10 Quebec races to watch on federal election night – Montreal Gazette

10 Quebec races to watch on federal election night - Montreal Gazette
Is Andrew Scheer really promising a tax cut of $50K for millionaires?
With six parties in the mix and multiple three- and four-way races, its anybodys guess who will end up on top in many parts of the province on Oct. 21. 

Its been a federal election campaign marked by strange twists, compelling match-ups and star candidates. 

Winning votes in Quebec — home to 78 of the the 338 seats in the House of Commons — will be key to securing victory. Liberals, Bloc Québécois and Conservatives have a strong grip on some of those Quebec ridings. But for others, it will be a toss-up. 

And with six parties in the mix and multiple three- and four-way races, its anybodys guess who will end up on top in many parts of the province. Here are 10 interesting races to watch on election night.

In Alberta, theres a far greater degree of predictability electorally, federally than there is in the Lower Mainland or even B.C. I was surprised how much it seems like B.C. is up for grabs, the 30-year-old management consultant said. Its a bit more exciting here electorally, which makes it, for a voter, far more exciting as well, because you get the sense that your vote is really going to help actually swing things.

Beauce. As a Conservative, Maxime Bernier had a lock on this riding. He has represented it since 2006 and last time won by more than 20,000 ballots. But Bernier quit the Conservatives after narrowly losing its leadership contest. He founded the People’s Party of Canada and is its leader. Though still popular in this area south of Quebec City, Bernier is in a battle against a local politician who also has deep roots in the area: Conservative Richard Lehoux. Bernier’s promise to phase out supply management for farmers may hurt him in this partly rural riding. Lehoux is a former dairy farmer. The Conservatives would love to quash Bernier on his home turf and in the process destroy his nascent party. A climate-change denier who wants to cut immigration, Bernier hopes his performance in two national leaders’ debates will give him an edge. In a sign of trouble, Bernier has said he will spend the rest of the campaign in the riding. For comedic relief, the satiric Rhinoceros Party has enlisted a big name to run against him — a man who also happens to be named Maxime Bernier.

On Oct. 21, B.C. could provide seats to re-elect the Liberals to a majority government, or put either the Liberals or Conservatives behind the wheel of a minority government. B.C. voters could help bolster an NDP resurgence. While the Greens are running candidates across the Vancouver region, their national campaign manager, Jonathan Dickie, says the party is focused on winning on Vancouver Island, home base for their two incumbents.

Laurier—Sainte-Marie. This left-leaning riding, which takes in part of downtown and the Plateau-Mont-Royal district, promises to be a three-way battle. Steven Guilbeault, a long-time green activist who co-founded Équiterre, Quebec’s most prominent environmental group, is a star Liberal candidate. Touted as a possible future environment minister, Guilbeault faces stiff competition from New Democratic candidate Nimâ Machouf, wife of Amir Khadir, who represented the area provincially as a Québec Solidaire MNA for a decade. An epidemiologist, Machouf also has ties to Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante’s Projet Montréal, having run for the municipal party in 2009. This is a stronghold for both QS and Projet, which gives Machouf a powerful base. The Bloc Québécois, whose candidate is writer Michel Duchesne, has a history here. Gilles Duceppe held the riding for 14 years until he was turfed in 2011 by the NDP’s Hélène Laverdière, who beat him again in 2015. She is not seeking re-election.

In the other provinces, there are fairly traditional trend lines,” says pollster Nik Nanos, chief data scientist and founder of Nanos Research. However, he describes a spaghetti trend line of intermingling party support in B.C. that confounds predictions in the province. “In the case of British Columbia, the four parties are clustered much closer together than in any other province, Mr. Nanos says.

Outremont. The Liberals aren’t the only ones with a prominent environmentalist on their roster. The Greens drafted Daniel Green, who is the party’s deputy leader and a well-known toxicologist. Green first ran for the party in 2015, garnering just five per cent of the vote in Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœurs. This time Green is running in a riding that was a longtime Liberal bastion until it opted for the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair starting in 2007. Mulcair quit politics last year. In a by-election in February, this central Montreal riding went Liberal again, with Rachel Bendayan winning handily. Green ran for the Greens in that by-election and came a distant third, behind the second-place NDP. Bendayan is now seeking re-election. The NDP candidate here is Andrea Clarke, executive director of Head and Hands, a youth community group in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. The Bloc, which came a distant fourth in 2015, is running Célia Grimard, a communications specialist.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, who broke with the Liberal government over the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on corruption charges, may have become known across the country after she told her story in Ottawa hearing rooms, but she is a familiar figure in the Lower Mainland as the incumbent MP for Vancouver-Granville, where she is now seeking re-election as an independent.

Berthier—Maskinongé. Ruth Ellen Brosseau made headlines when she was unexpectedly elected in 2011 along with dozens of other marginal NDP candidates in Quebec in the “Orange Wave” that swept the NDP in as the Official Opposition in Ottawa under Jack Layton’s charismatic leadership. Brosseau raised eyebrows when she spent several days in Las Vegas during that campaign, and she was roasted for her poor French. But voters in this riding — on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, between Repentigny and Trois-Rivières — embraced her. Brosseau became known as a hard worker, her French improved and she easily won re-election in 2015, unlike many other NDP MPs. The NDP has fallen even further in Quebec since then and she is in a fight for her political life. She’s up against Bloc Québécois president Yves Perron, a high school teacher who is taking a second stab at winning the riding. The Liberals, who failed to convince Brosseau to run for them in this election, have as a candidate Christine Poirier, a nurse and entrepreneur who once appeared on the CBC’s Dragon’s Den TV show to pitch her line of breastfeeding apparel.

Each party faces key challenges here, Ms. Kurl says. The Liberals need to galvanize the youth vote that helped them in 2015. The Conservatives need to figure out how to build their base to compete in cities. And the Greens need to expand their caucus, an effort that may be bolstered by elected Greens in the B.C. Legislature and Vancouver city government.

Beloeil—Chambly. Yves-François Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Québécois since January, did not pick an easy riding through which to reach the House of Commons. The Bloc’s recent poll surge and Blanchet’s well-received debate performances will help his chances. So will Quebecers’ waning interest in the NDP, which has dominated this South Shore region since 2011 when Matthew Dubé won the riding (its name and boundaries were slightly different at the time). Dubé was one of five McGill University students unexpectedly swept to victory on Layton’s coattails. Dubé’s margin of victory shrank in 2015 in a tight three-way race: the NDP garnered 31 per cent of the popular vote, the Liberals 29 per cent and the Bloc 28 per cent. Dubé is on the ballot again this time. Businesswoman Marie-Chantal Hamel, a first-time candidate, is the Liberal standard-bearer.

Longueuil—Saint-Hubert. This one can be confusing — bear with us. Pierre Nantel won this South Shore riding twice as a New Democrat. One of the NDP’s most visible MPs, Nantel had an easy time winning in 2011 but in 2015 it was an NDP-Liberal-Bloc squeaker, with the Greens far behind at three per cent. Just before the current campaign started, Nantel jumped to the Green Party. Nantel said he was “fed up” with his former party’s “apathy” on climate change. Nantel is a sovereignist but when he recently declared so publicly, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said he was not. Nantel later said he won’t advocate for separatism in the House of Commons. Stung by Nantel’s eleventh-hour defection, the New Democrats recruited the former head of the provincial Green Party, Éric Ferland, to run against Nantel. Ferland, too, has supported sovereignty and recently said he “can’t rule out” doing so again. And the Liberals? The fervently federalist party recruited former Parti Québécois health minister Réjean Hébert. The Bloc is running actor Denis Trudel, who tried to win here in 2015.

If you just read the headlines, you would think that everybody in Vancouver is against the Trans Mountain pipeline, and certainly people in the City of Vancouver and Burnaby are leaning against it, but across the Metro Vancouver region we do find more support than opposition,” said Evi Mustel of the Mustel Group, which conducted the survey.

Rosemont—La Petite Patrie. Alexandre Boulerice, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s Quebec lieutenant, handily took this seat in 2011 (51 per cent of the vote) and 2015 (49 per cent). With NDP support sinking in Quebec, the former union spokesperson and TV journalist is not expected to have it so easy this time, though this is one of the few places where observers say the NDP has a chance of hanging on. The Bloc candidate — Claude André, a writer and CEGEP teacher who ran here in 2015 — is hoping to retake a riding his party held between 1993 and 2011. The Bloc thinks the victory of nationalist Coalition Avenir Québec Premier François Legault and support for its Bill 21 secularism law bode well for a Bloc win in this central Montreal riding. In the last election, the Bloc won only one seat on Montreal Island: La Pointe-de-l’Île, on the eastern tip. The Liberals, who have not won in Rosemont—La Petite Patrie since 1980, are offering up Geneviève Hinse, a former chief of staff to two federal Liberal health ministers.

Rivière-du-Nord. Conservative Sylvie Fréchette, a household name in Quebec because of her two Olympic medals in synchronized swimming, is in rough waters in this Lower Laurentians riding. She’s a first-time candidate in a spot where the Bloc Québécois has won four of the last five elections. The NDP took it in 2011 but the Bloc’s Rhéal Fortin regained it four years later in a close three-way finish between the Bloc, NDP and Liberals. The Conservatives? They came a distant fourth. Fortin, who is seeking re-election, has been a high-profile Bloc MP and was the party’s interim leader. The New Democrats and the Liberals are running relative unknowns. The NDP hopeful is Myriam Ouellette, a school board worker, while the Liberals are represented by Florence Gagnon, a consultant.

‘You realize I’m still here, right?’: Scheer still has a week left in his bid to unseat the Trudeau Liberals, but in case he falls flat on his face, some Conservatives are readying for his departure and replacement. That was the angle of a Globe and Mail story that shook the Conservative campaign early Thursday, which said supporters of former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay are laying the groundwork for his leadership run in the event Scheer loses. Those insiders included Conservative insider and PR strategist John Capobianco — who quickly fessed up on Twitter that he’d “mistakenly speculated” to the Globe, which “gives the impression I do not support my leader, Andrew Scheer- this is totally false. In no way did I intend to suggest anything other than my full support to our party and my leader. … I am very sorry.” For his part, MacKay said it was all news to him. “Not a soul” had spoken to him on this issue, he said. It seems like only five months ago that veterans in Trudeau’s own party were scheming a “Draft Mark Carney” campaign to recruit the central banker in case Trudeau blew it on election day. Oh wait, it was.

The east-end riding of Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, a longtime Liberal fortress, cannot bank on the Italian-Canadian communitys vote this time around. Dave-Sidaway / Montreal Gazette

Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel. This east end Montreal riding has long been a Liberal fortress — the party’s candidate Nicola Di Iorio won with 65 per cent of the vote in 2015. Di Iorio has quit politics. The race to replace him turned interesting after Justin Trudeau’s party revoked the candidacy of Hassan Guillet, a high-profile member of the Muslim community, over alleged anti-Semitic social media posts. He was replaced by Patricia Lattanzio, a Montreal city councillor and commissioner at the English Montreal School Board. However, Guillet, who acknowledged a “lack of sensitivity” in the old posts but says he is not anti-Semitic, is still in the race. He’s running as an independent and should win votes in the riding’s sizable Muslim-Canadian community. The Liberals are also dealing with unrest among normally loyal supporters in the riding’s Italian-Canadian community, still reportedly miffed that Guillet was initially chosen. The riding was traditionally represented by an Italian-Canadian. The Conservative candidate — lawyer Ilario Maiolo, whose parents were born in Italy — is wooing the community with the message: “It’s time to change.”

Québec. Quebec City has been a dependable region for the Conservatives, and Andrew Scheer’s party is expected to again do well there in this election. But the riding called Québec, which takes in the central part of the city, went Liberal in 2015, electing Jean-Yves Duclos, who was tapped as families minister. It was a tight race between the Liberals and NDP, with the Conservatives and Bloc trailing. This time, Duclos’s key foe is Bloc candidate Christiane Gagnon, who represented the riding for 18 years until the NDP pushed her aside in 2011. Tommy Bureau, a community organizer, is the NDP candidate, while the Conservative are putting forward Bianca Boutin, formerly a Quebec Liberal government press attaché.

As part of our federal election coverage, CBC News is assessing the truthfulness and accuracy of statements made by politicians and their parties.

The Liberal campaign recently rolled out a new talking point and Trudeau has been keen to repeat it whenever the opportunity arises.

Misinformation, the good news: So far Canada’s election has been “largely clean” of foreign interference when it comes to Facebook ads, unlike the experience in the most recent U.S. and U.K. elections. That’s according to the Digital Democracy Project, operated by the Public Policy Forum and McGill Universitys Max Bell School of Public Policy. But the group cautions foreign-funded disinformation campaigns could hit social media harder in the last week of the campaign.

The Liberals are pushing the message that Conservative campaign promises would give some of the richest Canadians a major break on their tax bills.

But this debate also saw the campaigns best exchange on SNC-Lavalin. Roy asked a simple question: do the leaders want the special out-of-court deal for Lavalin that so many of Trudeaus aides urged on Jody Wilson-Raybould? Trudeau, of course, believes the lurid spectacle of last spring was the only way things could have been handled. Yves-François Blanchet was adamant that Lavalin must be spared a trial. The rest want the company to go to trial.

The party even printed the message on a faux Tory election sign displayed during a news conference Wednesday morning.

Or not:  Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party is standing by a Nova Scotia candidate who in 2017, just days after the Quebec City mosque attack, tweeted “Islam is pure evil. Islam has no place in Canadian society.” The party said it clarified with her that she’d failed to distinguish between “radical Islam” and Islam, which apparently settled the matter as far as the PPC is concerned.

Trudeau also brought it up during both leaders' debates this week, drawing pointed rebukes from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

"That's a lie," the Tory leader shot back in a heated exchange during the French-language debate Thursday night.

Classless act: Throughout the campaign the parties have been falling over each other to portray Canada’s middle class — a hopelessly fluid and meaningless term that applies to anyone who wants it to — as being gripped by economic anxiety, even though a cursory look at the data tells us otherwise, writes Scott Gilmore. So why do they do it?

Despite Scheer's protests, it's clear the line will be central to the Liberals' strategy in the final stretch of the campaign.

But while the claim makes for a memorable campaign message, the facts are far more complicated than the Liberals' version of them.

Last month, Scheer pledged to scrap a host of deeply polarizing tax changes for incorporated small businesses that were brought in by the Liberals in 2017 and 2018.

"On veut le chef," one woman calls as the door to the bus opens. She gets her wish a few moments later when Blanchet bounds down the step, all smiles and bonhomie, handshakes and hugs for the Bloc supporters waiting to meet him inside Les Residence Soleil Manoir, with its 500 units and so many potential Bloc voters.

Scheer vowed to go after measures that target income sprinkling and put a cap on the value of "passive investments" a private corporation can hold before its access to the nine per cent small business tax rate starts to erode.

The changes provoked a political firestorm when they were floated by the Trudeau government. The Conservatives fiercely opposed them, as did some small business owners and organizations that advocate on their behalf, such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Critics said the Liberals were attacking small businesses — collectively the biggest source of employment in Canada — and making it tougher for them to grow and save.

The Liberals, however, argued they were cracking down on well-off Canadians using the advantageous tax structure of private corporations to shield income from taxation.

Polls now suggest the Bloc is poised to make significant gains. And much of the credit if that happens will go to Blanchet, who only took over the party's leadership this year and whose face is now plastered on the posters of every Bloc candidate.

Trudeau's campaign says that rolling back the measures would amount to a "tax cut" for the wealthiest Canadians. While it's true that high-income earners undoubtedly would benefit from the Tory proposals, the reality is not so simple.

Duceppe says it's the reverse of the experience he went through in 2011, when the NDP began to steadily strip away support from his party late in the campaign. That kind of momentum swing, he says, is hard to pinpoint, and even harder to stop. 

Income sprinkling is a tax strategy that diverts income to family members with lower personal tax rates. It allows a small business owner to avoid having their income taxed at a higher rate by splitting it up among family members who own shares in the corporation.

Before the changes made by the Trudeau government, income could be divided among family members who had no discernible role in a particular business. The Liberals imposed stringent conditions on how and why income could be split up within a family.

Dube sits on a bench along the Richelieu River, not far from the old village of Beloeil, a stretch of narrow streets lined with restaurants and shops, just behind the old stone mill along the water that's been converted into a brew pub. 

At the time the measures were floated, the government estimated they would affect about 45,000 private corporations across the country, or about 3 per cent of all small businesses.

Not helping matters for the Liberals is the fact that the New Democrats appear to be building up some momentum of their own after a strong performance by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in Monday's English-language debate. After posting poll numbers that would have given them about 15 seats nationwide, they are now projected to win around 24 seats.

Meanwhile, a March 2018 analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer looked at what types of families would be affected, based on their total annual taxable income.

The Bloc has been eating into the support of the Liberals, Conservatives and Greens in Quebec, though the seat impact has primarily been felt by the Liberals. That's because the Conservative base of support in Quebec is concentrated around the Quebec City area, where polls suggest the party still holds a lead.

The report found that 26 per cent of families affected by the changes earned total taxable income of between $150,000 and $250,000 each year, while 46 per cent earned between $250,000 and $500,000 annually. A further 15 per cent of affected families brought in between $500,000 and $1 million in taxable income each year.

The campaign has seen one bizarre twist after another without any apparent impact on the polls — until now. This latest twist is a little retro. The Bloc Québécois, pronounced all but dead after 2011, has been reanimated and could significantly upend the election plans of the Liberals and Conservatives.

The PBO also noted that about 900 Canadian families making less than $100,000 annually would end up paying more income tax as a result of the Liberal government's tax changes.

Since the beginning of this campaign, the Liberals had been favoured to win more seats than the Conservatives, regardless of which party was ahead in the national polling average. This was being driven in part by the party's enduring edge in Ontario — but it was Quebec that made the difference.

Tammy Schirle, a professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, said that Canadians who gained the most from income sprinkling tended to be in the top 10 per cent of income earners.

Liberal support in Quebec has hovered around the 36 per cent mark the party hit in 2015. Because of the wide gap separating the Liberals from the other parties in Quebec, however, they could count on winning about 50 seats in the province, a net gain of 10 over the last election's results.

There are scenarios which could see a family avoid upwards of $50,000 in income tax in any given year if the Liberal measures were rolled back. Whether those people actually qualify as "multi-millionaires" — as the Liberals imply in their messaging — depends on their individual circumstances.

From a high of 166 seats in the national projection in the days following the French-language TVA debate, before the fallout from that contest was being registered in the polls, the Liberals have plummeted nearly 30 seats to 139. That puts them just two ahead of the Conservatives.

In addition to re-introducing income sprinkling for some small business owners, the Conservatives also have said they would "repeal Trudeau's tax on small business investments."

Passive income is generated from interest earned on passive investments, which tend to be in stocks or bonds rather than, say, new equipment or land for a new factory that a small business might purchase.

But in the rural regions of Quebec and the francophone areas in and around Montreal, the Liberals had been banking on winning seats with relatively low shares of the vote, benefiting from a vote split between the Conservatives, Bloc and New Democrats.

The Liberals' changes mean that after a business starts earning more than $50,000 in passive income, a larger share of its regular income is subject to the general corporate tax rate of 15 per cent, rather than the more favourable small business tax rate of nine per cent.

That has dropped the Liberals into the mid-30s in the seat projection for Quebec, nearly tied with the Bloc Québécois. The Conservatives also have slipped and appear to be on track to win around 10 seats in Quebec, down from the 12 they took in 2015.

A business would need $1 million in passive investments, earning at a modest 5 per cent rate of return, to reach that $50,000 threshold where the higher corporate rate kicks in.

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The Department of Finance estimates that, as of 2015, only about 2.9 per cent of Canadian small businesses — about 50,000 of them — met that threshold. In fact, more than 80 per cent of small businesses in 2015 did not have any passive investments at all.

It should be noted that opponents of the Liberal measures have argued that the $50,000 passive income threshold was too low.

After all, $1 million in savings might not do much to help a business salt away money for a large capital purchase or plan for a rainy day.

Taken together, bringing back income sprinkling (as it existed before) and eliminating passive investment fairness measures would leave some small business owners paying considerably less in tax.

Is it an across the board "tax cut" of $50,000, as Trudeau puts it? No — but it would mean some multi-millionaire small business owners avoiding taxes in ways not available to most other Canadians.

Sources: It's time for Canada's small business owners to get ahead, Conservative Party of Canada; Archived – Backgrounder: Income Sprinkling Using Private Corporations, Department of Finance Canada; Backgrounder: Tax Fairness for the Middle Class and Opportunity for All Canadians, Department of Finance Canada; A week of tax promises that are more about politics than policy, CBC News; Key Small Business Statistics – January 2019, Government of Canada; Budget 2018, Government of Canada; Income Sprinkling Using Private Corporations, Parliamentary Budget Officer

Lucas Powers is a Toronto-based reporter and writer. He's reported for CBC News from across Canada. Have a story to tell? Email [email protected] any time.

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