The provincial wing of the New Democratic Party (NDPQ) is looking to reassert its presence, ahead of the upcoming general election currently scheduled for October 1, by holding an English-language leadership debate in the West Island.

Candidates Raphaël Fortin and Raymond Côté spoke at John Abbott College Saturday about their visions to re-establish the party's roots in Quebec, after an extended absence.

The NDP in Quebec will run candidates for office for the first time in over a decade, but both Fortin and Côté remained tight lipped about strategy, focusing for now on clinching the leadership.

An earlier provincial NDP separated from the federalist NDP in 1989, and changed its name to the Parti de la democratie socialiste (PDS). The PDS would later become a founding pillar of Québec solidaire.

Raphael Fortin

Raphael Fortin is running for the NDPQ leadership. (CBC)

Fortin spoke about building a base for the party — now the fifth party competing for seats in the National Assembly — but admitted that the road ahead would be a difficult one.

"I'm conscious that it's going to be hard for the next election," said Fortin. "Maybe in eight years, or 10 years, we can expect to be a big force in the province."

He says that the NDP in Quebec offers a new choice for people who are left-leaning but don't support the sovereignty movement.

"There's at least 35 per cent of the population who don't recognize themselves in any party," said Fortin. "It's a new option for those who feel lonely in the political square."

Raymond Côté

Raymond Côté, who was elected as an NDP MP in 2011, is also running for the provincial leadership. (CBC)

His competitor, Côté, ran for the NDP federally and was elected to the House of Commons as an MP for Beauport—Limoilou during the Orange Wave.

Côté agrees that a renewed presence in the province's political sphere is for the best, but he maintains that he's the man for the job.

"It's a good challenge for me, with my vision for the future," he said. "I have four years on the hill."

He says his plan for the party would have it become "visible for all of the population, to propose real solutions for big issues."

A challenge ahead

Christian Bourque, vice president of Leger, told CBC that it won't be easy to corner a significant share of voters but that some areas might prove a more strategic place to start.

"The Southwest of Montreal is probably the best breeding ground for the NDP [in] Quebec, because of the linguistic composition of these ridings and because they have always been sort of left-of-centre ridings," he said.

Pulling votes away from the Liberals will prove a challenge though: A recent Leger polls says 73 per cent of non-francophones plan on voting Liberal. 

NDP Quebec is expected to choose their new leader in late January.

With files from Navneet Pall