Que. ag minister, ag critics hold seats in PQ loss

The Parti Quebecois’ agriculture minister and his critics in Quebec’s assembly have held their seats in the wake of an election that’s upended the province’s government.

Francois Gendron, who’d served as Premier Pauline Marois’ deputy premier and the province’s agriculture, food and fisheries minister since September 2012, held his Abitibi-Ouest riding in Monday night’s election with a spread of 1,652 votes over Liberal candidate Serge Bastien.

Gendron, considered by many to be the “dean” of the assembly, has now held the riding for the PQ in 11 straight elections dating back to Rene Levesque’s first PQ sweep in 1976.

Aiming to upgrade from a minority to majority government, however, the Marois-led PQ instead crashed Monday with just 25.4 per cent of the popular vote, its lowest share since 1973. Marois lost her own riding of Charlevoix-Cote-de-Beaupre on Monday night to the Liberals’ Caroline Simard and said she will step down as PQ leader.

Philippe Couillard’s opposition Liberals won a majority Monday with 70 of 125 seats (and 41.5 per cent of the popular vote), while the PQ held 30 seats, Francois Legault’s Coalition avenir Quebec (CAQ) won 22 seats (23 per cent) and Quebec Solidaire won three (7.6 per cent).

Heading into Monday night as the Liberals’ agriculture critic, businessman and economic development officer Stephane Billette held his Huntingdon riding for the Liberals with a spread of 7,240 votes over CAQ candidate Claire IsaBelle.

The CAQ’s ag critic, Donald Martel, will also return to the provincial assembly, holding his Nicolet-Becancour riding with a 3,130-vote spread over Liberal candidate Denis Vallee.

“The same qualities”

Quebec’s politically influential Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) on Tuesday urged Couillard to choose a senior MNA to replace Gendron in the agriculture portfolio.

UPA president Marcel Groleau, a Thetford Mines dairyman, on Tuesday told the association newspaper La Terre de chez nous he hoped the next ag minister “possesses the same qualities” as Gendron: close to the portfolio’s clientele and able to work with farmers to develop solutions.

Couillard’s Liberals return to government with some bench strength in the ag file — including former agriculture, food and fisheries minister Laurent Lessard, who oversaw the portfolio for then-premier Jean Charest from 2007 to 2009 and again from 2010 to 2011 after the death of then-ag minister Claude Bechard.

Lessard, a lawyer and former Thetford Mines mayor, on Monday night held his riding of Lotbiniere-Frontenac with a 7,561-vote spread over the CAQ’s Luc de la Sablonniere.

Another veteran Liberal MNA and former opposition house leader, Pierre Paradis, held his riding of Brome-Missisquoi with a 6,754-vote spread over the CAQ’s Francois Lemay.

Paradis, a lawyer who’s been in provincial politics since 1980, has served at various times as chair, vice-chair and member of assorted incarnations of the assembly’s agriculture committee. He’s also served as a cabinet minister in portfolios including environment and wildlife, municipal affairs and manpower and labour.

Other Liberal MNAs with experience in the agriculture and agrifood file include Cote-du-Sud MNA Norbert Morin, who before Monday was the party’s opposition critic for food processing. Morin, a co-owner of livestock processor Boucherie Richard Morin, held Cote-du-Sud with a 9,251-vote spread over the CAQ’s Mireille Caron.

Third-generation farmer Pierre Giguere, a director and cattle producers’ delegate with UPA Val-Mauricie and a former Shawinigan city councillor, on Monday stole the Saint-Maurice riding for the Liberals.

Giguere on Monday night came in with a 653-vote spread over PQ MNA Luc Trudel, who’d been a member of the assembly’s agriculture, fisheries, energy and natural resources committee.

UPA’s Groleau on Tuesday said he hoped to see a new Liberal government continue to develop the provincial food sovereignty policy nurtured by the PQ. Couillard, Groleau noted, has indicated outside investment in Quebec farmland could be a positive development if it goes to support agricultural development rather than land speculation.

The UPA, Groleau said, will also see that a Liberal provincial government presses for satisfactory compensation for Quebec cheese and dairy producers in the wake of a free trade deal between Canada and the European Union. [Related story] AGCanada.com Network


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