Jean Talon by-election overshadowed by federal and American races, despite high-profile candidate

Photo: Scott French

Any other year, the provincial by-election in Jean-Talon would be front-page news. With Health Minister Yves Bolduc attempting to legitimize his position in the eyes of the electorate by gaining a seat in the legislature, the campaign has the makings of a juicy story.

This year, however, a sensational presidential election campaign south of the border and Canada’s own federal election campaign underway have shifted the media’s focus away from the provincial capital.

Regardless, Bolduc’s challengers are campaigning hard to leave the newly appointed minister seatless, despite the fact that they are running in a traditionally safe Liberal riding.

“It would be an earthquake, 7.5 on the Richter Scale, if Dr. Bolduc was not elected,” Réjean Pelletier, a
political science professor at Université Laval, commented on the quiet by-election.

The Jean Talon riding has been a Liberal stronghold for over 30 years. In the 1994 and 1998 elections, however, both of which produced Parti Québecois governments, the Liberal candidate Margaret Delisle won the riding by the skin of her teeth – by 25 votes and 156 votes respectively.

Pelletier argued a similarly tight race is unlikely to happen again. “People are satisfied with the Charest government right now,” he said, adding, “We aren’t seeing a lot of wedge issues, and the candidates challenging Mr. Bolduc are also little known in the riding.”

Bolduc’s rival candidates may be increasingly handicapped by the unexpectedly little attention received by the by-election in the press. Two separate political party organizers have confirmed that many voters in Jean Talon are confused between the dates for the federal and provincial elections. If the candidates fail to get their message out, the tradition of voting Liberal will likely prevail in the riding.

While Yvan Dutil may be lesser known in the riding than the health minister, the astro-physicist turned Green Party candidate has no problem going on the attack, singling out the Liberals first and foremost.

“The Liberals are always reacting, they’re just waiting for a crisis,” Dutil said. He cited a number of impending crises in energy, labour and health he felt the Liberal government lacked vision on. In light of these problems, the Green candidate suggested that his party’s sustainable approach to policy-making will be well received.

Dutil proposes extensive public transportation development for commuters, including the development of electric trams and the extension of the city’s bike paths; strategies to encourage talented Montrealers to work in Quebec City; and investments to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Dutil disagrees most strongly with Bolduc regarding the safety and utility of supervised injection sites, which the Green candidate said have the support of the scientific community. Bolduc has argued that there is only one injection site in the country (Vancouver) and it is therefore “too early to take a decision.”

Action Démocratique du Québec candidate Martin Briand has his sights set on the Liberals’ health portfolio as well.

“In 2003, the Liberals said their number one priority was to eliminate waiting times. The average waiting time then was 16 and a half hours, in 2008 the average waiting time is 16 and a half hours,” Briand said, adding, “the wait time for surgeries between 2003 and 2008 has decreased by 2 to 3 per cent.”

Bolduc reasserted that the Liberal government will continue to attack waiting times in emergency rooms. The Liberals plan to increase the number of GMFs (walk-in clinics) from the province’s current total of 163 in order to relieve wait times in hospitals.

The health minister also said that wait times for surgeries will be reduced by outsourcing the surgeries to the private sector. Bolduc assured, however, that these surgeries would be paid for by the government.

Briand, a former researcher in medicine at l’Hopital Laval, said the manner in which the health system is financed needs to be overhauled. Briand argued that historical-based hospital budgets, in which hospitals receive funding based on the previous year’s delivered services, needs to be replaced by the more responsive purchase of services method, whereby funding is provided as services are rendered.

Bolduc said that Briand is “three years late,” suggesting that the government has already adopted a more performance-based method of financing hospitals. “If you do more, you’ll get more money,” Bolduc said.

Repeated attempts to contact the Parti Québécois candidate for an interview did not prove fruitful.

The health minister’s own platform for the Jean Talon riding includes projects such as extending the promenade Samuel de Champlain bike path through Sillery all the way to the Quebec Bridge.

Following a meeting with the English community’s Leadership Table initiative last Friday, Bolduc also expressed interest in expediting the extension of St. Brigid’s Home to allow for new semi-independent seniors apartments to be built.

The meeting was organized by the vice-president of the board of directors for Jeffery Hale Hospital-Saint Brigid’s Home, Richard Walling, after the minister expressed an interest in becoming acquainted with the community’s concerns and projects.

“The minister was interested in the meeting to help us follow through and complete our projects,” Diane Kameen said. Kameen attended the meeting to represent the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec.