NDP grabs seat, Tories vindicated in byelections

Monday night's vote results are proof Quebec federalist voters now prefer Tories, Transportation Minister Lawrence Cannon says.

Liberals play down results after losing key Quebec fortress in Outremont

Quebec voters have spoken out in the polls, indicating in three federal byelections that their choice for a strong federalist party now rests with the Conservatives, Quebec lieutenant Lawrence Cannon boasted Tuesday.

NDP candidate Thomas Mulcair hugs his mother, Jeanne, after winning the byelection in Outremont. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))

A new political landscape is taking shape in Quebec, Cannon said, following three Quebec byelections on Monday that saw the Conservatives snatch a sovereigntist stronghold away from the Bloc Québécois, the NDP make its first Quebec breakthrough in 17 years and the Liberals suffer what pundits said was a morale-crushing shutout, in spite ofa star Liberal candidate.

"There's recognition here from a lot of Quebecers that the federalist alternative to the sovereigntists … is now the Conservative party," Cannon, who is also the federal transport minister, told CBC News Tuesday morning. "We're extremely pleased with these results."

Cannon said the Conservative victory in the riding of Roberval-Lac-St-Jean — traditionally a Bloc bastion —was a testament to Quebecers' growing trust in the Tories, fostered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has taken aggressive steps to win over the province with offers of billions of dollars in program spending.

"Over the course of the last 19 months, we have worked quite hard to … make sure that the Conservative Party of Canada takes root in Quebec, and this is a fine example of the hard work that Stephen Harper and of course the Conservative party and Canadians have put together," he said.

'More difficulty we have to face'

But while the Conservatives basked in the glory of their byelection boost and the NDP cheered after having claimed its first Quebec seat since 1990, in the Montreal riding of Outremont, the Liberals and the Bloc were left contemplating their futures.

Monday night's results, especially losing in Outremont, dealt a blow to the Liberals, who had dominated that riding since 1935.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion put on a brave face in spite of seeing the NDP's Thomas Mulcair handily defeat his own handpicked star candidate, Jocelyn Coulon, in Outremont.

It was time to rebuild, Dion said, adding that one positive outcome was that federalist parties dominated the evening. "I'm pleased that most people voted for people who believe in Canada," Dion said Tuesday during a stop at the International Plowing Match in Crosby, Ont.

Asked if the loss signified a leadership crisis in the Liberal party, he said, "Not at all. It is some more difficulty we have to face, but we are a great party and we'll go ahead."

'Everything but the kitchen sink'

Mulcair, a former Quebec cabinet minister in the Liberal provincial government, captured 48 per cent of the popular vote to Coulon's 29 per cent.

The CBC's chief political correspondent, Keith Boag, said that before the byelection results came in, he was told by Liberal insiders that a trouncing could lead to a crisis in the party's leadership. Monday night was being billed as a test for Dion on his home turf of Quebec, and the Liberals had tried to ensure an Outremont victory by sending Liberal stars Ken Dryden and Justin Trudeau to the campaign trail.

It was "everything but the kitchen sink," the CBC's Ottawa reporter Julie Van Dusen said of the Liberals' Outremont campaignon Tuesday. And yet, "if Stéphane Dion can't win one of the safest ridings in all of Quebec, the question is, what can he win,"Van Dusen asked.

Quebec Liberal MP Denis Coderre characterized the setback as part of the natural swing of the "pendulum" that is politics.

"We had good points, bad points, it's like a pendulum, it's a cycle, so it's a work in progress," he said Tuesday.

'They didn't vote for Jack Layton'

Coderre also credited the Liberal defeat in Outremont not to the New Democrats, but to the charisma and immense popularity of their candidate.

"People voted, in the case of Outremont, probably for Thomas Mulcair; they didn't vote for Jack Layton or the 'orange revolution,'" he said.

Addressing the rumours of Liberal infighting, he brushedoff talk that Michael Ignatieff's supporters worked to undermine the Liberal effort, saying it was "nonsense" to suggest that some Liberals sat on their hands instead of rallying for votes.

Coderre, who was the co-chair of Ignatieff's campaign bid to lead the Liberal party, urged fellow Liberals to follow his example by standing united behind Dion.

'We need to be united'

"I can ensure you that all the Liberals, including Ignatieff himself, [have] been doing their jobs and he is a model of dignity. Those who try to put up a fight between Stéphane and Michael are probably … from another party," he said.

"We won't fall for that."

On the topic of the so-called infighting, Diontold reportersin rural Ontario on Tuesday that "to be relevant to Canadians, we need to be united.

"I have great respect for Mr. Ignatieff and he works with me tremendously well," he added.

'Erosion' of Bloc voteto Conservatives

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe was also trying to put a positive spin on a disastrous night for his camp, telling supporters not to "make a model out of a byelection" or fall into the trap of believing Monday's results would necessarily dictate the Bloc's future in a general election. "It's simply not true," he said.

Although the Bloc held onto the riding of St-Hyacinthe-Bagot, northeast of Montreal, Duceppe said he must keep working to convince Quebecers that the Bloc is best suited to defend their interests. But Helen Buzette from Montreal's Le Devoir newspaper said the Bloc leader doesn't quite understand the depth of his troubles.

"The big question for him now is to decide whether or not this is a phenomenon that is just starting, or is this the end of the erosion of his vote to the Conservative party?" she said.

Voter turnout on Monday evening was low in all three ridings, with less than half of eligible voters casting ballots.