Independent Verdun candidate tells voters 'call me, seriously'
Julien Côté in LaSalle–Émard–Verdun puts up campaign posters with his phone number
EDITOR'S UPDATE: CBC News has learned Julien Côté is a former spokesperson for a white nationalist group called ID Canada, which was responsible for posters put up in Edmonton in early 2018 claiming an "ethnocide of old stock Canadians" was underway. Côté told CBC he is no longer with the group but stands by the statements he made at that time.
An independent candidate in LaSalle–Émard–Verdun wants to hear from voters in a big way.
Julien Côté has put his phone number front-and-centre on bright yellow campaign signs across the riding, with the tagline: "Call me, seriously."
"People are just calling up!" Côté said in an interview with CBC News. "And I love that. That's the whole idea … I really want to represent what the constituents are concerned about, and I just really need to be in touch. I need to know what people are thinking."
Formerly a computer programmer for the federal government, Côté said that he quit his job so that he could run. This election is his first time throwing his hat into the political ring.
But since starting his campaign on Monday, he said curious residents have been getting in touch. Côté said he's had conversations on everything from GMO labelling to neighbourhood safety — things that he feels are not being discussed by the big political parties.
"There's a palpable sense that people are ready to step outside of the status quo," he said.
"Let's consider something new."
Running a grassroots campaign
Côté said he was inspired to run after the SNC-Lavalin affair, which saw cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould ousted from the Liberal caucus, especially after her own decision to run as an independent candidate.
"This political cycle, there is so much apathy and disgust towards the traditional parties that folks are ready to consider voting for an independent," he said.
Côté argues that candidates running with the major parties may be forced to defend ideas and policies that go against the interest of the people in their ridings, as opposed to someone who is representing the riding on a "community level."
But he acknowledges that he doesn't have the resources of the big parties, either. He's been making his own election signs, and putting them up with his "top volunteer" — his mother.
"This is all really really fresh, and obviously I'm a novice at this," Côté said, laughing.
"But the response that I've been getting is tremendous!"
Despite not having his face on any of his posters, Côté said he's already been recognized in the community. After spending an hour speaking to clients of a local food bank, he said he ran into a man later when putting up posters, and struck up a conversation.
"That's just for being present there, just one day's worth of work," Côté said. "But it's such a wonderful, magical thing."
An uphill battle, says analyst
But that might not be enough to win the seat, said P.J. Fournier, analyst and founder of 338Canada.
"I don't want to discourage anyone to participate in public life," Fournier said. "But if we're talking about odds here, there's very little historical precedent to suggest that an independent candidate can win."
Fournier cited the case of Gilles Bernier, who was re-elected in 1994 as an independent in the Beauce riding, but only after he had already been an MP under the Progressive Conservatives.
"To win you need a split vote," Fournier said. "But right now, the voting intention that we have in Montreal, all around the island, shows that the Liberals have a strong lead."
Fournier said the chances of someone taking one of those seats as an independent were "slim to none."
But Côté said that, despite the odds, he's remaining optimistic about his chances. He believes that few voters are married to any one political party, and that many of them engage in strategic voting to keep out the party they disagree with the most.
"Or they just look at all the parties and hate them all," Côté said.
He hopes to reach those who feel like there isn't a point in voting anymore, and show them that "there is great power in our democratic system."
"And if I can reach these people, enough of them, then I think I have a shot."