Duceppe sticks close to home despite charges of being Montreal-centric

MONTREAL — The Globe and Mail

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe waves to a supporter during a visit to a restaurant in Montreal onTuesday March 29. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Gilles Duceppe promises he will leave Montreal. Just not quite yet.

One of the most persistent criticisms of the Bloc Québécois in its home province is that it is too Montreal-centric.

So where, for the fifth day in a row, is Mr. Duceppe hitting the hustings on Wednesday? Ridings in and around Montreal. It's like he's running the tetherball campaign, tied by a 25-kilometre line to his downtown riding.

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"I don't take anything for granted, including Montreal," Mr. Duceppe said on Tuesday on the short campaign trail, explaining why so far he's mostly concentrated on safe seats close to his home. "You'll see, between now and Saturday, we'll tour plenty."

The Conservatives have made Bloc Montreal-centricity a refrain in their Quebec campaign leading to the May 2 vote. Even the Tory cabinet minister in charge of Montreal, Christian Paradis, has raised it. This has triggered much snickering among those, including Mr. Duceppe, who have always wondered if the MP, who is from an area 250 kilometres east of Montreal, really had the interests of La Métropole at heart.

Mr. Duceppe's party has actually dominated Quebec's rural electoral map for 18 years. He points out that three quarters of the Bloc's MPs are in "the regions," Quebec shorthand for pretty much everywhere outside Montreal and Quebec City.

What he doesn't mention is how some areas with a conservative bent have determinedly slid from his hands, particularly in and around Quebec City, where the Conservative Party holds sway. His campaign will head that way by the end of the week.

Not only Bloc opponents have brought up Montreal-centrism. A top party official raised the issue in 2007 in a leaked report that was supposed to be constructive, internal criticism. The next year, a former PQ cabinet minister said the party had become an "NDP clone" that had lost touch with the conservative thread running through rural areas.

Mr. Duceppe launched the campaign for his own safe riding on Tuesday night at the Olympia Theatre in Montreal's Gay Village. Nestled along a stretch that includes x-rated video shops, tattoo parlours and plenty of homeless people, it was a setting that doesn't get any more urban.

The launch illustrated one practical reason for staying close to home to start the campaign. As in most of his speeches, Mr. Duceppe concentrated entirely on attacking Mr. Harper in the harshest terms, calling him a liar and his party retrograde. He can say that anywhere, so it might as well be from home base, in Canada's second-largest media market.

Mr. Duceppe can save the policy announcements for the road.

It's also not entirely clear the Bloc was ready. The buses weren't rolling until Monday, and much of Tuesday was spent shooting ads.

"If you need to shoot ads and are on a budget, it doesn't make sense to haul the crew to the Gaspé," said Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, a former PQ cabinet minister turned political analyst. "You have to take care in judging a campaign based on a few days. The beginning in many ways just sets the tone."

The Bloc campaign promises to head out to points beyond Montreal on Thursday.

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