Julia Sanchez to carry NDP banner in Tom Mulcair's Outremont seat

Julia Sanchez is getting ready for a fierce battle to hold the Montreal riding of former NDP leader Tom Mulcair.

Former NDP leader will officially resign his Montreal seat this summer

Julia Sanchez will try to hold onto the Montreal seat of Outremont for the NDP after Tom Mulcair officially steps aside. (CBC News)

The seeds of the NDP's 'Orange Wave' in Quebec were planted with Tom Mulcair's 2007 breakthrough in the Montreal riding of Outremont. Julia Sanchez wants to keep it in the NDP's column.

Sanchez, a political novice with a background in the humanitarian sector, will be the party's candidate for Mulcair's seat when a byelection is called, likely later this fall.

The riding has had symbolic meaning for New Democrats in Quebec ever since Mulcair won the traditionally Liberal fortress over a decade ago. That's increasing the pressure on the party to hold Outremont when a new vote is held.

A newcomer to politics, Sanchez said that she knows she has big shoes to fill — those of an experienced MP with a high profile in Quebec politics.

"I am very aware that it will not be easy. It doesn't scare me. I am someone who is used to taking on big challenges," said Sanchez in an interview with Radio-Canada.

"We have some catching up to do, we have a lot of work to do. I'm ready.

"I'm taking nothing for granted. I know that the party needs some good news in Quebec. That motivates me."

Sanchez's candidacy will have to be made official by a vote of local party members, which will take place at the end of August. But the vote is merely a formality. Sources say that she is the party's choice and no other candidate has expressed interest in the nomination.

No date has been set yet for the byelection in Outremont but it's likely to be held in the fall, after the Quebec provincial election. Mulcair already has announced that he will not be returning to Ottawa in September, when Parliament reconvenes.

A test for the NDP

​The NDP's Quebec caucus is nervous about next year's federal election. The byelection could serve as a test of how deep the party's roots run in Quebec after the losses it suffered in 2015.

"It will give us a check-up on the health of the NDP in Quebec," said NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice. "It's a symbolic place. Outremont is where Thomas Mulcair's breakthrough happened. We are aware that it was a château fort for the Liberals for years.

"The battle will be difficult. Justin Trudeau's Liberals are pretty high in the polls. It will take a big effort like in the 2007 byelection."

Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair first won the Outremont riding in a 2007 byelection but will be officially resigning the seat this summer. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The New Democrats have not posted strong results in recent byelections in Quebec. The party took 11.7 per cent of the vote in the riding of Lac-Saint-Jean last fall, 8.6 per cent in Chicoutimi–Le Fjord in June and just 7.8 per cent in Saint-Laurent in April 2016.

The Outremont byelection also will serve as an opportunity to measure how Quebec voters view Jagmeet Singh, leader of the federal NDP since October. Sanchez said she recognizes there's a certain "resistance" to the new leader in Quebec, but is convinced that things will improve once he becomes better known.

"I think that we are all looking forward to seeing him in Parliament," she said.

After initially opening the door to being a candidate in Outremont, it now appears likelier that Singh will put his name forward in a safer seat like the B.C. riding of Burnaby South, where opposition to the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline could play in the NDP's favour. NDP MP Kennedy Stewart said he will resign the seat this summer and mount a bid to be mayor of Vancouver.

Back to Outremont

Sanchez has lived in the riding before and will be returning to Outremont starting on Saturday to get to work on her campaign. She has lived in Ottawa for the last seven years; she said she doesn't see this as a handicap and believes she can establish a connection with voters in the riding.

She said she plans to focus on issues like inequality, women's rights and the environment. A Peruvian immigrant who arrived in Canada at the age of two months, Sanchez said she is certain that she will be well-received in a diverse riding like Outremont.

Sanchez said she wants to force the Liberals to respect their election promises. She said that constituents need an MP "who will push the Liberals to deliver on their promises and the commitments they made."

Sanchez recently left a position as president of the Canadian Council of International Co-operation which she'd occupied since 2011. Over her long career in the humanitarian sector she has supervised development projects in countries such as Bolivia, Guatemala, Nepal and India.

She also has participated in international campaigns in the fight against climate change. Sanchez previously worked for the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation and collaborated with Oxfam in India and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Liberals already campaigning

The Liberals will put in a serious effort to win the riding back for the party. The vote for the Liberal nomination is not yet scheduled but a few interested candidates have already started knocking on doors.

Rachel Bendayan, a lawyer who has worked as a ministerial chief of staff in the Trudeau government, is taking another run at the nomination. In the federal election in 2015, she took 33.5 per cent of the vote, placing her 11 percentage points behind Mulcair.

Kimberley Manning, a political science professor at Concordia University, also has announced her intention to run for the Liberal nomination.

The Conservatives have opened nominations for the riding, but have not yet chosen a date for the vote.

With files from Éric Grenier