Harper has called the first two of seven pending by-elections for September 17. The one that matters is in Outremont. It is the first electoral test of Stéphane Dion, who has selected Jocelyn Coulon, an academic and media commentator similar in profile to Dion himself, as the Liberal candidate. However, he faces a serious challenge from the NDP.
The NDP? In Quebec? Surely you jest TC.
In fact the NDP is running its strongest by-election candidate in Quebec since Phil Edmonston won the 1990 Chambly by-election. Thomas Mulcair was Jean Charest's environment minister but split with Charest over the privatization of provincial park land. Mulcair did not represent Outremont provincially, but he is well known and highly regarded in Quebec, and is already being taken seriously as a candidate by the Quebec media.
Going in to the campaign I have estimated an Outremont result based on the three recent national opinion surveys' Quebec sub-samples.
Here are the numbers: Liberal 30%, NDP 24%, BQ 23% and the PCs 12%.
This estimate is based on adjusting the results of the last election based on the shifts measured by the polls. At the time of the last election the Liberal candidate was Jean Lapierre and the NDP candidate was Léo-Paul Lauzon. Simply in terms of prior public knowledge and reputation, this gives an early advantage to the NDP.
The NDP's other advantage is that as the party voicing the strongest opposition to Canada's participation in the war in Afghanistan, they would benefit if it becomes the key by-election issue. Quebec has not been fertile ground for the NDP in the past but if Mulcair can make the byelection a referendum on the war more or less to the exclusion of other considerations, he really does have the potential to win. In the latest Strategic Counsel poll 75% of Quebec respondents were opposed to sending troops there.