If this federal election has taught Canadians one thing, it’s never count out the underdog.
In Montreal-area ridings, there are candidates fighting tooth and nail to become members of parliament, a prestigious position in Canada’s democratic system. There’s some old faces, some new ones too, but all with the same agenda, to go to Ottawa and fight the Conservative Party.
Anne Legace-Dowson, the NDP candidate in Westmount Ville-Marie, thinks residents have been taken for granted in this urban riding for far too long and believes it’s time for a change in government.
“The idea of change is very attractive to a lot of voters,” she said. “The Conservatives aren’t really a factor in this race…it’s really a two-way race between the NDP and the Liberals and I think people are interested in us because we represent a chance to say something different.”
New Democrats are kind of a recent phenomenon here in Montreal, after the 2007 by-election win of Thomas Mulcair in Outremont, they seem to be gaining support across the city and province.
“The situation is looking good…we have been on the ground now working for a couple of months,” she said. “We’ve built up quite a good body of supporters and volunteers. We are making inroads I would say. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reaction.”
It looks as if NDP leader Jack Layton is appealing to Quebeckers and if he gains this downtown Montreal riding, he’ll have more to boast about this time around.
“Layton is running a very good national campaign…he’s a very credible leader, he’s a guy who’d make an excellent prime minister or leader of opposition,” said Legace-Dowson.
However there’s one major obstacle standing in the way of the NDP and that’s the Liberals, who’ve placed one of their star candidates into this riding to make sure it stays in their hands.
The Liberal Party candidate in Westmount Ville-Marie is former Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau, who believes the constituents want the area to continue being represented by his party in Ottawa.
“The platform of our leader (Stephane Dion) is on the right track. It has clear policies,” he said. “Dion’s really appreciated in our riding and residents don’t want a Conservative government.”
Garneau spoke of his plan to counter conservative policy by championing the arts, the environment and most importantly the economy if he’s elected.
“I’m somebody who’ll take advantage of being in the House of Commons and obviously represent the people by working hard for their interests,” he said. “There are still concerns for us to win the hearts and minds of residents in Westmount Ville-Marie. I will work very long days to achieve victory.”
Also mentioning that the Conservative Party really has no relevancy in Montreal, Garneau made sure to comment on their course of action in Ottawa as one lacking a real vision.
Another critic of the conservatives is Bloc MP and candidate in Papineau, a north-end Montreal riding, Vivian Barbot.
She believes that as a representative of one of Canada’s poorest areas that she must keep up the pressure on the federal government, even when they’re challenging her own party’s validity.
“By saying we don’t do anything is just diminishing the importance of democracy, because people do elect us year after year, election after election. If we weren’t doing anything we wouldn’t be there,” she said. “As you can see things are going very well now for the Bloc, we are ahead in Quebec.”
At the beginning of the campaign Prime Minister Stephen Harper attempted to discredit the Bloc and challenge their accomplishments in Ottawa. Barbot was confirmed in her belief that the only way to fight back would be to get re-elected.
“The first thing was to make sure that the Conservatives wouldn’t form a majority government,” she said. “People understand in Quebec that the best way for them to do that is to send a majority of Quebec MPs from the Bloc Quebecois.”
Even the sovereignty issue has taken a back seat for the Bloc, who’s now redefining their operation to appeal to a broad base of voters in Quebec.
“It is always an issue for us (sovereignty) because it’s number one in our program but at the same time the question isn’t going to be posed in Ottawa,” she said. “Meanwhile we have to continue to do our work in Ottawa for the best interest of Quebeckers.”
Barbot also took a jab at her chief rival in the election, the Liberal candidate and well-known son of one of Canada’s most revered Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau.
“He has no experience and he’s new here,” Barbot said. “It’s true that the constituency was Liberal before I arrived here for something like 85 years.”
Trudeau wants to see this critical riding regained for the good of the Liberal Party and the future of Canada.
“The Bloc is obviously very strong in the riding...the biggest chunk of the riding is 40 per cent French-Canadian and it has traditionally been Bloc-supported,” he said. “My opponent Vivian Barbot is a well-respected member of the community and my beef with her is that her party is a party of division at a time when we need to be pulling together and building a common united future for all of us.”
The poverty faced by many in Papineau is something that Trudeau looks forward to getting involved with and he sees his experience with Katimavik, a national youth volunteer program, as valuable way to bridge those gaps with youth in the community.
“The kind of riding that it is, represents for me the challenges that the country’s going to face, the issues faced by families and seniors,” Trudeau said. “This is exactly the kind of issues that we need to start caring for at the national level.”
Trudeau believes in Stephance Dion’s vision for Canada and is rallying behind his leader even though it’s uncertain if Dion can actually pull off a victory on Oct.14 and defeat the government.
“When I talk about leadership and I challenge people to think about leadership as intelligence, integrity, vision, having a strong team…this is exactly the kind of leadership that Dion’s proposing,” he said. “The liberal vision is one that we’ll be able to look our children in the eyes the day after the election.”
Stephen Harper has deflected most of the issues during this federal election, by acting calm and collected at debates and sticking to the party line. For Trudeau this isn’t enough, he wants to see an active Prime Minster talking about the problems Canadians face in the 21st century.
“People realize that the conservative government offers nothing but division…they’re not even asking for a mandate to do anything and when the platform came out people looked at it and laughed because it’s not a platform, it’s a brochure,” Trudeau said.
But now it seems the crucial ridings of Papineau and Westmount Ville-Marie are indicative of what’s to come in this election. Either the Liberals dominate, winning these two former strongholds that are now possible weak links to the past, or they crack and fold by letting the new parties take over and mount a defence against Harper’s government.