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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with Saguenay mayor Jean Tremblay in Saguenay, Que., on Jan. 17, 2012. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with Saguenay mayor Jean Tremblay in Saguenay, Que., on Jan. 17, 2012. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)

Conservatives plan Quebec blitz to seize seats from NDP in 2015 Add to ...

The Conservative Party of Canada is mounting a targeted strategy to win a handful of new seats in Quebec in 2015, focusing its efforts on a “Blue Arrow” of ridings that run through Quebec City in the eastern part of the province, party sources said.

Any Conservative gains in Quebec would be made at the expense of the NDP, which caused a massive upset in the last election by taking 59 seats out of 75 in the province as part of the so-called “Orange Wave.”

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The looming battle will see Prime Minister Stephen Harper increase his travel schedule and try to capitalize on anti-union sentiments in the traditionally small-c conservative part of Quebec, officials said. The election is nearly two years away, but Quebec is expected to provide fertile ground for seat swings, with the various parties already ratcheting up their ground games in the hopes of unseating New Democrat MPs.

The NDP is promising to fight back by positioning itself as the government-in-waiting and the clear alternative to the Harper government. In eastern Quebec, the Official Opposition is accusing the Conservatives of having neglected key issues, such as rail safety, and of having turned their back on the unemployed.

In the Conservative lingo, the Blue Arrow refers to a swath of seats that includes three ridings in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean, seven seats in the greater Quebec City area, and five others to the south and to the east, along the St. Lawrence’s south shore. The Conservatives currently hold five of these seats, and would be happy to double their tally in the next general election.

The Conservatives are being “realistic” about their chances of gains in the rest of Quebec, where Mr. Harper has yet to make a breakthrough and is not expected to be competitive in the next election. Quebec City is another matter, as both the Prime Minister and the city’s mayor, Régis Labeaume, are staunch foes of “big union bosses,” allowing for a tactical alliance. While Ottawa has stayed out of the public funding for the new Colisée, it could put funds into a public plaza in front of the arena that is currently under construction.

“We have an excellent working relationship with Mr. Labeaume, we have settled many files with him recently, and we can expect that this relation will continue,” said Carl Vallée, a spokesman for the Prime Minister.

The Conservatives are hoping to attract strong candidates in the targeted ridings. Former Conservative MP Bernard Généreux, who lost in a squeaker to the NDP in 2011 in Montmagny-L’Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, is clamouring for a comeback, sources said. Another potential candidate could be Catherine Loubier, the Prime Minister’s main Quebec adviser who is contemplating running in Quebec City, sources said.

But the biggest draw stands to be Jean Tremblay, the controversial but popular mayor of Saguenay who easily won re-election in the city of Saguenay last November. Sources said approaches have been made and Mr. Tremblay is deemed “to have blue allegiances.” He is best known throughout Quebec for having waged a legal battle in favour of holding a prayer ahead of city council meetings. Mr. Tremblay’s office refused to comment on a possible move to federal politics.

The NDP is well aware that after the Orange Wave, it will face assaults from all of its rivals in Quebec in the next election.

“There will be two-way, three-way and even four-way fights in some ridings, and we are readying ourselves for that scenario,” said NDP MP Robert Aubin, who chairs of the party’s Quebec caucus.

Beset by varied attacks from the right, the centre and the sovereigntist movement, the NDP will point to its record in defending the regional concerns of Quebeckers.

“We’ll have the ability to complement our national campaign with a focus on our work on local files, because we are now present in all of the province’s regions,” Mr. Aubin said.

The NDP is professing that it will also be going on the offensive in the next election. The party is hoping to reclaim two seats that it won in 2011, but that have since gone to the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois after MPs Lise St-Denis and Claude Patry crossed the floor in the House. The NDP is also hoping to win the three new ridings – on the north and south shores of Montreal – that have boosted the number of seats in Quebec to 78 as part of the most recent redistribution of seats.

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