Scheer's Conservatives target Bloc Québécois votes to make gains in Quebec
Party hopes strong candidates and votes from sovereigntists can boost seat count
In a room full of Quebec supporters last week, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer spent the first five minutes of his speech criticizing Justin Trudeau's record.
Scheer was met with applause while he railed against Trudeau's deficit budgets, his failure to live up to promises, and his ethics violations.
Then he turned his attention to another target: the Bloc Québécois.
"It's not the Bloc that's going to replace Justin Trudeau, that's clear. It's not the Bloc that will give you more money in your pocket. Quebecers can only count on us," he said.
"It doesn't matter who the leader is. The Bloc will always be powerless spectators."
His speech, given last week at a rally in Laval, Que., could be a sign of things to come, as political parties jostle for Quebec's 78 ridings. Some races are shaping up to be tight, with Liberal, Conservative, Bloc Québécois and NDP candidates all in play.
Scheer's road to government doesn't necessarily run through Quebec, but a source within his party says the Conservatives are targeting strategic seats in the province, believing that they can capitalize on success the party has enjoyed in and around Quebec City.
While the election has not been called yet, early pre-campaigning indicates the party is looking to attract sovereigntist voters who might otherwise vote Bloc.
Lawn signs specifically prepared for Quebec feature a picture of the candidate — and a background that includes the Quebec flag.
Outside of Quebec, candidate signs don't have any flag at all. In 2015, Conservative Quebec lawn signs featured both the Quebec flag and the Canadian flag.
The Bloc Québécois currently holds 10 seats in Quebec. The Conservative party holds 11, mostly in the Quebec City region.
A party source says the Conservatives will not simply be translating their material from English to French — there will be Quebec-centric messaging for the province in this campaign.
Despite that, they are adamant that they will not say something in French that they wouldn't say in English.
There are Quebec-specific issues. The party has already announced it will campaign for a single tax return in Quebec. The environment will also be more front-and-centre in campaign material.
Gerard Deltell, one of Quebec's Conservative MPs, says they're more than ready to run in Quebec.
"We have never been in a better position than we are now," said Deltell.
He credits the province's "lieutenant," Victoriaville-area MP Alain Rayes, for recruiting strong candidates.
The Conservatives are also the only party to have a full slate of Quebec candidates one week before the election officially begins.
In Trois-Rivières, they've recruited former mayor Yves Lévesque. Olympic medallist Sylvie Fréchette is running in the lower Laurentian riding of Rivière-du-Nord.
A party source says the Conservatives are aiming for seats in the Eastern Townships, the south shore of Quebec City and the central and eastern regions of the province.
But Deltell says he believes seats across Quebec are up for grabs.
"We have great candidates in each and every part of the province and we want to be very competitive in each and every part of the province," Deltell said.
On Monday, Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet stressed his party and the Conservatives have very different goals.
"The Bloc Québécois will not replace Mr. Trudeau in Canada. It does not interest us. The Bloc wants to replace him in Quebec," he wrote on Twitter.