Departure of former Conservative minister Denis Lebel sets up intriguing Quebec byelection: Hbert

With the resignation on Monday of former Conservative minister Denis Lebel, all is in place for a mid-mandate testing of the federal waters in Quebec. With three of the four opposition parties featuring new leaders, the byelection to be held in the riding of Lac-Saint-Jean — possibly before the end of the year — will be a must-watch.But first a word on the departing Lebel: Prior to serving as deputy leader to Rona Ambrose over the interim period that led to Andrew Scheer’s election as leader, Lebel was Stephen Harper’s last Quebec lieutenant. His early departure from the federal scene had been expected. Opposition politics was not his cup of tea. Nor for that matter would playing second fiddle to the new leader’s lieutenant have been.A man who does not make enemies easily, Lebel can take some of the credit for a larger and qualitatively stronger Quebec caucus than the one he initially joined in 2007. Few MPs on either side of the House can boast as cordial a relationship with Philippe Couillard’s government as Harper’s former Quebec point man.It is an open secret that the premier would like to recruit Lebel to run under the provincial Liberal banner in next year’s Quebec election. But Lebel claims he is done with politics for the foreseeable future. That may change depending on how the wind is blowing in the lead-up to the provincial campaign.And now on to the riding Lebel is about to relinquish and the unpredictable outcome of the upcoming byelection fight.Article Continued BelowFor his first electoral test in Quebec, incoming Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has his work cut out for him.On the plus side, the party has deeper roots in Lac-Saint-Jean than in most other Quebec ridings. Under Brian Mulroney, the Tories used to paint the region blue. Lebel, himself, has served for an uninterrupted decade in the House of Commons.But his election scores speak to the diminishing Quebec returns the Conservatives recorded over the Harper era. Lebel was first elected in a 2007 byelection with 60 per cent of the vote. By 2015, that share was down to 33 per cent. These days the Conservative party is running in fourth place provincewide.