On Oct. 1, if the current trend continues, Quebéc solidaire will double its seats in Montreal. Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Rosemont and Laurier-Dorion could very well go orange like the ridings of Gouin, Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques and Mercier.

Certainly, the city will be a battleground, and it could have some surprises — a rare phenomenon, because Montreal ridings do not usually change colour from one election to the next. But the ground war remain unpredictable, and each candidate has bet on a different strategy to win.

Something is happening

Alexandre Leduc, who is running for the third time with Quebéc solidaire in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, feels a different energy when he meets people in the neighbourhood.

“When you are a leader in the race, there is definitely an effect. For example, when I’m leafleting, more and more people tell me to keep my paper because I already have their vote,” says the young candidate. “It has happened before, but not as often and never so early in the campaign.”

The struggles in each constituency take on different forms.

The number of signs in the neighbourhood is also encouraging. More residents have put them on their balconies than ever before.

The same is true for Andrés Fontecilla, who is running for Quebéc solidaire in Laurier-Dorion, also for the third time.

“I feel much stronger support. There is a shift, especially among the Péquistes (Parti Québécois supporters). We are taken more seriously. We are now part of the political chess game,” he says.

Different playing fields

The struggles in each constituency take on different forms. While Quebéc solidaire avoids and even disparages strategic voting, because it disadvantages the party across the province, Fontecilla encourages it.

He does not hesitate to point out to voters that the party is currently tied with the Liberals in Laurier-Dorion. “Unlike elsewhere in Quebec, this type of voting benefits us” in Laurier-Dorion, he says.

He is counting on the desire of voters to oust the Liberals.

“People are reminded that the outgoing MNA is Gerry Sklavounos. And the Liberal Party does not seem to want to change its approach to Laurier-Dorion. The new candidate is someone from Gerry Sklavounos’ inner circle. They chose continuity, while voters want to turn the page,” says Fontecilla with conviction. As a political attaché, Liberal Party candidate George Tsantrizos was Sklavounos’ right-hand man for 11 years.

“In addition, they led a timid campaign in Villeray. They seem to concentrate their efforts in Park Extension only, while we make sure to be in both neighbourhoods (of Laurier-Dorion),” concludes Fontecilla.

Marissal is neck and neck with Lisée in the polls.

He also believes that the situation gives Quebéc solidaire an advantage.

“There are other parties coming for the Liberal electorate. NDP Quebec is running a candidate from the Greek community, and the Conservatives have a candidate from the Bangladeshi community.” That should eat up Liberal votes, he says.

Fontecilla is also relying on the fact that he is known to the voters, having run twice before. This is also the case for Leduc, who finished second in the last election with 30 per cent of the vote in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

“After showing up so many times, people are convinced of the seriousness of my approach, they understand that it’s not just a hipster trip,” jokes Leduc.

He thinks the residents want a representative who understands the neighbourhood and knows it well, and he is aware that he will be compared to the outgoing Parti Québécois MNA Carole Poirier, who has been known for many years in the riding. Leduc hopes to build on his experience as a candidate but also as a resident of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

The challenge of strategic voting

While Fontecilla sees advantages in strategic voting, Vincent Marissal, Quebéc solidaire candidate in Rosemont, wants to convince his constituents otherwise.

In fact, he called Jean-François Lisée’s call for strategic voting “contemptuous” towards voters. The PQ leader had used a debate in his riding on Sept. 11 to appeal to residents to vote to “prevent the CAQ from taking power” and “not to split the vote, given the current electoral system.” The remark was aimed particularly at voters interested in Quebéc solidaire and electing a progressive government.

Marissal is relying not on the magic of a second orange wave but on campaign strategy basics.

Marissal is neck and neck with Lisée in the polls. In the last election, Quebéc solidaire came in third in Rosemont. But the young party has put a lot of energy into this riding, which borders the two orange bastions of Gouin and Mercier.

Marissal relishes the struggle taking shape in Rosemont, a PQ stronghold for almost 24 years represented today by Lisée.

“I face a party leader, which excites the media and the public a lot for obvious reasons. A cock fight, the clash of the titans, I’ve heard everything,” says the former journalist. “Certainly it colours the local campaign.”

But, unlike Fontecilla, Marissal is not depending on the desire of voters to get rid of their representative.

“I’m not in politics to beat Jean-François Lisée,” he says. “For 25 years I’ve been an armchair critic (as a journalist) and now I have the opportunity to jump on the ice.”

Place in the field

Although each area and each battle has distinctive features, the work is the same. All candidates cite on-the-ground campaigning as the only winning strategy.

“When you’re in a winnable riding that has never been won by a growing party, all you can do is get in,” says Marissal. He calls this doing his homework. It’s a question of knowing the riding and the people who live there.

“The Jack Layton wave, as it happened in 2011, is rare,” says Marissal. “People who get elected while on vacation, it never happens. That’s why we’re still talking about it, it was an exception.” He’s referring to the highly publicized case of NDP candidate Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who won the election in Berthier-Maskinongé against all odds in the 2011 federal election.

Marissal is relying not on the magic of a second orange wave but on campaign strategy basics.

“A candidate who seems about to win can definitely attract more votes, especially in an electoral system like ours.”

But the local campaign may be in vain in some cases. Royce Koop, a professor of political science at the University of Manitoba, says the candidates’ groundwork does not necessarily change a voter’s opinion.

“Local candidates will often simply be carried away by the wave of the national campaign. So if the campaign is bad, the candidate will probably pay the price, even if he put up a good fight in his constituency.”

Groundwork can, however, ensure a greater number of people go to the polls on election day.

“Good polls, coordinated calls, signs on balconies, all of these do not necessarily attract new people to the party but can create momentum in the electoral base,” says Koop. “Especially if the race in a riding is tight.”

The local can make a difference

In the field, winnable ridings — such as Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Rosemont and Laurier-Dorion — often gain momentum.

“A candidate who seems about to win can definitely attract more votes, especially in an electoral system like ours,” explains Koop. “Voters want to vote for the winning party and not lose. Otherwise they feel like they wasted their vote.”

And the candidates are not completely powerless in terms of the overall campaign.

Although a large number of voters mainly focus on party leaders, local representatives do matter to some.

“The majority of people are following the debate and evaluating the behaviour of the party leader, but a local candidate who is well known, who is eloquent and who connects well with the community can also make a difference,” says Koop.