Liberals shut out in Quebec byelections

Stéphane Dion's worst-case scenario came true Monday night as his Liberals lost all three Quebec byelections, ceding ground to the Conservatives, Bloc and the NDP.

NDP takes Outremont, Tories capture Roberval, Bloc holds on in Saint-Hyacinthe

Stéphane Dion's worst-case scenario came true Monday night as his Liberals lost all three Quebec byelections, ceding ground to the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, which made historic inroads in a Grit bastion.

NDP candidate Thomas Mulcair celebrates with Jack Layton, the party's leader, in Outremont. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))

Dion's teamlost their Montreal fortress in Outremont to Thomas Mulcair, the NDP's star recruit, who trounced Grit candidate Jocelyn Coulon by about 20 percentage points, earning 11,156 votes to his rival's 6,554 with 166 of 168 polls reporting.

In the Saguenay, Conservative candidate Denis Lebel sailed to victory in the sovereigntist-rich riding of Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean with nearly 60 per cent support compared to the Bloc's 27 per cent, whilethe Liberals were reduced to single-digit support.

And in Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, east of Montreal, Bloc Québécois candidate Ève-Mary Thai Thi Lac beat Conservative Bernard Barré, with the Liberals earning slightly more than seven per cent support, fourth behind the NDP.

The results will have major consequences forthe Liberal party and Dion, as the byelection was widely considered to be a test of his leadership.

Dion predicts federal election win despite loss

Conservative candidate Denis Lebel celebrates his victory in Roberval with his wife Danielle Girard. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

Dion maintained a brave face as his party suffered a complete shutout and bled voters. "We must be really proud that the parties that believe in Canada are stronger tonight," he said to a subdued crowd of Liberal supporters.

He stressed there's a lesson to be learned, and predicted a comeback. "From this defeat, we can learn something and work together as a united party."

"We will win" the next federal election, Dion said. "At that point, we will look back on this night of Sept. 17 and say: 'We Liberals had the strength to overcome a difficult period.'"

NDP shines in Montreal

The NDP staked new ground with its seat in Outremont, only the second time a New Democrat has ever been elected in la belle province, and the first time a non-Liberal has won the riding since the 1930s.

"This is only the beginning," said winner Mulcair, flanked bythe party'sbeaming leader, Jack Layton.

"Tonight voters in Outremont opted for change, and I am honoured to be the person who goes to Ottawa to speak on their behalf for peace, for the environment, and to be a voice for future generations," said the former provincial environment minister.

Voters wrote a new page in Canadian politics, Layton said. "Quebec has chosen a new direction, and it has started right here in Outremont. You have participated in making history and changing the course of politics in Quebec, and in Canada."

Tories capitalize while Bloc treads water

The Conservatives, who kept expectations low during their byelection campaign, were quick to call the results an indictment of Dion.

"Under the leadership of Stéphane Dion, the Liberal Party of Canada is not an option for Quebecers to consider," said Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, Harper's Quebec Lieutenant.

And though the Bloc managed to hold onto its Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot riding after a hard campaign, they lost popular support in Outremont and Roberval.

Leader Gilles Duceppe was pragmatic. "We won and we're winning tonight. The question in politics is to win or to lose, so we won."

Thebyelectionsset the stage for a new session of Parliament in Ottawa, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper will face a vote of confidenceafter his October 16 throne speech.

The outcome of Monday's vote won't affectthe balance of power in the House of Commons,but it will likely fuel election speculation in Ottawa, where many Conservativesappear keen on another election if the Liberals and Bloc are weak.

With files from the Canadian Press