Trudeau's Montreal riding mulls idea he will be Liberal leader

Justin Trudeau's Montreal constituents are contemplating the idea their MP is on the verge of becoming the next Liberal leader and a prime-ministerial contender.

Memories of father's legacy still linger in Papineau

Justin Trudeau celebrates his 2008 election win at his campaign headquarters in the Papineau riding. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Justin Trudeau's Montreal constituents are contemplating the idea their MP is on the verge of becoming the next Liberal leader and a prime-ministerial contender.

The results of the party's leadership race will be announced Sunday in Ottawa, a contest Trudeau is widely believed to have all but locked up. Recent polls have suggested the Liberals are climbing their way back into contention, with the help of Trudeau's high-profile candidacy.

The prospect, however, that the man with the famous family roots could be chosen Liberal leader — and eventually, perhaps, prime minister — was met this week with mixed reaction in his Papineau riding.

For Trudeau, political victories in his home riding have always been anything but a sure thing.

The largely lower-middle-class urban area, north of downtown, includes a contingent of voters who have historically supported the pro-independence Bloc Québécois.

Trudeau first won the seat from the Bloc in a tight 2008 race, a margin of victory he widened three years later.

A bedrock of his support is centred in the neighbourhoods that are home to Papineau's big immigrant communities.

"He's our man," said King Kwateng, owner of Produits de Beauté Mama Africaine, a store in the Parc Extension district that specializes in hair products and wigs.

"The first time I saw this guy on television, I said, 'This guy is a future prime minister of Canada.' "

That moment came, Kwateng said, in 2000 when Trudeau delivered the eulogy at the state funeral for his father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Perched on a shelf in Kwateng's cramped office at the back of his store are two framed photos of Justin Trudeau and a greeting card featuring a picture of the MP's family.

The framed photos show Trudeau attending a local Ghanaian celebration at a park a few years ago.

Inside a nearby coffee shop, George Georgiou estimates that 90 per cent of the area's Greek population backs Trudeau, himself included.

Georgiou, who moved to Parc Extension from Greece more than 40 years go, said people here like Trudeau because of his energy and his bloodline.

"I would say among the immigrants like us ... Trudeau is very popular," said Georgiou, who used to carry around a photo of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in his jacket pocket.

But he predicts that same lineage to be a major obstacle for his MP across Quebec, and in the riding, during any Trudeau bid for the prime ministership in the 2015 election.

Overcoming a father's legacy

Further east in Papineau, Pierre Elliott Trudeau's legacy during constitutional battles is still deeply unpopular among some voters.

Many in the riding's Villeray neighbourhood remain skeptical of his 41-year-old son's abilities and shudder at the thought of another Trudeau eventually becoming prime minister.

"I hope it doesn't happen," said Christiane Vogel, as she walked near Trudeau's riding office.

"I don't support Justin Trudeau at all. I don't think he has enough experience, he's not ready to do it."

She added that many of her neighbours — in an area she considers Bloc-friendly — associate him with his father, a man they believe failed to do what was right for the Quebec nation.

Compact district

At just nine square kilometres in size, Papineau covers the smallest area of any electoral district in Canada.

But the riding, which includes part of Pierre Elliott Trudeau's old Mount Royal constituency, has been ground zero for big electoral fights in recent years.

Trudeau defeated popular Bloc incumbent Vivian Barbot in 2008 by fewer than 1,200 votes. He captured less than 42 per cent of the total ballots versus nearly 39 per cent for Barbot.

The win reclaimed the riding for the Liberals, who had held Papineau for decades before losing it to Barbot in 2006.

In 2011, Trudeau increased his margin of victory to more than 4,300 ballots when he beat New Democrat runner-up Marcos Radhames Tejada. Barbot finished a close third in an election that saw the Liberals reduced to third-party status.

"It should have been one of the first ridings to drop to the orange wave," Trudeau said during a recent appearance at McGill University about holding off the NDP's 2011 surge in Quebec.

"Instead, I tripled my margin of victory."

The NDP was asked by The Canadian Press for an interview with Tejada or someone in Papineau who could discuss Trudeau's riding work. But the party did not provide anyone for comment.

A spokesman for the Bloc, meanwhile, said his party was rebuilding in Papineau and could not line someone up from the area to talk about Trudeau. He said Barbot had retired and could not be reached for comment.

Another political accomplishment Trudeau has reminded his audiences about was his hard-fought feat of securing the Papineau Liberal nomination in 2007 over strong candidates from the community.

Time for constituents

The co-ordinator of a umbrella group for community organizations in Villeray credited Trudeau for being available to the people of Papineau despite a busy schedule.

Andres Fontecilla, who heads the Conseil communautaire Solidarités Villeray, ran provincially in the area last year for the small, pro-independence party Québec solidaire.

He said many people here cast votes based on the candidate's track record, even if it clashes with their personal beliefs on the constitutional question.

"It's not an automatic Liberal riding. You have to fight to have these ridings and I think this is something that people appreciate (about Trudeau)," he said.

"(Barbot) was very popular, it wasn't easy for Mr. Justin Trudeau."

Back in Parc Extension, Kwateng boasts that he advised Trudeau in 2008 to never forget the people who elected him, even if his responsibilities eventually expanded elsewhere in the country.

"He's the people's man because he always comes around (to) talk to the people in the riding," Kwateng said.

"So, I think if he becomes prime minister he will have time to visit us."

At only nine square kilometres, Papineau covers the smallest area of any electoral district in the country. (CBC/Elections Canada)