The Action Démocratique du Québec orchestrated a major breakthrough in the Quebec City bellwether riding of Vanier last night in a by-election victory that puts it back on the province's political landscape.
The disappointing showing of the Parti Québécois in Vanier, where it finished third behind the Liberals, represents another setback for Bernard Landry's leadership.
Meanwhile, the Liberals were unable to score political points after Premier Jean Charest's successful federal-provincial negotiations last week in Ottawa that concluded with additional funding for health care in the province.
The ADQ easily won the three-way race in Vanier by capitalizing on the voter discontent over the Liberal government's handling of the controversial crackdown on juvenile prostitution and with the support of the city's top-rated radio station CHOI-FM.
"Winning in Vanier sends a positive signal that says the ADQ has its place in Quebec's political spectrum and that it is successfully rebuilding," ADQ outgoing president Guy Laforest said. "This will give our party a major boost for our morale on the eve of our convention."
However, the ADQ finished fourth in three other by-elections in Montreal last night. The party has been unable to attract non-francophone voters and remains ineffective in the Greater Montreal Region. In fact, the ADQ even finished behind the left-wing Union des forces progressistes in two of the Montreal ridings.
With last night's victory in Vanier, the ADQ now have five seats in the Quebec National Assembly and can go to this weekend's party convention with the assurance that the rebuilding process is under way. The ADQ are rebuilding after an organizational meltdown resulting from disappointing results in the election of April, 2003.
CHOI-FM openly supported ADQ candidate Sylvain Légaré after party Leader Mario Dumont joined the chorus of public protest against the Canadian radio-Television and Telecommunication Commission's decision in July to revoke the station's licence for using abusive language. A federal court postponed the station's closing but the controversy continued.
Vanier represented an important test for Mr. Charest's Liberal government in its bid to stem the tide of public protest against his administration. The party was able to take comfort in what seemed to be by-election victories in the ridings of Laurier-Dorion and Nelligan.
The Liberal candidate in Nelligan, Yolande James, 26, becomes the first black woman elected to the National Assembly.
The PQ won last night's fourth by-election in the Montreal riding of Gouin but it will likely give little reprieve to Mr. Landry, whose leadership is being challenged by a growing number of PQ members.
Mr. Landry had his heart set on winning Vanier as proof that his party represented the only alternative to the governing Liberals. PQ leadership contender Pauline Marois said yesterday that the riding was a test for Mr. Landry's leadership. It was assumed that the PQ's defeat in a riding that it held for almost 10 years before losing it to the Liberals would strike another blow to Mr. Landry's faltering leadership.
Before the by-elections were called in August, the Liberals held 72 of the province's 125 ridings, the PQ had 44, the ADQ had four and there was one independent member.
Yesterday, the ADQ accused the Liberals of using unfair campaign tactics. The party said the Liberals used public funds to buy full-page ads in Quebec newspapers over the weekend to highlight Mr. Charest's efforts in the reaching the federal-provincial health agreement last week in Ottawa.