Marie-Josée Savard, right, reacts on stage during her speech after she thought she had won the race for mayor of Quebec City on Nov. 7, 2021. Television networks declared Savard the winner of the mayoral race in Quebec's second largest city around 30 minutes after polls closed. Savard delivered a victory speech around an hour later, but Bruno Marchand ended up winning by 739 votes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Quebec City mayoral candidate concedes after celebrating victory on election night

Quebec City mayoral candidate concedes after celebrating victory on election night

MONTREAL — Two Quebec television networks have apologized after sparking a premature victory speech Sunday night when they declared the wrong candidate the winner in the Quebec City mayoral race.

TVA and Radio-Canada declared Marie-Josée Savard the next mayor of the Quebec capital after she surged to a commanding lead around half an hour after polls closed at 8 p.m.

The declarations were followed by a congratulatory tweet from Quebec Premier François Legault, who said he was looking forward to working with Savard.

Savard, who had been endorsed by longtime Quebec City mayor Régis Labeaume after he declined to seek another term, gave a victory speech to cheering supporters.

“I can’t wait to be sworn in to continue to work and to change offices, because I’m right beside the mayor’s,” said a jubilant Savard, who had been the vice-president of the city’s executive committee. But as votes continued to be counted, the race gradually tightened.

By 11 p.m., Bruno Marchand had inched into the lead and Legault had deleted his congratulatory tweet, posting another saying he’d spoken too soon and would wait for the final results before congratulating the winner.

On Monday morning, with all polling stations reporting and Marchand ahead by739 votes, Savard conceded and her party congratulated Marchand in a statement.

The dramatic turn of events prompted apologies from broadcasters.

“Our decision desk rigorously followed the usual process,” Luce Julien, Radio-Canada’s executive director of news and current affairs, said in a statement. “We will look for the answers to all our questions to explain what happened.”

Later Monday, the public broadcaster blamed the error on the large number of advance votes counted early in the night, combined with a larger than expected change in the trend of the race.

“Our system isn’t infallible, but what happened last night remains an exceptional situation,” it said.

TVA News also issued a statement apologizing for the error.

“At the time Ms. Savard was declared elected, a significant number of (polling stations) had been counted and the trend was holding. She was more than 5,000 votes ahead. When the trend reversed itself, we corrected the situation,” the network said. “Like all media, we declare candidates elected based on trends. We are sorry for this regrettable situation.”

In his victory speech late Sunday, Marchand, the former director of the regional United Way, also apologized — for the fact his supporters had to wait so long for the good news.

“Is your heart still holding up?” he joked. “What an evening! Thank you for your patience.”

In Montreal, a similar reversal took place in the race for mayor of the city’s most populous borough. Media declared former city council opposition leader Lionel Perez the winner in Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. But when counting finished on Monday, Gracia Kasoki Katahwa, a member of mayor-elect Valérie Plante’s Projet Montréal party, had won by 177 votes.

Ensemble Montréal, the municipal party led by Denis Coderre, did not respond to a request for comment about whether Perez would concede the race or seek a recount.

Montreal’s boroughs are a sub-municipal level of government that are responsible for snow removal, waste collection and some urban planning. Borough mayors also sit on Montreal city council.

Despite Savard’s loss, Sunday’s election was a success for many women in Quebec’s big cities. Five of the province’s 10 largest cities saw women mayors elected.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2021.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press