"It's all orange."
I looked at the map of Quebec ridings about 10:30 p.m., and I couldn't believe it. It wasn't just pockets of orange, or lots of orange. It was all orange. With the exception of a few ridings on the island of Montreal, ridings in the Beauce region, and the giant Haute-Gaspésie and Roberval ridings you can see above, it was all orange.
Montérégie is all orange. Outaouais is all orange. Quebec City is all orange north of the St. Lawrence. Laval's four ridings all orange. Gilles Duceppe's riding orange. West Island Liberal stronghold Pierrefonds-Dollard orange.
In all, 58 of Quebec's 75 ridings elected New Democratic Party MPs on Monday, with the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Québécois left to share the handful that remained.
I followed the campaign. I even commented about it for CBC's All in a Weekend show (you can listen to my discussions with host Dave Bronstetter and community activist Sujata Dey here: March 28, April 3, April 10, April 17, May 1). I watched the news about the NDP "surge" in Quebec and saw the poll numbers at threehundredeight.com. But even as it was projecting 30 seats in Quebec for the NDP, I was convinced those numbers were too high, the result of lots of soft support from people who, when it came to the ballot box, would change their minds and vote for one of the more established parties or more recognizable candidates.
As we all know now, those numbers actually far underestimated how the NDP would do here.
My regular job kept me busy on election night. I'm not complaining, in fact I love working election nights. There's excitement, unpredictability, lots of people, free food, and free beer after the last edition is put to bed.
Unfortunately it meant I couldn't spend much time looking at the various networks' coverage of the results so as to make snarky judgments about them. I had the Sun News Network live streaming feed on my computer, and I could see a TV tuned to RDI at the office, but otherwise my attention was focused on the results and my page.
Election night at any journalistic outlet is crazy, and The Gazette is no exception. Almost everyone is working that day, including most of the managers, and the work doesn't stop until the final final edition, which had people in the office past 1:30am. So many are in at once that seating is arranged in advance so they can make sure there's room for everyone.
I was assigned Page B5, a page in the special section devoted to results from Quebec. Reporters were taken off their regular beats and assigned to key ridings in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec. With another editor sharing duties on the page, I got files from four reporters who would write three stories (one for each edition): Jason Magder covering the two West Island ridings, Alycia Ambroziak in off-island Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Monique Muise in Laval–Les Îles, and Jeff Heinrich in Denis Coderre's Montreal-North Bourassa riding.
With the exception of Heinrich, the reporters were surprised having to write about unexpected NDP upsets. Vaudreuil-Soulanges was one of dozens of Bloc ridings that went to the NDP despite the "star killer" power of Meili Faille. Laval–Les Îles was a Liberal stronghold, and even after the surprise retirement of Raymonde Folco it was expected to stay that way. A draft story even said it was expected to hold while the adjacent riding would see the Bloc candidate cruising to victory. In fact, all four Laval ridings would turn orange quickly, forcing reporters to scramble to find the winning candidate. He invited them to his campaign headquarters - at his house.
Lac-Saint-Louis was expected to be a tough fight. The Conservatives had put star candidate (and a one-time Gazette publisher) Larry Smith there against Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia. But Smith, who briefly led early voting results a couple of times, fell to third as the riding bounced back between Liberal red and NDP orange for most of the night. Scarpaleggia eked out a win in the end. Bernard Patry, who represented my parents' riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard since 1993 and won with huge majorities in every election since, was stunned when he lost to a New Democrat most of the people there had probably never heard of.
All fantastic stories, but then these were only a few of the crazy results in Quebec that night.
TV coverage commentary
Without the ability to surf the networks from the comfort of my living room, I can't really evaluate how the networks did on debate night. My PVR is limited to two simultaneous recordings, and I picked CTV (for its popularity) and Sun News (because it's the newest).
Fortunately others were watching, and I direct you to a Gazette liveblog by Mike Boone and a blog post from TV Feeds My Family's Bill Brioux. In The Suburban, Mike Cohen also praises the work of radio stations CBC and CJAD during the campaign.
Mario Dumont's election night show (described by some as good considering its very poor resources) is all online. It also has the best line of the night I've heard so far, courtesy of Caroline Proulx: Quebecers electing a wave of NDP candidates is like having a one-night stand and finding out the next day that she's pregnant.
I will add this, which I spotted today as I reviewed the CTV coverage. Their election desk did house projection ranges early in the night, as results were coming in and after they had projected a Conservative government.
In the end, not one of the four parties' seat totals would fall within these projected ranges.
- There is, of course, Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the
unilingualanglophone who works at an Ottawa bar and vacationed in Vegas during the campaign but still managed to win in the riding of Berthier-Maskinongé. (UPDATE: Turns out her abilities in French have been underestimated - she struggles, but she can speak the language)
- There's Isabelle Morin, the
unilingualfrancophone elected in mostly-anglo NDG riding (prompting some to ask: why didn't they switch those two?) (UPDATE: Like Brosseau, it seems Morin's bilingualism has been underestimated).
- There's 19-year-old Pierre-Luc Dusseault in Sherbrooke, the youngest man ever elected as an MP.
- There's 20-year-old Charmaine Borg in Terrebonne-Blainville (who a local paper tried unsuccessfully to locate during the campaign but found on election night) and the other McGill students.
- There's Eve Peclet, the Un souper presque parfait contestant, and Alexandrine Latendresse, who the Star's investigative team found out doesn't like George Bush.
And these are the ones whose background we know about.
What you won't hear are the stories of all the similar candidates for the other parties in no-hope ridings. The Liberal in Jonquière who works for a moving company. The Conservative in Papineau who's a hairstylist, a mom and helps her husband work as a real estate agent. The Bloc candidate in Pierrefonds-Dollard who just started a degree at UQAM and whose previous work experience includes a job at the library at Collège Gérald-Godin and as a cashier at IGA.
And these are based on their official biographies posted to the party websites. One can only imagine if even the slightest digging was done into their backgrounds.
The ADQ had the same problem in 2007, when they unexpectedly rode a wave of popular support into official opposition in Quebec City. We all know how that turned out: The ADQ is all but wiped out and its former leader is now a TV host.
Everyone runs whoever they can find in no-hope ridings because they're no-hope ridings. The parties want to be able to say they're running someone in all 308 ridings across Canada (of 75 across Quebec, in the case of the Bloc) and don't want to give up on any vote. But this is the natural consequence of that strategy.
This isn't to excuse the NDP putting in phantom pylon candidates in ridings they didn't think they'd be competitive in. Surely they could have put in the effort to find locals who were interested enough to try for a seat.
But nor should this small number of candidates with questionable issues be confused with the dozens of others whose only crimes are that they are young and/or not politically experienced. Many of those elected in 1993 for the Liberals, Bloc and Reform shared those qualities. And now many of those Liberals and Blocquistes are shocked at falling to political neophytes who were barely present in their ridings, resisting the urge to appear a sore loser by saying the people in their constituencies are absolute morons for electing someone who is horribly unqualified for the job.
I feel for the losing candidates. I even feel bad for the Bloc. Maybe, if Canada had a form of proportional representation, this problem wouldn't occur. Voting for a leader wouldn't be so easily confused with voting for a local MP.
Anyway, the votes are cast, and we're not turning back time. These kids have been elected. Thomas Mulcair will be busy getting his caucus educated. And as the pundits are saying, the NDP is fortunate that a majority government gives them four years to get their affairs in order.
As someone who likes good stories, I have to admit that watching these brand-new MPs figure out how to be politicians will be fun. And we'll finally figure out if the Conservatives have that "hidden agenda", putting that issue to rest once and for all either way.
On the other hand, the journalist in me is saddened that the minority-parliament drama we've had since 2004 has finally come to an end. It made for great political stories, and sold a lot of papers.