Régis Labeaume wins mayoral election in a surprise landslide

Photo: Jay Ouellet

Régis Labeaume is Quebec City’s new mayor-elect.

After a bitter month-long political battle, Régis Labeaume was chosen Sunday to become the 37th Mayor of Quebec City. Labeaume earned over 59 per cent of the vote, drubbing his closest competitor and odds-on favourite, Renouveau municipal de Québec (RMQ) leader Ann Bourget, whose meager 32 per cent support surprised even Labeaume.

“By the end of last week, I was quite sure I would win,” explained the mayor-elect, “but not by that margin. It was incredible.”

The former businessman and Université Laval sociologist began the race as a relative unknown, with no experience in municipal politics. Early polls placed him in the middle of the outsized pack of 15 candidates, trailing the RMQ juggernaut by almost 30 points. It wasn’t until the week of the election that a poll in Le Soleil showed the dark-horse Labeaume pulling ahead of Bourget.

Mayoral races are famously volatile. It is not uncommon for support to swing wildly and decisively in the days leading up to an election. This is true in part because voters don’t have as deeply entrenched loyalties to political parties as they do at the provincial or federal levels. Still, some commentators have suggested that the magnitude of Labeaume’s victory augurs doom for the RMQ.

Labeaume, 51, campaigned on a promise to continue the far-reaching overhaul of Quebec City’s economy begun by former mayor Andrée Boucher, who died in office in August of this year. He received the endorsement of the erstwhile mayor’s widower, Marc Boucher.

Since Sunday night’s win, Labeaume has been inundated with media interviews and preliminary policy meetings. “After Sunday, I’ve had a lot of interviews,” Labeaume said wearily. “Now we’re starting to work on the budget, which will be voted on at the end of December. I said a lot of things during the campaign and now I have to deliver the merchandise.”

Labeaume’s first budget should put to rest the debate over whether his aggressive platform could ever be realized. Bourget criticized Labeaume throughout the campaign for what she viewed as the independent’s unrealistically ambitious proposed initiatives — the result, she claimed, of his novice’s understanding of municipal budget constraints.

Such invective characterized, in particular, the final days of the campaign, in which Bourget repeatedly called attention to Labeaume’s inexperience, and Labeaume, in turn, criticized Bourget for being complicit in bringing about the city’s current financial woes.

In keeping with the candidates’ rivalrous relationship, Bourget caused a stir Sunday night when she failed to congratulate Labeaume on his victory during her concession speech.

“[Bourget] did finally call to congratulate me [Monday] afternoon,” Labeaume said. “I didn’t hear her speech, but, you know, the campaign’s over now and I have to put it all behind me.”

Besides Labeaume’s impending budget, one of his first tests as mayor will be the success of the city’s 400th anniversary celebrations. Though the mayor-elect has expressed ambivalence about how the event’s planning has been undertaken so far, he did say that he intends to be the festivities’ “ first promoter. I will love it, I’m sure.”

In conversation with the QCT, Labeaume also reiterated his commitment to Quebec City’s anglophones, promising to continue his “great meetings with the leaders of the English-speaking community.”

Only two other candidates in the race garnered more than one per cent of the vote: former Quebec justice minister Marc Bellemare finished with four per cent of ballots cast, while Claude Larose placed fourth with just over one per cent.

Labeaume will be sworn in as mayor this Saturday, December 11.

Will the NHL be back in Quebec City is my question.