Did the 2013 municipal elections destabilize municipal politics in Quebec?

Author:Mevellec, Anne


Could the municipal political scandals uncovered by the Charbonneau Commission exert an influence on a main characteristic of municipal politics: the stability of its politicians? This paper intends to explore this issue during the 2013 Quebec elections. To verify adherence and/or deviation from established trends, we adopt a diachronic view that considers the two previous elections (2005 and 2009). Three factors are taken into consideration when interpreting voter trends: (1) voter participation and the competitiveness of the elections; (2) the role of municipal political parties; and (3) the incumbency advantage. We observed (1) more competitive elections; (2) a shrinking number of political parties but evidences of their general stabilization; (3) a slight renewal of municipal politicians due more to withdrawal from office than to electoral defeat. Finally, our analysis of electoral data also uncovered variable dynamics within Quebec communities of different sizes.

Keywords: municipal election, Quebec, incumbency, municipal political parties


Les elections municipales quebecoises de 2013 se sont tenues dans un climat defavorable aux elus municipaux. Ce contexte peut-il avoir eu une influence sur ce qui caracterise le plus la politique municipale, c'est-a-dire la stabilite de son personnel politique ? Cet enjeu est interroge a partir de trois tendances documentees dans la litterature ; (1) la competitivite des scrutins, (2) la presence des partis politiques municipaux; (3) la prime au sortant. L'analyse des resultats de 2005, 2009 et 2013, nous permet de conclure que: (1) la competitivite des scrutins est de plus en plus forte ; (2) si le nombre des partis politiques a baisse, leur presence est confortee dans les villes moyennes et grandes ; (3) le renouvellement du corps politique est davantage lie au depart de la vie politique d'anciens elus plutot qu'a des votes de sanction. Finalement, l'analyse des donnees montre des tendances differentes selon la taille des municipalites.

Mots cles: elections municipales, Quebec, partis politiques municipaux, prime au sortant


The municipal elections that occurred across Quebec in November 2013 came hot on the heels of a multitude of political scandals at the municipal level on a scale never before seen in Canada. One idea that is frequently circulated (though is yet to be proven) is the notion that political scandals not only repel citizens from participating in municipal democracy, but also destabilize the municipal political landscape. This article seeks to discover if this was indeed the case in Quebec in 2013.

In Canada, municipal elections represent a fairly peripheral subject in both political science and in urban studies (Eidelman and Taylor 2010). While this relegation is not specific to Canada (see e.g., Lehingue 2009), there is currently a widespread surge of interest in this subject owing to major comparative electoral studies in Europe (Back, Heinelt, and Stewart 2006; Guerin and Kerrouche 2008) regarding the professionalization process of local elected officials. The 2013 Quebec municipal elections provide an opportunity to ask similar classic electoral sociology questions within a Canadian context as well.

A brief review of the literature on municipal elections in Canada yields a number of observations. The first is that this subject occupies a residual place in textbooks and works on municipal governance (Tindal and Nobes Tindal 2008; Sancton 2011; Sancton and Young 2009). However, when it does take place, the discussion is most often centred on the

voting system (i.e., the ward vs. the at-large systems). Authors also speak to the presence of municipal political parties in Quebec City, Montreal, and Vancouver, but generally do so to highlight their exceptionality. A number of authors have also made efforts to focus on certain aspects of municipal elections, including the electability of women (Gavan-Koop and Smith 200S) and ethnocultural minorities (Andrew et al. 2008; Simard 2004), as well as on the cost of election campaigns in large metropolises such as Toronto (MacDermid 2009) and Calgary (Young 2008).

Indeed, a majority of the literature deals, for the most part, with municipal politics in markedly metropolitan settings. Thus, provincial capitals are generally well addressed; as an illustration, we can refer to the work of Stanwick (2000) on Toronto and of Cutler and Matthews (2005) on Vancouver. There are fewer works on mid-sized cities, although we can cite the research led by Breux and Bherer (2011) on medium-sized cities in Quebec, or Spicer's (2012) work on Hamilton. However, the 1997 finding of Kushner, Siegel, and Stanwick regarding the absence of generic works on municipalities of all sizes still holds true.

Furthermore, the existing body of literature is dominated by inquiries into the office of the mayor (Siegel, Kushner, and Stanwick 2001; Stanwick 2000; Urbaniak 2009). Notwithstanding some exceptions, very few studies deal with municipal councillors. The exceptions include studies on councillors in Ontario elections (Kushner, Siegel, and Stanwick 1997); the accessibility of municipal councillors in Toronto following amalgamation (Kushner and Siegel 2003); the remuneration of councillors (Schobel 2014); and the role of councillors (Koop 2014; Mevellec 2011). Without denying the contribution and the diversity of these works, it is clear that the study of municipal politics in Canada is dominated by a twofold characteristic--namely (1) a monographic viewpoint that limits the scope of inquiry; and (2) a nearly exclusive focus on large metropolitan cities.

Ultimately, the value of each of these works cannot compensate for the fragmented portrait they provide of municipal politics. However, the province of Quebec offers an opportunity to consider an alternate, less monographic approach. Through the institutional production of election data, it is possible to undertake a longitudinal examination of municipal politics in Quebec and, more broadly, to produce more general knowledge on municipal elections in a transforming world. Indeed, data collected by Quebec's Ministry of Municipal Affairs (i.e., MAMROT) now makes it possible to compare various characteristics of the candidates who ran, both successfully and unsuccessfully, in the 20051, 2009, and 2013 municipal elections in Quebec--that is, for the years in which simultaneous voting was implemented. The availability of this data enables us to break with the notion that municipal elections are merely "second order" elections in order to establish the municipal election process as a legitimate subject of study in itself.

The 2013 Quebec elections are particularly interesting, as they came on the heels of a widespread loss of public confidence in municipal officials. Since 2009, many fraudulent practices tied to the financing of election campaigns and the awarding of municipal contracts have been revealed by the work of the so-called Marteau squad and, subsequently, by the Commission of Inquiry on the Awarding and Management of Public Contracts in the Construction Industry (i.e., the Charbonneau Commission). In 2011, the Government of Quebec passed Bill 109, the Municipal Ethics and Good Conduct Act, which required that municipal councils adopt a code of ethics and that elected officials take training in ethics and professional conduct.

Amid the maelstrom of the Charbonneau Commission, several leading figures in Quebec municipal politics were unseated. Some were removed over criminal charges (e.g., Gilles Vaillancourt, mayor of Laval from 1989-2012; Richard Marcotte, mayor of Mascouche from 1992-2012; and Michael Applebaum, mayor of Montreal from 2012-2013), while others succumbed to political and public pressure and resigned (e.g., Gerald Tremblay, mayor of Montreal from 2002-2012). In addition to uncovering the unsavoury behaviour of individuals, the Charbonneau Commission also provided an opportunity for light to be shed on the previously ambiguous role played by some municipal political parties, particularly those in Montreal and Laval, in the awarding of municipal contracts--and also, unfortunately, in illegal political financing schemes. Public confidence in elected municipal officials suffered greatly across Quebec, as was widely reported in the media in a virtual avalanche of negative press. One Montreal Gazette headline on March 6, 2013 read "Fraud probe sweeps through Montreal city hall," while another on March 19, 2013 claimed that "False invoices lead to cash for political coffers".

Could the municipal political scandals uncovered by the Charbonneau Commission exert an influence on that which primarily characterizes municipal politics: the stability of its politicians? This stability (i.e., the trend of municipal politicians to demonstrate longstanding, consistent involvement in local affairs) has been highlighted in a variety of contexts. For instance, in their research regarding a municipal poll conducted in Europe in 2004, Guerin and Kerrouche (2008: 195) indicate that, "While only a third of all mayors have been in office for over ten years, most have immense experience of public life, [with] two-thirds having been elected to their first position in local government leadership more than ten years earlier." In Canada, Kushner, Siegel, and Stanwick (1997) have addressed this stability in terms of its benefit to the incumbent within the context of Ontario. In Quebec specifically, such stability has also been documented against the background of municipal amalgamations; in particular, both Simard (2004) and Mevellec (2008) have shown that while the municipal elections of 2001 offered a chance for new (and sometimes diverse) candidates to emerge, voters still elected incumbents (2).

This paper intends to explore the stability of municipal politicians during the 2013 Quebec elections. As a baseline, we will use the analyses and results set out in Mevellec (2011)...

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