Federal leaders make their pitch at St-Jean-Baptiste festivities

Four federal party leaders were on the ground in Quebec today for the St-Jean-Baptiste celebrations, a sure sign the province is shaping up to be a key battleground in an election still four months away.

Harper attends rally in Beauce, Mulcair and Trudeau take part in Montreal parade

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      Four federal party leaders were on the ground in Quebec today for the St-Jean-Baptiste celebrations, a sure sign the province is shaping up to be a key battleground in an election that is still four months away.

      During an appearance in the Beauce, Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to rally his party's troops in the province, saying they should never let anyone tell them that Conservative values are not Quebec values.

      "When I come to Quebec, I'm often told: 'We want to save more money and pay less taxes, we want more jobs for our families and our community, we want safe neighbourhoods, towns and cities,'" Harper said, flanked by some 50 of the Conservative party's candidates in the province.

      "All these are Conservative values and Conservative policy."

      On a holiday that celebrates Quebec nationalism, the prime minister reminded voters that it was his government which passed a motion recognizing that Quebecers form a nation within a united Canada.

      He courted nationalist voters by saying they are welcome within the Conservative party.

      "For us Conservatives, Quebec nationalism — nationalism that doesn't lead to the impasse of separation — is not a threat. It's an expression of deep pride in a brilliant past and a solid confidence in a promising future.''

      He drew loud applause from the invitation-only crowd when he said Quebecers equally want "new citizens who take oaths with their faces uncovered.''

      The Conservative party currently holds only five of the province's 75 seats and recent polls suggest it faces an uphill fight to improve that count in the Oct. 19 election.

      Participants walk ahead of a float in the St-Jean- Baptiste Day parade in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

      Mulcair, Trudeau in Montreal

      Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair of the NDP and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, both of whom are Quebecers, took part in the annual parade through the streets of downtown Montreal.

      Despite recent polls suggesting his party is slumping, Trudeau said the Liberals stand the best chance of ousting Harper from power.  

      "For too long, Quebecers have chosen opposition parties and it's not just Quebec that has suffered, all of Canada has suffered because Quebec hasn't had its voice in the mix on how Canada is governed," he said. 

      "I am calling on Quebecers to step up once again and form a better government for all Canadians."

      The newly appointed leader of the Bloc Québécois, Gilles Duceppe, and the man he suddenly replaced this month, Mario Beaulieu, were also in attendance.

      While there's speculation Duceppe's return could hurt the NDP in Quebec, Mulcair said the development has "only boosted our support in the English-speaking community."

      "We are very confident not only to maintain the number of seats we have in Quebec, but to increase the number that we have in the next election," he said.

      Street parties across Quebec

      The Montreal parade was one of more than 700 events across Quebec to mark St-Jean-Baptiste day.

      Under a theme that loosely translates as, "Quebec: A land where life is good," more than 1,500 people marched in the parade.

      It was billed as an environmentally friendly festival, with the floats being pulled by cyclists and people on foot.

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          with files from Tanya Birkbeck and The Canadian Press


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