In the old days, winning the Liberal nomination in downtown Montreal was a ticket to a life-long job in the House of Commons.
That all changed with the 2011 Orange Wave, as one Liberal fortress after another fell to the NDP in Quebec's biggest city. In the next election, the task of painting downtown Montreal red again will fall to Marc Miller, a lawyer at Stikeman Elliott who went to high school in the 1980s with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
On Thursday evening, Mr. Miller won the Liberal nomination in the newly created riding of Ville-Marie against another lawyer, Bernard Amyot. His biggest rival in the next election will likely be NDP MP Tyrone Benskin, who is currently representing the riding of Jeanne-Le Ber (which will disappear with the seat redistribution).
Mr. Miller went to the elite Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf with Mr. Trudeau, and the two friends travelled in Africa as young adults. Mr. Miller went on to study political science at the Université de Montréal and obtained his law degree from McGill University. The 41-year-old has three children.
He spoke to The Globe and Mail on Friday. Here are his thoughts on the task ahead.
On winning back downtown Montreal:
I don't think there is anyone who thinks that there any Liberal strongholds any more in the country. There are challenges in this riding, it would have gone to the NDP in 2011 by quite a significant margin. It was reflective of the appeal of [former NDP leader] Jack Layton, but there is also a very important part of the population that has a natural affinity with the NDP. The NDP offered a vision that we need to discuss, and try and rally those people behind the Liberals. One of the things we learned is the best way to go in there is to talk to people, be physically present and be ready to answer their questions. Obviously, they'll expect answers at some point, but that first part – the real challenge as Liberals – is meeting people and showing them that you're ready to fight for them.
On his riding:
It's very diverse. You have Little Burgundy, St-Henri, Pointe-St-Charles, Old Montreal, the centre of town that fills up during the day and empties at night – it's the corporate centre of the riding – there is Nun's Island and the Champlain Bridge. There is a wide range of disparities. The people need a leader who is involved and on the ground, talking about real issues. There are concerns about things that cross constitutional lines: education, employment, access to healthcare, condo developments… things that everyday citizens are worried about.
On Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau vs. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair:
It's going to be a dogfight in Quebec. I think that Quebeckers want real answers, they want a vision of Canada, and my view is they think that Justin represents it. I think Mr. Mulcair will do his best to provide an alternate vision of things… he has a lot of work to do on the national front for his vision of Canada. They are both very strong presences in Montreal, they both work really hard. Mr. Mulcair will be judged on his job as the Official Opposition Leader, Mr. Trudeau will be judged for his tenure as the Liberal Leader. It will be a tough race, no one can take anything for granted.
On fighting an open nomination:
This process is great. If you want great people, they typically have good jobs, but they have to sacrifice that, they have to sacrifice family time. Doing it the right way is really difficult, so I will take the time that I need to build the riding association, we need to raise funds, we have to reach out our network. The thing with these nomination races is that if you do it the right way, you've got your structure in place to have a head start for the 2015 general elections.
On meeting Mr. Trudeau in high school:
People want me to say [that I saw him as a future prime minister], but not at all, we were just friends. There is a group of close friends, we just connected immediately, as kids do. There is no question we have been very close for all those years, but we have also developed a professional relationship. He is the Leader of the Liberal Party, and I've been helping him from the very beginning, when he ran in Papineau. I did that out of friendship, but I didn't go into Ville-Marie out of friendship, I did it because I believe in his message.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Daniel Leblanc is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.