Quebeckers are expected to be going to the polls at the beginning of September in what might be a very close election. Six ridings that have a history of voting with the party that forms government in general elections may be the ones to watch.
Lotbinière-Frontenac, in central Quebec, is one such riding. The boundaries of Lotbinière-Frontenac have changed significantly since the last vote, but when the riding was simply Frontenac it voted with the government in every general election since 1973 with one exception. That was in 1994, when the riding went with the Liberals instead of Jacques Parizeau's Parti Québécois.
Laurent Lessard, who sits in Jean Charest's cabinet, will try to retain the seat for the party. The riding is a relatively safe one for the Liberals, suggesting that if Mr. Lessard is successful he will either break with the past or be returned to cabinet.
Louis-Hébert, in Quebec City, has aligned with the government even more than Lotbinière-Frontenac. It has voted with the governing party in the last 11 general elections stretching back to 1970. It did not vote with the Union Nationale in 1966, instead opting for Jean Lesage, the incumbent premier and leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec at the time.
The riding has a long history of being represented by cabinet ministers: Claude Castonguay, Claude Morin, Paul Bégin and Sam Hamad, its current MNA, have all sat at Liberal or PQ cabinets. Mr. Hamad is in a very secure position and the riding is considered a safe one for the Liberals.
The hold the Liberals have over the other four bellwether ridings is more fragile.
Mille-Îles, in Laval, has voted with the governing party in every election since it was created before the 1973 provincial election. Voting in a member of the government has not always benefited the riding, however, as only Guy Joron of the Parti Québécois briefly sat in cabinet under Premier René Lévesque.
Francine Charbonneau, Milles-Îles' current Liberal MNA, may have a tough fight on her hands if Robert Carrier, a former MP re-elected twice under the Bloc Québécois banner during his tenure in the House of Commons between 2004 and 2011, secures the PQ's nomination.
The neighbouring riding of Laval-des-Rapides has also voted with the government since its creation before the 1981 election, and has been represented at cabinet by Serge Ménard and Bernard Landry. It is currently represented by Alain Paquet, who will be running for re-election. Mr. Paquet's margin of victory in 2008 was quite narrow, and with the Liberals down in the polls it is likely to be narrow again if he manages to hold on.
One occupier of a bellwether riding who will not be running for re-election is Fabre's Michelle Courchesne, the out-going minister of education. Fabre has voted with the governing party in every election since its creation except for the first, in 1966. The riding has a history of voting in heavy hitters in cabinet, having been represented by Mr. Landry, Joseph Facal, and Ms. Courchesne.
The Liberals' hold on the riding after the departure of Ms. Courchesne is tenuous, and if the riding is lost to either the PQ or the Coalition Avenir Québec, represented here by party president Dominique Anglade, the Liberals will also be unlikely to be forming government.
The last bellwether riding has the most at stake. That riding is Sherbrooke, the constituency of Premier Jean Charest. The riding has a very long history of voting with the government, as it has done so in 17 of the last 18 general elections since 1944 – the one exception being the 1998 election in which Mr. Charest made his provincial debut.
John Samuel Bourque, Carrier Fortin, Raynald Fréchette, and Marie Malavoy have sat at cabinets headed by Union Nationale, Liberal, and PQ premiers. In all likelihood, voters in Sherbrooke will continue to be represented at cabinet after the 2012 election. The only question is by which party.
If Jean Charest loses in Sherbrooke, it is a virtual certainty that his party will have also lost the election. The PQ has put up a good candidate against the incumbent premier, as Serge Cardin – Bloc MP for Sherbrooke from 1998 until 2011 – will be carrying their standard. If Mr. Cardin wins, it is unlikely the longtime MP would find himself on the backbenches in a Pauline Marois-led government.
The fortunes of the Liberal incumbents and candidates in Lotbinière-Frontenac, Louis-Hébert, Mille-Îles, Laval-des-Rapides, and Fabre will go a long way towards deciding the fate of Jean Charest's nine-year-old government. If they are all re-elected, it is quite likely that Mr. Charest will remain as head of Quebec's government. If they are not, the changing tide will likely carry Mr. Charest away with them, both from the riding of Sherbrooke and the Premier's office.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com (www.threehundredeight.com)