NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh invoked the legacy of his venerated predecessor Wednesday, hoping the memory of Jack Layton — the principal architect of the NDP’s best-ever showing in a federal election — would separate him from a pack of rivals wooing voters in Quebec as the clock ticks down to voting day.
Every federal leader save Elizabeth May began Wednesday in Quebec, including three in and around the Montreal area. It was a rare campaign confluence where major party leaders were in the same area at the same time, and a clear sign of where strategists are focusing their efforts with less than a week to go.
An upswing in Bloc support in the province could scuttle Liberal and Conservative hopes of winning enough seats to form a majority, and deeper electoral problems for New Democrats.
So Singh’s pilgrimage to Hudson, Que., where Layton was raised, was seen as a bid to appeal to the hearts of Quebec voters.
Singh said he wants to build on Layton’s legacy in the province, acknowledge the work the late leader did — some of it better than Singh’s own, he admitted — and capture some of that 2011 magic for the New Democratic Party.
“The support that we’re receiving on the ground is going to translate to support at the polls and I’m confident that people will see that we will fight for them,” Singh said at a morning event standing alongside Layton’s widow, Olivia Chow.
“We care about them, we share the values of Quebecers and we’re going to make sure that they can count on us to fight for them in the next Parliament, no matter what the Parliament looks like.”
Trudeau’s agenda Wednesday included numerous stops with local candidates on a zigzag tour from Montreal to Sherbrooke, hoping his personal brand would shore up the Liberals’ standing in his home province.
He also received a Twitter endorsement from former U.S. president Barack Obama, whose account tweeted out that Trudeau’s “progressive leadership” was needed in the world, “and I hope our neighbours to the north support him for another term.”
The tweet echoed Trudeau’s comments during a morning event at Montreal’s botanical gardens where, backed by numerous Quebec Liberals, he urged Quebecers to support his party so they can have a voice in a progressive government. He also tried to frame the choice for Quebec voters contemplating supporting the Bloc.
“The focus of the Bloc is to stand up for Quebec against the federal government,” he said.
“Yet with our priorities, every step of the way, we’ve demonstrated that we as a team of Quebecers are always there to stand up for Quebec values and indeed Canadian values.”
Scheer stopped by a Tim Hortons in one of Montreal’s northern suburbs with one of his star candidates, former Olympic champion synchronized-swimmer Sylvie Frechette, after spending Tuesday barnstorming the province.
After the appearance with Frechette, he moved on to southwestern Ontario, another vital battleground, sounding a note of confidence for his chances on election night.
“One of the most common phrases our candidates report hearing at the doors, is a voter who answers the door and says, ’I voted Liberal in 2015, I’m voting Conservative in 2019,’” Scheer said in Essex, Ont., after announcing a promise to legislate stiff penalties for MPs caught in violation of ethics rules.
Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said the other parties want to “pretend we don’t exist,” but must “change their minds and see the reality” that they could have to gain the Bloc’s backing if, as polls suggest, none capture a majority of seats on election night.
He also took aim at Conservative, Liberal and NDP warnings to Quebec voters about voting Bloc on Monday.
“We have not played that game. We did not want to run a negative campaign, a campaign based on anger. Quebecers will be the judges of that kind of strategy,” Blanchet said in French.
Blanchet’s party has captured the imagination of Quebecers and “it’s a bit late in the game to change that,” said Karl Belanger, a former NDP strategist.
Now, the Bloc could win the majority of seats in the province, while the NDP entered this election eyeing the possibility of being wiped off the map in Quebec.
The fond memory of Layton, who died shortly after the 2011 victory, could be enough to save one, two or a few more incumbent New Democrats trying to eke out wins in tight three- or four-way races, Belanger said.
“The play is try to preserve as much of the beach head as you possibly can, and for Singh to try to build on the emotional connection that was established between Layton and Quebec voters back in 2011 is not a bad way to do it,” said Belanger, who served as one of Layton’s top aides.
“The reality is that the NDP has been trending up across the country, including Quebec, although not as much as the Bloc Quebecois.”
May, the Green party leader, focused on her party’s pledge to create a national pharmacare program in Victoria, near her home riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands in B.C., while People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier is spending the day focused on keeping his own Quebec seat in Beauce.
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press