The Orange Wave that swept Quebec in 2011 has looked more like a falling tide recently as national polls show softening support for the NDP.
The latest poll by Léger Marketing shows the NDP and Liberals tied in Quebec, a province where the NDP enjoyed 46 per cent support at the beginning of September. Other polling firms have also recorded a slide in NDP support, and although the party still leads most polls in the province, its support has dropped off significantly in recent weeks.
The turning point for the party occurred when the Conservatives made the wearing of the niqab during Canadian citizenship ceremonies into a campaign issue. Stephen Harper took a strong stand, arguing that Muslim women should not be allowed to wear it, despite a court ruling to the contrary. It’s a sentiment shared by many Canadians, especially Quebecers who have been debating the issue of how to accommodate religious minorities for years.
No candidate, no problem
“I’m skeptical about the polls,” said Graham Carpenter, Tom Mulcair’s constituency assistant in Outremont, in a telephone interview. “What we’re doing is big. Even up in Papineau, people feel it and believe in our plan.”
Despite the slumping Quebec numbers, an NDP win is projected in Mulcair’s home riding of Outremont, but the Liberals aren’t that far behind. And the Liberal challenger is taking advantage of the current MP’s frequent absence.
“I’m present in the riding, I’ve been on the ground every single day for over two years, I have roots in the riding,” Rachel Bendayan, the Liberal candidate in Outremont, told Ricochet in a telephone interview. “Since my nomination I’ve knocked on over 10,000 doors and attended over 350 community events.”
The same can’t be said for Mulcair. The NDP campaign office in Outremont admits Mulcair hasn’t gone door to door at all during his campaign, nor has he been spending as much time there because of his busy schedule.
“In 2011 we didn’t have him running up and down stairs doing door to door every day in Outremont. He was busy helping with the Orange Wave in the more broad sense,” said Carpenter. “So now obviously as leader travelling the country we get him a half dozen times.”
The multicultural and generally wealthy riding of Outremont was a Liberal stronghold for a century until Tom Mulcair swept to victory in a 2007 by-election, making him the second MP elected as a New Democrat in Quebec history. But despite polls showing a national slide for the NDP and significant gains for the Liberals, the NDP isn’t worried; Mulcair won the riding by more than 12,000 votes in 2011.
“It’s hard to have faith in the polls when people are cheering for you when you walk down the street,” said Carpenter. “People know they aren’t only voting for a good MP, they’re voting for someone who could be a fantastic prime minister.”
NDP covet Trudeau’s riding
A similar story is unfolding next door in Trudeau's riding of Papineau, where the Liberal chief leads with NDP candidate and former journalist Anne Lagacé Dowson seemingly not far behind.
“The people in the riding deserve better,” Lagacé Dowson told Ricochet. “Over the past several years we’ve watched the Liberals basically line up with the Conservatives on a whole series of issues, so people want something different and we are the ones that are offering it.”
Like Mulcair, Trudeau has visited his riding only a handful of times during the campaign, and like Bendayan, Lagacé Dowson is taking full advantage of the Liberal leader’s absence.
“I was told by a woman that she was happy to see our signs up in her neighbourhood because she’s never seen any political signs of any party,” added Lagacé Dowson. “The Liberals take it so much for granted they don’t even bother putting signs up in certain parts of the riding.”
Candidates in some neighbouring ridings are so confident in their own chances they’re contributing to the fight against Trudeau. Alexandre Boulerice, the current MP for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, was passing the hat for Lagacé Dowson at an NDP rally in Montreal last month, and other ridings like Outremont are reportedly sending volunteers and donations to the Lagacé Dowson campaign in Papineau.
But the Liberals say they recognize the importance of campaigning, especially door-to-door contact, given the riding boundaries were redrawn.
“Volunteers have been working hard every day,” said Pierre Choquette, spokesperson for the Liberal campaign in Papineau. “Every weekend there are about 100 volunteers knocking on doors. We are working really hard and not taking anything for granted.”
Tight races for Trudeau and Duceppe
A CROP poll commissioned by the NDP and a Mainstreet poll done for Postmedia were conducted in Papineau. The CROP poll found Trudeau trailing, but was criticized for a small sample size and undersampling of Liberal supporters from 2011. The Mainstreet poll’s sample size was twice that of the CROP poll and showed a narrow lead for the Liberal leader at only 5 per cent.
The Liberals say they aren’t worried about tight poll results, and believe their leader’s message is resonating with voters in the riding.
“The Liberal platform is more generous than that of the Conservatives when it comes to lowering taxes for the middle class,” said Choquette. “The people in Papineau would really benefit from the Liberal plan.”
Papineau is one of the poorest and most densely populated ridings in the country. Under the Liberal child-care benefit plan, a family in Papineau would receive the most of any two-parent home in the country, according to a Canadian Press analysis. Families would receive payments for every child under 18 according to their income. A family earning $57,665 would receive about $4,519 a year for children five and under and $3,519 for any child age six to 17.
Trudeau was first elected in Papineau in 2008 when he defeated then Bloc Québécois MP Vivian Barbot. He was re-elected in 2011 with the NDP candidate coming in second by around 4,000 votes in a three-way split. The NDP are hoping to win over enough former Bloc voters this time to catch Trudeau in his own riding.
Trudeau and Mulcair are not the only federal leaders in Montreal ridings. The third Montreal-based party leader, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois, is hoping to win back his former riding of Laurier Sainte-Marie.
A CROP poll of the riding commissioned by the NDP early in the campaign found 57 per cent support for NDP MP Hélène Laverdière compared to 20 per cent for Duceppe and 15 per cent for the Liberals. These results were challenged by the Bloc, which argue their internal numbers have Duceppe coming out ahead. Laverdière defeated Duceppe in 2011, winning with 46 per cent support.