Liberals take Outremont riding in byelection

Liberals take Outremont riding in byelection

MONTREAL—The NDP era in Outremont came to a close Monday as voters in this diverse urban riding returned to their long-standing tradition of electing Liberals to the House of Commons.

Months after former NDP leader Tom Mulcair resigned the seat he held for 11 years, residents of this central swath of Quebec’s biggest city were on track to be represented again by a Liberal, according to late night results from Elections Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigns for Monday’s byelection with Liberal candidate Rachel Bendayan in a coffee shop in Montreal on Jan. 28, 2019.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigns for Monday’s byelection with Liberal candidate Rachel Bendayan in a coffee shop in Montreal on Jan. 28, 2019.  (Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Rachel Bendayan, a lawyer who ran as the “Team Trudeau” candidate here, thanked her family and campaign supporters in a victory speech at a Mile End lounge late Monday night, when results showed she won more than 40 per cent of votes with more than half of polling stations counted.

“This victory wouldn’t be possible without you,” she said in French.

“Today our voices were heard,” she said, stating that voters “spoke loud and proud in favour of Liberal values.”

The stage was set for a battle of deep roots versus recent, symbolic history.

Outremont is home to some 100,000 Montrealers in a riding that comprises the Côtes-des-Neiges neighbourhood, part of Mile End and portions of downtown Montreal near the centre of the island where the city is located.

But while the riding was a Liberal stronghold for most of the 20th century, its more recent history has made it significant for New Democrats as well. Outremont became the party’s symbolic toehold in Quebec, when Mulcair won a 2007 byelection and successfully defended the seat the following year, marking the first time the NDP ever won a riding in the province in a general election.

Three years later, the “orange wave” surge of support in the province lifted the NDP to its best election result ever.

Now that Mulcair is retired from political life — almost three years after he was turfed as leader following the party’s 2015 election defeat — local NDP candidate Julia Sanchez hoped to maintain the party’s grip in this diverse central Montreal riding. Polls in the province suggested her main foe in the byelection was Bendayan.

A few hours before the polls closed Monday evening, Sanchez canvassed voters at a local metro station, and introduced herself to people in cafes and shops in the riding.

“I got into this race because of how hugely important it is — Outremont — for the NDP,” she said. “All of that made it super exciting and important to me … It’s not just any byelection.”

David Coletto, chief executive officer of Abacus Data, said Monday’s result could be a bellwether for the party’s standing in the province, given that it is the first test in “the heart of the rise of the orange wave” since the last federal election. Their performance in Outremont — a multicultural district in the urban heart of Montreal — may signal whether the NDP’s allure to Quebec voters has faded under Jagmeet Singh’s leadership.

Monday’s byelection was also the first time voters in Quebec cast ballots since the Bloc Québécois new leader, Yves-François Blanchet, took over last year. Michel Duchesne, an author who is the party’s candidate in Outremont, campaigned for the separatist party on a push to protect Quebec culture in the digital era. His background could help lift the Bloc in a riding that many artists call home, one NDP insider suggested.

“If they come third or fourth, that’s a big problem,” Coletto said of the NDP, pointing out that more than a third of the party’s MPs in the Commons are from Quebec.

“That’s something they’re going to have to somehow explain.”

The Conservative candidate in the race was Jasmine Louras, a University of Ottawa law student. Daniel Green ran for the Green Party and James Seale campaigned for Maxime Bernier’s upstart People’s Party.

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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