Quebec’s agriculture minister was among the Liberals defeated Tuesday in a squeaker of a provincial election, out of which the Parti Quebecois returns to power — but at a low wattage.
Pierre Corbeil, the Liberal MNA for the southwestern riding of Abitibi-Est from 2003 to 2007 and 2008 until now, had been Quebec’s minister of agriculture, fisheries and food since February last year and also served as minister responsible for the Abitibi-Temiscamingue and Nord-du-Quebec regions.
Corbeil, a Val d’Or dentist, placed second on Tuesday night against PQ challenger Elizabeth Larouche of Val d’Or, polling 7,653 votes to Larouche’s 8,430.
Pauline Marois’ PQ formed a minority government with 54 of 125 seats and 32 per cent of the popular vote.
The Liberals, by comparison, won 50 seats and 31 per cent of the vote, although their leader and now ex-premier Jean Charest lost his own long-held home riding of Sherbrooke on Tuesday.
Another 19 seats and 27 per cent went to Francois Legault’s Coalition avenir Quebec (CAQ) while two seats (six per cent) went to a fourth party, Quebec solidaire.
Among the PQ’s pledges to the province’s farmers were a new "food sovereignty" policy aimed at raising Quebec-grown foods’ share of the provincial diet to 50 per cent. Marois last month also pledged to spend an extra $20 million per year on agriculture revitalization programming to encourage young farmers into the business.
The PQ has also pledged to rescind the Liberals’ reworking of benefits under the province’s ag income stabilization program (ASRA). Said changes involve cost-of-production models based on an average calculated from the top 75 per cent of the province’s farms in terms of performance, rather than from all Quebec farms.
Former ag critics remain
The PQ’s narrow win also cost the party one of its own most likely candidates for the agriculture minister’s job.
Andre Simard, who’d been the PQ’s MNA for the former riding of Kamouraska-Temiscouata since a 2010 byelection and became the official opposition ag critic in August last year, placed third in the Cote-du-Sud riding with 9,293 votes, well back from the Liberals’ Norbert Morin, who won with 14,038.
Simard, a veterinarian by profession, came to the Quebec assembly after seven years as director-general of the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire at St-Hyacinthe and La Pocatiere. Morin, a butcher by profession, had also served as MNA for the former Montmagny-L’Islet riding from 2003 to 2007 and won back the seat in 2008.
Remaining on the PQ’s ag depth chart, however, are two of its former ag critics.
Sylvain Page easily held his riding of Labelle with 17,446 votes over the CAQ’s Robert Milot with 8,239. Iberville MNA Marie Bouille also defended her seat with 13,780 votes over the CAQ’s Claire Samson with 11,826.
One of Marois’ star candidates, farmer Andre Beaudoin — the secretary general for UPA DI, the international development wing of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) — did not make the cut.
Beaudoin challenged and lost to one of Charest’s cabinet ministers, Julie Boulet, in the Laviolette riding, where he polled 7,788 votes to Boulet’s 10,903.
The upstart CAQ, with 19 seats, wins official party status. Its former ag critic, Janvier Grondin, who previously served as a UPA director and as mayor of St. Jules, did not seek re-election Tuesday, although the party held his riding of Beauce-Nord with candidate Andre Spenard.
Among the few CAQ MNAs with agriculture pedigrees is Sebastien Schneeberger, who held the Drummond-Bois-Francs riding with 14,173 votes over PQ candidate Annie Jean.
Schneeberger, a financial advisor by profession and MNA since 2007, also holds a diploma in dairy production from l’Ecole d’agriculture de Nicolet.
The PQ’s victory party on Tuesday was cut short by a shooting and fire at its election-night headquarters, Metropolis, a concert hall on Montreal’s rue Ste-Catherine.
One person was confirmed dead and another injured by gunfire near the entrance to the building during Marois’ acceptance speech, and firefighters put out a blaze at the same time behind the facility. City police caught and arrested a man at the scene.
In a separate statement in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Marois said all Quebecers mourn in the face of such gratuitous violence.