Quebec’s agriculture minister is among those returning to the province’s assembly after Jean Charest’s Liberals held off a resurgent Parti Quebecois and recaptured a slim majority government.
Laurent Lessard, who before Monday’s election was the Liberals’ minister of agriculture, food and fisheries, easily won his southeastern rural riding of Frontenac by a spread of almost 7,000 votes over the PQ’s Juliette Jalbert (all results unofficial).
Lessard, a lawyer by trade, the former mayor of Thetford Mines and an MNA since 2003, was the province’s labour minister but was moved to the agriculture portfolio after the March 2007 election.
He joins a bolstered Liberal caucus that will now hold 66 of 125 seats. The Parti Quebecois (PQ), which was crushed in the 2007 election, returned to official Opposition status Monday with 51 MNAs elected.
Meanwhile, Action democratique du Quebec (ADQ) — which climbed to official Opposition status in 2007 by appealing to a predominantly rural and small-c conservative base — was decimated Monday, winning just seven seats. A fourth party, the left-wing Quebec Solidaire, elected one MNA.
The Liberal government has its work cut out for it on the ag file, as it continues to move on the recommendations of the Pronovost commission on the future of agriculture in the province, and faces pressure to improve income stabilization programs for farmers.
During this campaign, Charest signed a pledge to form a steering committee, shared with the province’s overarching and influential farm group, the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), to address income stabilization issues.
The ADQ’s losses Monday included its agriculture critic, Albert De Martin, a corn, soy and wheat grower who had represented the Huntingdon riding since last year.
De Martin placed third in his riding, losing his seat to a businessman and crop producer, the Liberals’ Stephane Billette, well known for his work on economic development for the Monteregie region. The PQ’s Joan Gosselin came in second behind Billette by a margin of 4,200 votes.
Meanwhile, the PQ’s agriculture critic, Sylvain Page, handily won his southwestern riding of Labelle, beating the Liberals’ Deborah Belanger by a spread of just over 6,000 votes.
Page, who was a parliamentary secretary in the youth, tourism and sports and parks and wildlife portfolios during Bernard Landry’s PQ government, operated an outdoor equipment shop before entering politics in 2001.
Page took over ag critic duties in September this year when Maxime Arseneau, the PQ’s previous ag critic and a former ag minister, announced his candidacy for the post of president of the Quebec assembly.
After losing that bid, Arseneau announced last month that he wouldn’t run for office again. His Iles-de-la-Madeleine riding went instead to the Liberals Monday night by a narrow margin.
Among the party leaders, Premier Jean Charest appeared to have the closest call of the night, winning his Sherbrooke riding by a spread of just over 2,300 votes over the PQ’s Laurent-Paul Maheux.
PQ leader Pauline Marois won her northeastern riding of Charlevoix by a spread of nearly 4,300 votes over the Liberals’ Jean Luc Simard.
ADQ leader Mario Dumont also easily won his southeastern riding of Riviere-du-Loup by a margin of about 5,300 votes over the Liberals’ Jean-Pierre Rioux. Dumont, however, announced to reporters Monday night that he will step down as party leader.
Quebec Solidaire leader Francoise David placed second in the Montreal riding of Gouin, but saw another candidate, Amir Khadir, a doctor and one-time Bloc Quebecois contender, win the neighbouring riding of Mercier. Quebec’s Green Party was shut out in this election.