Marois's victory romp

She gets a bit of help from Ségolène Royal, the Liberals and The Gazette

Affaire Marois-The Gazette

"Yet another smear operation by the newspaper The Gazette against a sovereignist leader," howled the title of the press release posted on the Parti Québécois website on Sunday.

The release referred to the story by Gazette reporter William Marsden, published the previous day, concerning the Île Bizard estate of PQ leader Pauline Marois and her husband, Claude Blanchet.

It's not the first time a sovereignist leader has appealed for sympathy as the victim of the English press by drawing attention to a story that had been overlooked by most of the Quebec media.

In 1993, this newspaper ran a profile of Lucien Bouchard, then leading the Bloc Québécois in its first general election campaign, saying his dead father had been a truck driver "with a drinking problem."

Nobody noticed the four-word reference, which was the only mention in the article of drinking and did not appear until the 15th paragraph, until Bouchard himself drew attention to it the day after its publication.

He gave reporters a letter to the newspaper demanding a retraction and interrupted his tour to make an emotional, unscheduled stop at his family's old home to defend his father's reputation.

Judging by Marois's victory in the Charlevoix by-election two days after the Gazette story was published, it did her little harm. She did at least as well as polls conducted in the riding before the story's publication had indicated she would.

Although the turnout rate of 58 per cent was relatively high for a by-election, it was still 16 points lower than in the general election last March 26. Yet Marois actually won with more votes and a larger majority, absolutely as well as proportionately, than three-term PQ incumbent Rosaire Bertrand did in the general election.

The Gazette story - or more accurately, the PQ press release about it - might have actually helped Marois by rallying the PQ vote, which can be hard to mobilize for a by-election.

But there were other factors working in her favour. She might have won back some of the 1,000 votes in the riding the PQ lost between the 2003 and 2007 general elections because of the unpopularity of former leader André Boisclair.
Also, Charlevoix is a poor, mostly rural riding. And a Léger Marketing survey conducted late last month for Le Journal de Québec indicated three-quarters of voters there thought it would be an advantage to have a party leader as their member of the National Assembly.

And perhaps most important, Premier Jean Charest gave Marois a boost by not running a Liberal candidate against her, releasing the 6,500 voters who supported the Liberals in the general election, and then all but told them to vote for her.

It normally goes against the nature of Liberals to vote for a Péquiste, and most of those Liberal voters in the general election stayed home on Monday. But Marois gained the equivalent of one-third of them.

And even though some prominent local Liberals came out for her Action démocratique opponent late in the campaign, she outgained him in vote share - that is, percentage of the valid votes cast - by a margin of better than 3-to-1.

That she has shelved the sovereignty option indefinitely - visiting French politician Ségolène Royal quoted her late in the campaign as saying there will not be another referendum - might have made it easier for Liberals to lend her their votes for the by-election.

Besides, the immediate threat to the Liberals now comes from the "autonomist" ADQ rather than the PQ, which has become the Liberals' de-facto ally against Mario Dumont's party. A defeat for the PQ's new leader might have thrown that party into a new crisis, weakening it in the competition with the ADQ for nationalist votes.

Also, Charlevoix is more than 99 per cent francophone, and with Liberal support among French-speaking voters now down to 15 per cent in the CROP-La Presse poll results published yesterday, a Liberal candidate probably would have fared badly in the by-election.

And that would have reflected badly on Charest's leadership, which faces a party confidence vote next March.

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