The widow of Mauril Bélanger is throwing her support behind one of the former Liberal MP's most trusted aides, giving a jolt to the ongoing nomination battle in the traditional stronghold of Ottawa-Vanier.
In an interview, Catherine Bélanger announced she is endorsing local businesswoman and community activist Mona Fortier to uphold the legacy of her husband, who died last year after a 10-month battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
"She has the same values that Mauril and I shared," Ms. Bélanger said in an interview.
Praising Ms. Fortier's "energetic" approach to grassroots politics, Ms. Bélanger said she would bring continuity to the position. Ms. Bélanger added that it was time to have a woman in the riding.
"She has the riding of Ottawa-Vanier in her heart, but also the mind for the job," Ms. Bélanger said.
A number of Liberals had thought that Ms. Bélanger would run after her husband passed away.
Once she decided to stay out of the race, her endorsement was much sought among the seven candidates for the nomination, which is expected on Feb. 4. The riding of Ottawa-Vanier has always been Liberal, and the party's candidate will be the favourite in the by-election.
Ms. Fortier co-chaired Mr. Bélanger's campaign in 2015, and has long been involved with key organizations in Ottawa's francophone community such as Montfort Hospital and La Cité college.
"It's not only an honour, but also a sign of confidence that I have proven that I am up for the job," Ms. Fortier said of Ms. Bélanger's endorsement.
Ottawa-Vanier has traditionally been a bastion of Ottawa's francophone community. While the proportion of franco-Ontarians has been falling, all candidates agree the next MP will inherit a special responsibility to promote minority language rights in Canada.
Former Liberal MP Francis LeBlanc, who also worked closely with Mr. Bélanger in recent years, said he would bring parliamentary experience to the job.
"I can hit the ground running," said Mr. LeBlanc, who represented a Nova Scotia riding from 1988 to 1997. "It's helpful to have a member of Parliament from Ottawa-Vanier who knows the way around the Hill and knows the way around government."
Ottawa-Vanier features a highly diverse mix in economic terms, from the wealthy enclave of Rockcliffe to pockets of poverty along Montreal Road.
Ainsley Malhotra, whose family ran a furniture store in Ottawa's Byward Market and whose husband comes from a prominent family of real estate developers, said her priority will be ensuring the economic development of the riding.
"A lot of candidates are out talking about getting federal dollars to answer all of our problems," said Ms. Malhotra, who lives in Rockcliffe.
"But we need to also make sure that we're engaging our community here in Ottawa-Vanier. … We have some of our top entrepreneurs and business people who live in this riding, so I come from the vantage point where I can have a stronger ability to bring these people together and have them all around the same table, to say how we are going to collectively invest in the future of Ottawa-Vanier," she said.
Humanitarian worker Nicolas Moyer said that as Liberal MP, he would be able to work with everyone in the riding.
"The reality is that we need people who can connect at all levels," he said. "We need people who are as comfortable at a boardroom table or in front of a community group."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to call the by-election in coming weeks, along with two others in Alberta.