connected local businessman, Gilles Bélanger. He's been involved in a number of large economic projects in the area, including the $200 million reinvestment in the Owl's Head ski and golf resort.

Under the Liberal banner is Guy Madore, a real-estate agent and former journalist. Madore worked briefly as the press attaché for Pierre Reid, the outgoing Liberal MNA.

Reid had represented the riding for the Liberals since 2003.

Key question: Can the Liberals still count on enough support from non-francophones to win hotly contested ridings like this one?

Sherbrooke

We've already spoken about why the Eastern Townships will be a key battleground, but check out Sherbrooke for some added drama.

A small poll conducted by Mainstreet last week suggested all four parties had support ranging between 20 and 25 per cent.

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault campaignd in Sherbrooke. His party is in a four-way race there. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

This riding — once Jean Charest's stomping ground — is representative of the current electoral dynamic in Quebec: fewer Liberal strongholds outside Montreal; strong CAQ support in Quebec's industrial heartland; a volatile PQ voter-base throughout the province; and QS surging in unconventional areas.

Any riding where three or four parties are in the running, outcomes are highly unpredictable.

There could be several ridings like this on election night. Anticipate drama in Maurice-Richard, Jean-Lesage, Abitibi-Est and Saint-François as well.

Key question: QS is likely to win ridings in Montreal and at least one in Quebec City (Taschereau), but can the small left-wing party win seats outside the big cities?

Trois-Rivières

This is a good one to watch for a number of reasons.

Like Laval-des-rapides, it is considered a bellwether riding. Between 1966 and 2007 — ten consecutive elections — it elected members of the governing party.

But it is also a riding that reflects what much of the province looks like outside of Montreal.

It is overwhelmingly francophone and the average household income is well below the provincial average.

The incumbent Liberal, Jean-Denis Girard, won Trois-Rivières handily in 2014. That he finds himself in a tight race this time around is indicative of where in Quebec the Liberals have failed to connect.

Jean Boulet, the CAQ candidate in Trois-Rivières, is the brother of retiring Liberal cabinet minister Julie Boulet. (Claudie Simard/Radio-Canada)

Girard's stiffest competition is coming from the CAQ's Jean Boulet, a local lawyer who happens to be the brother of outgoing Liberal cabinet minister, Julie Boulet.

Both Boulet and Girard are promising to do more to develop the local economy.

Boulet, for instance, has proposed bringing in more high-tech investment to revitalize downtown Trois-Rivières. Girard has been pushing for the city to be linked to a proposed high-frequency train service between Montreal and Quebec City.

Key question: Who speaks for middle Quebec, the Liberals or the CAQ?

Marie-Victorin

This is the kind of riding that will say a lot about the future of the PQ.

Located on Montreal's South Shore, Marie-Victorin has voted PQ since 1985, voted Yes in the 1995 referendum and is currently held by one of the party's young stars, Catherine Fournier.

But Fournier finds herself in a tight race with the CAQ's candidate, Martyne Prévost, owner of a private equestrian school.

The results on Oct. 1 will how much Québec Solidaire's rise in the polls impacts the PQ in ridings like Marie-Victorin. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The CAQ's program, in many ways, is tailor-made for suburban voters, with its proposals to cut school taxes and build more roads.

Normally a PQ stronghold like Marie-Victorin would be able to weather this challenge, no sweat.

But the complicating factor for the party in this election is the rise of QS, which is eating into its support.

If QS is able to ride its current wave of popularity outside of Montreal into election day, Marie-Victorin and other PQ strongholds could tumble.

Key question: Can the PQ survive alongside another progressive sovereigntist party?


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About the Author

Jonathan Montpetit is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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