Municipal elections were held across Quebec yesterday, and with the votes more or less counted, I have a couple of thoughts about the results, at least here in the Pontiac MRC.
First, voter turnout was crazy high in some places. I’m used to turnout for municipal elections hovering somewhere between 30 and 40 percent—and in Quebec’s larger cities that seems to have been the case: 36.6 percent in Montréal, 35.1 percent in Gatineau. But around here the turnout has been a lot higher in some communities—thanks, I suspect, to some closely fought races.
The overall average for the Pontiac MRC was 48.4 percent, but that includes municipalities where the only ballot was for the warden. In Shawville, where the mayor’s job and five out of six council seats were contested, turnout was 56.2 percent. I thought that was high until I saw comparable or higher numbers elsewhere: 57.4 percent in Bryson, 57.3 percent in Fort-Coulonge, 69.5 percent (!) in Île-du-Grand-Calumet.
But most astonishing were some of the MRC’s tiniest villages where the raw vote numbers were absolutely miniscule but turnout was off the charts: Portage-du-Fort, 217 registered voters, 164 votes or 75.6 percent; Rapides-des-Joachims, 122 registered voters, 96 votes or 78.7 percent. Rapides had a four-way race for mayor, the winner of which got all of 35 votes.
It’s a truism that people aren’t as engaged in politics at the municipal level, but that really hasn’t been the case here. I don’t know what in particular made this year different (or rather: I have a pretty good idea but I’m not sure why it is), but I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm for local politics; here in Shawville we’ve been fairly deluged with brochures and a steady stream of candidates at the door (we subjected most of them to good long chats about why they were running, but then again we knew them already).
Two, the warden’s race—only the second time the warden has been directly elected—revealed local strongholds for each candidate. Jane Toller, the incumbent, won over Mike McCrank, a former mayor and warden from the days when mayors selected the warden from amongst themselves, by a margin of 337 votes: 3.301 to 2,964, or 47.3 percent to 52.7 percent. On Facebook, local radio station CHIP-FM posted a chart showing the breakdown of the vote by municipality. The chart revealed that each candidate enjoyed overwhelming support from their home turf.
For Toller, that stronghold was Fort-Coulonge, where she owns the Spruceholme Inn, and surrounding Mansfield-et-Pontefract: she built up a margin of 714 votes over McCrank in those two municipalities. For McCrank, a former mayor of Litchfield and former warden from the days when mayors selected the warden from amongst themselves, that stronghold was his own municipality of Litchfield plus nearby Bryson and Campbell’s Bay: his margin over Toller in those three municipalities was 356.
Even more interesting is that the two candidates fought each other to a virtual tie in the 13 remaining municipalities: only 21 votes separated them outside their home territories. What kept Toller in her position was essentially that her home turf was more populous than McCrank’s: Fort-Coulonge and Mansfield are the third-largest and largest communities in the Pontiac MRC, and she won three-quarters of the vote there.