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CAQ threatening Liberal dynasty in Papineau

Polls suggest the riding of Papineau in western Quebec could be prime for a change after 40 years of sending a Liberal to the province's National Assembly.

Latest polls show 2 rivals neck and neck in traditional Liberal stronghold

Signs of disquiet: Polls show Coalition Avenir Québec candidate Mathieu Lacombe threatening the Liberals' 40-year lock on the western Quebec riding of Papineau. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Polls suggest the riding of Papineau in western Quebec could be prime for a change after 40 years of sending a Liberal to the province's National Assembly.

"Papineau does have the potential to swing over to the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)," said CBC pollster Eric Grenier.

Even the Liberal incumbent, Alexandre Iracà, conceded his internal polling shows the race is tight.

Iracà​ has no intention of giving up without a fight, however. He recently made a $170-million campaign promise to widen another 23-kilometre stretch of highway 50, one of the biggest irritants among voters in the region.

But even that promise may not be enough to seal the deal for the Liberals in Papineau.

Incumbent Alexandre Iracà, right, listens to outdoor market owner Pierre Chapdelaine speak during a campaign event where the Liberals announced a plan to widen another stretch of Autoroute 50. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Liberal lock slipping?

The Liberal Party has held all five western Quebec ridings since 1976.

This time, with polls predicting change across the province, Papineau voters are telling pollsters they're flirting with the idea as well.

That's despite Iracà's convincing win of 50 per cent of the vote in 2014, with his CAQ rival coming in third behind the Parti Québécois candidate.

It was a much closer race in the 2012 election when Iracà​ won the riding with fewer than 200 votes.

"So it isn't an area where you'd expect to see a flip, but because of Papineau's history as sometimes a close riding, and its predominantly Francophone population, it does give the CAQ a chance to pick up one seat in west Quebec," Grenier said.

CAQ eyeing Papineau

The CAQ has had its eye on Papineau. Leader François Legault made an early appearance in the riding, using the local candidate's campaign launch to announce plans for a new hospital to serve the region.

The candidate, Mathieu Lacombe, is already known to voters as a former TVA host.

CAQ candidate Mathieu Lacombe, a former television personality, acknowledges he benefits from name recognition on the campaign trail. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

During a door-knocking campaign in the town of Chénéville​, Lacombe said his public profile doesn't hurt.

"Sure, it's easier to begin the conversation because of my past as a reporter and journalist, but this is not what will make me win this election," he said.

At the door, he's quick to highlight the CAQ leader's embrace of federalism. 

"The idea of [whether] Quebec should be a country is not very popular here. I understand that," Lacombe said.

PQ still relevant?

The Parti Québécois candidate, Yves Destroismaisons, said his party is prepared to address both health and education issues in the region, with a focus on attracting the right staffing.

At the door, he said he hears horror stories about voters trying to access health and community services in the riding's rural communities.

Destroismaisons tells voters not to count the party out, despite its poor polling this campaign. 

Parti Québécois candidate Yves Destroismaisons makes his pitch to voters in Saint-André-Avellin, where he was also a candidate for mayor. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Destroismaisons, a former candidate for mayor of Saint-André-Avellin in 2017, is using the party's history of introducing progressive programs such as cheaper daycare to sway voters. To stand out further, he tells voters the Liberals and CAQ are interchangeable, pointing out that several candidates have switched between the two parties.

The candidate for Québec Solidaire, Mélanie Pilon-Gauvin, said she's hearing from a lot of undecided voters at the door.

"People are telling me they don't know for which party they will vote for," said Destroismaisons. "But they say they want change."

Québec Solidaire candidate Mélanie Pilon-Gauvin says voters tell her they're ready for change. (CBC)

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