Marine Le Pen the untouchable?
Leader of France's far-right Front National party struggling to find anyone to meet with her in Quebec
The proverbial 10-foot pole has become a popular approach for Quebec politicians in dealing with the leader of France's far-right party, who arrived in Montreal on Friday.
- Quebec politicians slam Marine Le Pen's visit
- Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right Front National, visits Quebec
Marine Le Pen may be among France's most popular politicians — polls suggest she has enough support to make the run-off stage in the country's next presidential election — but she has yet to secure a meeting with a mainstream political figure in Canada.
That hasn't stopped her from wading into federal and provincial politics, sending politicians scurrying for cover.
Canada's immigration policy an 'error'
At a news conference in Quebec City on Sunday, Le Pen criticized Canada's immigration policy, calling it an "error" to admit 25,000 Syrian refugees.
"A multicultural society is a conflicted society," she said during the news conference.
Le Pen described the current situation in France as warning for Canadians.
"We put out a welcome sign, but what conditions await them? The slums of Calais? This is a policy that makes no sense and is dangerous," she said referring to a large informal refugee camp near the tunnel underneath the English Channel.
Le Pen has had trouble finding a receptive audience since she arrived in Quebec. A small group of protesters disrupted her Sunday news conference, shouting and unfurling banners with anti-fascist messages.
"Away children, go back to bed," she told the protesters, saying their behaviour was "unacceptable in a democracy."
PKP 'shocked' at meeting
Le Pen did manage to meet with people claiming to be from the Parti Québécois on Saturday. She told Radio-Canada that she has supporters within the party.
"The PQ is diverse and vast," Le Pen said. "It's not monolithic."
PQ's leader Pierre Karl Péladeau quickly took to Facebook to dissociate himself from Le Pen, saying he was "shocked" that anyone from his party would meet with her.
The Front National's values "are diametrically opposed to the values of the Parti Québécois," Peladeau said.
Premier Philippe Couillard has stated outright he won't meet with her during her stay. Federal politicians of all stripes have said the same.
Complicating that task, though, is that Le Pen is in Canada as part of an economic trade mission headed by the European Parliament, of which she is a member.
The mission has meetings planned with federal International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, as well as Quebec's economic development minister, Dominique Anglade. It also has a meeting scheduled this week with Bombardier.
The offices of both Freeland and Anglade have said that while they will meet with the trade mission, Le Pen will not be present.
'Why would we do this?'
The 10-foot-pole approach is probably the safest political strategy for dealing with Le Pen, according to Donald Cuccioletta, an international relations professor at the Université du Québec en Outaouais.
"If ever one of our political parties, one of our political leaders met with her, even if it's just a personal meeting, a one-on-one, and being polite, the reaction would be really, really negative," Cuccioletta said. "Why would we do this?"
Though Le Pen is noted for having moderated, somewhat, the views of the party she took over from her father, her anti-immigrant rhetoric is often described by observers as thinly-veiled racism.
But with the European Union struggling to decide how to cope with the influx of refugees from the Syrian civil war, Le Pen's message has found significant support in France.
Whether it is enough to win the presidency, though, is another question. France's political parties have, in the past, banded together to prevent the Front National from making serious electoral gains.
Le Pen is scheduled to give another news conference in Montreal on Tuesday. Later in the week she will head to the French islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon, just off the coast of Newfoundland.
with files from Kalina Laframboise, Elysha Enos