Montreal

Conservatives hoping Quebec nationalist vote will win them hotly disputed byelection

A federal byelection Monday in Quebec is shaping up as a test of the new Conservative strategy of drawing Quebec nationalists, who voted Bloc Québécois or NDP in the past, into their fold.

Leaders of 4 main parties campaigned on Thursday in final push before Monday vote

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, shakes hand with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer at the start of the Defi Pierre Lavoie, a 1000-km bicycle trek, Thursday, June 14, 2018 in Saguenay, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

A federal byelection Monday in Quebec is shaping up as a test of the new Conservative strategy of drawing Quebec nationalists, who voted Bloc Québécois or NDP in the past, into their fold.

The race in the riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, located about 200 kilometres north of Quebec City, is hotly contested. 

Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh, leaders of the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic parties, were all campaigning there Thursday. So too was Bloc Québécois president Mario Beaulieu.

The Conservatives are hoping the recent defection of Michel Gauthier will help their cause. 

Gauthier was the longtime Bloc MP for the neighbouring riding of Roberval, as well as being the Bloc's House leader and, briefly, its leader.

But Gauthier announced last month that he had given up on the goal of Quebec independence, and joined the Conservatives.

Former Bloc Québécois leader Michel Gauthier standing with Conservative members at a Tory meeting in Saint-Hyacinthe, May 12, 2018. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

He says the Liberals and NDP want to centralize power in Ottawa and only the Conservatives respect Quebec's jurisdiction.

"It is very good for us," Richard Martel, the Conservative candidate in Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, said of Gauthier's decision. "People are joining us."

Martel favours "a strong Quebec in a Canada we love."

"I am a nationalist, a federalist," he said.

Who's who?

A Segma Recherche poll for Radio-Canada and the daily newspaper Le Quotidien suggests Martel enjoys a strong lead heading into Monday's vote.

As former coach of the local major junior hockey team, the Saguenéens de Chicoutimi, Martel is well-known and well-liked in the riding.

In fact, Martel is more popular than Andrew Scheer, said Dominik Fortin, a radio host in Saguenay who has been following the race.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, right, and Saguenay-Le Fjord candidate Richard Martel eat poutine at the famous Boivin cheese counter while campaigning Thursday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

When people see Scheer campaigning with Martel, they say, "Who is that guy with Richard Martel?" Fortin, the morning host of KYK 95,7 Radio X in Saguenay, told Radio-Canada.

Lina Boivin, a local business woman running for the Liberals, remains largely unknown, he said.

Boivin joined Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, Thursday at the start of the Grand Défi Pierre Lavoie, a 1,000-kilometre bicycle trek across the province.

When Boivin is with Trudeau, Fortin said, the crowd reaction is, "Who is that woman with Justin Trudeau?"

Trudeau is a political "rock star" in the region, he said. The prime minister's support for the region's aluminum smelting industry amid the ongoing trade dispute with the U.S., including standing up to President Donald Trump, have not gone unnoticed.

But Martel is a local star and he started campaigning in December, shortly after Denis Lemieux, elected as the riding's Liberal MP in the 2015 election, resigned for "family reasons."

Boivin only started her campaign in the spring.

Poll suggests Tories pulling ahead

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord has voted Liberal, Conservative and Social Credit in the past. It was held by the Bloc before 2011, when it was swept up in the NDP's Orange Wave.

Éric Dubois, the NDP candidate this time, is hoping Singh can give his chances a lift. "Under his turban, there are ideas, and they are good ideas," Dubois told Le Quotidien.

But in the Segma poll, which was conducted between June 7-11, the NDP's share of decided voters was only 6.2 per cent.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to workers and reporters at a news conference during a visit of the Rio Tinto AP60 aluminum plant Monday, March 12, 2018 in Saguenay Que. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, and Dubuc MNA Serge Simard, right, look on. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Catherine Bouchard-Tremblay, candidate for the embattled Bloc Québécois, scored 8.7 per cent

Ottawa's intention to legalize marijuana has been one of the main issues in the byelection. 

Boivin has been arguing it is to better to legalize the drug "to protect our children," while Martel stresses the conflict between Ottawa and Quebec over how that should happen.

The Quebec legislature recently adopted a law that includes prohibitions on home-grown marijuana. Ottawa insists that its own law, which would allow home-grown pot, will take precedence when it's passed.

Trudeau also opposes Quebec's efforts to collect all income tax in the province, saying 1,000 federal  jobs at the Jonquière income tax centre would be in danger.

The Conservatives, though, support the idea. Martel noted the National Assembly recently passed a unanimous motion calling for the province to collect both federal and provincial income taxes.

"When Quebec votes something unanimously, we should listen," Martel said.

With files from Radio-Canada

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