The New Democrats' sliding fortunes in Quebec prompted the incumbent here, Pierre Nantel, to defect to the Greens on the eve of the election call. The riding of Longueuil-Saint-Hubert is just one of a long list of NDP-held seats that the Liberals have targeted.
Trudeau will also have to tread carefully when it comes to Quebec Premier François Legaults Coalition Avenir Québec government. There are pressures from the left of the (Liberal) party and from some people outside of Quebec to criticize Bill 21, the new provincial law that bans some government employees, including new teachers, from wearing religious symbols. The issue flared in the first week of the campaign. Trudeau reiterated his opposition to Bill 21 and did not close the door to a federal challenge to Bill 21. That irked Legault, who had urged federal politicians to butt out. On Friday, Legault said it will be up to Quebecers to decide who to trust on secularism — him or Trudeau. The CAQs decision to slash immigration has also sparked controversy. But, Béland noted, if you want to go after francophone votes (in Quebec), you have to be very careful how you play your cards, especially when dealing with Legaults government, which remains quite popular.
Quebec voters challenge Justin Trudeau over his stance on Bill 21
"All Canadians have a clear choice to make," Trudeau told a crowd of supporters at candidate Réjean Hébert's campaign office Friday. "Do we continue to move forward? Do we continue to do the hard work together? Or do we go backwards? Do we go back to the Stephen Harper approach?"
Canada votes 2019: What each leader must do to win in Quebec
Harper isn't on the ballot of course. But Trudeau wants Canadians to think of Harper when they see Andrew Scheer.
The opening days of this campaign saw Trudeau repeat that message at rallies in NDP-held ridings in Vancouver and Edmonton and on the doorstep of the Montreal-area riding held for the NDP by Hélène Laverdière, who isn't running again. Trudeau was introduced at the Montreal rally by environmentalist Stephen Guilbeault, a prime spot for the Liberals' high-profile candidate.
Trudeau rolled out his policy announcements in Esquimalt, B.C., and Trois-Rivières, Que. — where New Democrats are the incumbents.
But at nearly each of these stops, there have been signs of the challenges Trudeau faces in wooing enough progressive voters to swing these seats.
Trudeau's rally speech in Vancouver Kingsway drew a crowd of more than a thousand supporters. But amidst the cheering, the Liberal leader was interrupted by a shouting Harrison Johnston. The 19-year-old Johnston is one of many opponents of the TMX pipeline in the greater Vancouver area.
In the 2015 election, Trudeau surpassed expectations in Quebec, winning 40 seats in the province. “This time around they might be able to actually increase that number if they can pick up the NDP seats that are very likely to fall,” Béland said. To make gains, Trudeau must “show that he cares about the environment because there is in Quebec, on the left at least, a negative reaction to the decision to buy (the) Trans Mountain (oil pipeline).” His green and progressive credentials are critical “because the Greens and the NDP could steal votes away from the Liberals, which in some ridings could help the Bloc.”
Johnston will vote for the first time in this election — his shouted question to Trudeau made it clear it won't be for the Liberals.
“If the majority of people believe that he’s really overtly racist, he will be repellent. So he needs to find a way to show that he’s not necessarily against immigration in general, but he wants to reduce it,” he added. “He has to find a way to look like someone who’s not totally toxic. He’s not entirely toxic but at the same time, he sends messages to people on the far right and he’s attracting support from people who are racist. Some of his statements have been shocking. He’s maybe trying to have some Trump effect, hoping wedge issues will help him. But so far, it hasn’t worked that well.”
"In 11 years, when it's going to be the tipping point whether climate change becomes irreversible or not, will he be able to look his kids in the eye and tell them he did everything he could?" Johnston said after the rally.
The Liberals held a rally in Edmonton Strathcona because New Democrat Linda Duncan isn't running again, and they see a rare chance for a pickup in Alberta. But Liberal staff and security had to remove an angry heckler from the crowd as Trudeau was speaking.
Outside the Westbury Theatre that housed the rally, a crowd led by the United We Roll convoy organizer Patrick King voiced their displeasure with Trudeau's approach to the oil sector.
The Bloc has its challenges. In places like Montreal, many progressive voters who once opted for the Bloc have drifted to other parties. Then there’s the sovereignty issue. “Quite a few nationalists are not too happy about the Bloc and the fact that they have been in Ottawa for a long time and it hasn’t really promoted sovereignty in any significant way,” Béland said. “Support for sovereignty is really low now. And I think that’s the biggest challenge: How do you run your sovereignist party when people don’t really want to talk about sovereignty?”
In Quebec, Trudeau was asked repeatedly about difficult political issues such as Bill 21, the province's controversial secularism bill.
Trudeau has condemned the bill as discriminatory, but said the federal government wouldn't intervene in the legal challenges.
In Trois-Rivières, though, Trudeau said he wouldn't rule out intervening in the future — as Conservative Leader Scheer has done — calling it "irresponsible" to do so because Bill 21 deals with fundamental rights and freedoms
The Bloc has wobbled in recent years. Martine Ouellet’s rocky tenure as leader led to an internal revolt; the sovereignist party almost collapsed. In January, a new leader took the helm: former Parti Québécois minister Yves-François Blanchet. Since Gilles Duceppe left in 2015, the Bloc has not had “a steady, strong leader. Blanchet is certainly a stronger leader and more effective than Ouellet. He’s an experienced politician. He doesn’t rock the boat (internally).”
"You know telling the truth has always a price," Hébert told reporters. "But we have to take positions. We have to take clear positions."
The Liberals' clear position, at least in the first 72 hours of this campaign, is that their path to a second majority relies heavily on gains at the NDP's expense.
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TORONTO — Quebecs ban on religious symbols is a lifeline for the Bloc Quebecois and a hell of a problem for the federal Liberals in the upcoming election, according to noted election watchers.
Pollster Nik Nanos said its imperative for the Liberals to pick up seats in Quebec that are currently held by the NDP and used to be Bloc strongholds. The Bloc will also be vying hard for those seats, setting up an interesting showdown over secularism and Quebec sovereignty.
According to a conservative nationalist reading of the past, this culture is defined by the solidarity forged among francophones fighting for their survival. And the legacy of this solidarity is a willingness to value collective rights over individual ones.
These are rural Quebec seats where nationalist sentiment runs strong, where support for the ban is strong and Im not sure the Liberals can effectively square the circle on being opposed to the ban, and then asking those very same voters to support the Liberals, said Nanos on the latest Trend Line podcast.
Nanos says it could be a stink bomb issue for the Liberals and he expects the Bloc will bombard voters with warnings that Trudeau will lie low on Bill 21 during the election, but will mount a court challenge if the Liberals get back in power.
This Bill 21 and the religious symbols is a lifeline to the Bloc Quebecois. It gives them something to talk about. It allows them to attack Ottawa.
The Bloc can go after both the Liberals and the NDP, says Nanos, because the NDP is firmly against the ban. Leader Jagmeet Singh, who wears a turban himself, called it state-sanctioned discrimination on day one of the election campaign.
Bill 21 prohibits people in positions of public authority from wearing religious symbols while at work. It would prevent a teacher, police officer or judge from wearing a hijab or turban, for example. Provincial legislators say it ensures religious neutrality and secularism in the public service.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have filed a legal challenge, arguing the bill is unconstitutional.
Im totally against Bill 21. I dont think that in a free society we shouldnt legitimize or allow discrimination against anyone, Trudeau said Wednesday as he kicked off Liberal election campaign.
He said the court challenge shows the system is working as it should and that it would be counterproductive for Ottawa to intervene in a provincial debate.
At a campaign announcement in Quebec on Friday, however, Trudeau did not rule out a federal challenge.
I will highlight that were not going to close the door on intervening at a later date because I think it would be irresponsible for a federal government to close the door to intervention ever on a matter that does touch fundamental freedoms.
Former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe told CTVs Power Play Thursday that Bill 21 poses a huge dilemma for Trudeau. If he says he will defend religious freedom, he will lose support in Quebec. But if he vows not to intervene, it could be a problem with the rest of Canada.
I guess if youre a federalist its kind of like that bad movie where you think the monsters dead and they come back to life, he said. For the Bloc Quebecois, what we know from a polling perspective is that usually onto themselves its hard for them to move the numbers. Theyre very good at reacting to events.
So if there is anti-French Canadian sentiment or negative things said about French language rights or a perception that Quebec is not getting its fair share in the federation, voters in Quebec then tend to support the Bloc, not out of ideology, but on a strategic nationalist or emotional basis.
They vote for the Bloc in order to send a message to English Canada that they dont want English Canadians meddling in the affairs and society in the province of Quebec.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said a Conservative government will not intervene in Bill 21, but that a federal government under his leadership would not enact similar legislation.
Scheer has set his sights on gaining ground in Quebec, even opening his official campaign in Trois-Rivieres, a riding not held by a Conservative in decades. He vowed to surprise people by winning seats all over Quebec.
Quebec is a key battleground for the NDP, which mounted a surge there in the last election, taking 14 seats and edging past the Conservatives 11 and the Blocs 10.
Nanos says Singhs approach to talking about Bill 21 is clever. Singh highlighted how he stands out as a candidate, just as Quebec is different from the rest of Canada. He added that Singh will hope to connect with Quebec voters in the way the late NDP leader Jack Layton did, with charisma and personality.
People attend a demonstration to protest against the Quebec governments Bill 21 in Montreal, Monday, June 17, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Supporters of a new coalition of Muslim groups attend a news conference denouncing Quebecs proposed Charter of Values Wednesday, September 25, 2013 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
A man wears a yarmulke during a demonstration opposing the Quebec governments newly tabled Bill 21 in Montreal, Sunday, April 14, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes