Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Liberal Member of Parliament Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 8, 2011. (Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters)
Liberal Member of Parliament Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 8, 2011. (Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Quebec

Justin Trudeau a pesky fly in Bloc's ointment Add to ...

If a voter judges the federal election campaign only by Gilles Duceppe's words in its opening days, he has no enemy other than the Conservatives led by Stephen Harper.

But take a look at the Bloc Québécois Leader's first foray into a hotly contested riding, and the curly locks of another foe pop immediately into view: Justin Trudeau.

More election coverage

Mr. Duceppe greeted shoppers Sunday at the Jean-Talon urban market in the heart of Mr. Trudeau's Papineau riding after leaving behind the secure confines of a downtown news conference and a safe riding in a Montreal suburb.

While eliminating some of Mr. Harper's small foothold in Quebec is the Bloc's main goal, getting rid of pesky Mr. Trudeau is surely another high priority. The only chant of the Bloc campaign so far took place earlier in the day, in that safe Bloc riding about 20 kilometres from Mr. Trudeau: " On prend Papineau!" (We'll take Papineau.)

Mr. Duceppe prefers to sing the praises of his own candidate, Vivian Barbot, a well-regarded community activist of Haitian roots whom Mr. Trudeau defeated narrowly in 2008. She, in turn, had narrowly beat Liberal cabinet minister Pierre Pettigrew in 2006.

Mr. Trudeau took the seat in the last election despite Mr. Duceppe's extraordinary last-minute plea that Mr. Trudeau must be defeated for the good of "our language and our nation." Looking back, Mr. Trudeau, clearly relishes the intervention by the Bloc Leader.

"When you have that quality of attack against you, it seems to me more like an endorsement that I was doing something right," Mr. Trudeau said in an interview. "I can't tell you how pleased I am they're trying the same narrative."

It's clear Mr. Trudeau, whose father Pierre Elliott Trudeau repatriated the Constitution over Quebec's objections and had no time for Quebec nationalism, gets on Bloc nerves. Ms. Barbot describes Mr. Trudeau as a dilettante who "was everywhere else because he has pretensions of being prime minister." Mr. Trudeau denies that, saying he spends huge amounts of time with constituents and community groups.

"Last time we had an inexperienced person who surfed on the name of his father," Ms. Barbot said in an interview. "This time, he'll have to answer for his acts."

Among those acts, Ms. Barbot said, will be Mr. Trudeau's recent declaration that he was "uncomfortable" with the Harper government's description of so-called honour killings as "barbaric."

Mr. Trudeau apologized, although he still maintains his point - that such language won't help change the mindset of people who endorse such practices - was misunderstood.

Ms. Barbot says it shows Mr. Trudeau doesn't understand Quebec, where tolerance for cultural practices that run counter to principles of gender equality are often hotly contested.

"It confirms that, as far as ideas go, he has a hard time expressing himself, at least in French, I don't know if it's the same in English. He's confused and he doesn't know where he wants to go. It's always a blur, always vague."

The riding, among the poorest and smallest in Canada, is also among the most hotly contested in recent years. While it was a Liberal bastion for much of the last century, it has swung between Liberal and Bloc in the past three elections.

Each party seems to have a hard base of about 16,000 votes that don't budge from one election to the next. At play are about 1,000 voters who have made up the margin of victory each time.

Among the hothouse produce and maple syrup treats on display during Mr. Duceppe's stop, the split in the roughly half immigrant and half francophone riding is clear. Finding those swing voters is much tougher.

"Duceppe," spat one middle-aged English-speaking woman, turning to her friend and making for an exit. "Let's get out of here."

Michel Gagné, a 51-year-old property manager who was accompanied by his daughter, Elise, who has Down syndrome, was more willing to give Mr. Duceppe his time. He will also give the Bloc his vote.

"I was never too keen on Justin Trudeau's father," Mr. Gagné said. "I've got nothing against the boy, but to be honest he comes across as a little bit of a lightweight."

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular