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NDP fortifies Quebec staff to protect ‘Orange Wave’

Rosane Doré Lefebvre, one of the many rookie NDP MPs from Quebec who will seek re-election this year, took her 20-month-old daughter Madeleine to Laval Nature Centre in Laval on Saturday.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

The NDP is shifting key staff to its party offices in Quebec, hoping to help transform the 2011 crop of rookie MPs into battle-ready campaigners.

Almost all of the 59 MPs elected in the province in the 2011 "Orange Wave" were political neophytes, and the NDP scrambled after the election to help them become effective parliamentarians.

Now the New Democrats are striving to ensure that the MPs are focused on holding on to their seats in this year's federal election. From passengers on the Jack Layton campaign four years ago, the MPs have become full-fledged candidates with a record to defend and a riding to protect.

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"They have all understood that they were part of a special moment in Canadian political history," said Rebecca Blaikie, who is the NDP campaign chair for Quebec. "Now it's up to them to go out and hold onto their seats."

When Ms. Blaikie took her position at the NDP offices last year, she had two staff members. The number has grown to a 11 party workers in Montreal, with more bodies expected to come in the spring.

The latest recruit is Marc-André Viau, a press officer who has long been a fixture in New Democratic circles in Ottawa. Mr. Viau has taken a leave of absence from his position with the House of Commons and is now on the payroll of the party, where he will oversee media requests and other communications needs in Quebec.

Other former House of Commons staffers who have started to work for the party include organizer James Pratt, who has joined the national campaign at NDP headquarters in Ottawa.

In Quebec, the NDP wants all MPs to have campaign websites, but also to understand the need to work their ridings, canvass voters, boost their profiles and sell themselves. In addition to Mr. Viau, there are now organizers, telephone operators and a data specialist at the NDP offices in Montreal.

"It's a campaign team," Ms. Blaikie said, adding the offices on St-Laurent Boulevard will become the party's Quebec headquarters during the next election. "We want [the MPs] to focus more on the campaign, and to do that, we have to offer them a good level of support."

Rosane Doré Lefebvre, 30, was one year out of university in 2011 when she defended the NDP's colours in the Laval riding of Alfred-Pellan, just north of Montreal.

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"It will be day and night for my colleagues and myself," the NDP MP said of the coming election.

Some NDP candidates won in 2011 without campaigning – or even setting foot in their ridings.

Ms. Doré Lefebvre said she relied on friends and family to distribute small numbers of posters and literature, but didn't keep track of potential supporters to get out the vote on election day. She said there is a new professionalism in the NDP in Quebec, with data on voters, lists of volunteers and organized fundraising.

"This time, we will be acting like a normal campaign," she said.

Mr. Layton died of cancer shortly after he oversaw the NDP surge in Quebec. He was replaced by Thomas Mulcair, a veteran of provincial politics who entered the House in 2007. He has been commended for his role as Official Opposition Leader, but party officials are well aware that the positive reviews will not directly translate into electoral success at the riding level.

With 54 of the 75 seats in Quebec (three new ridings will be added in the next election), the NDP will be the target of diverse challenges this year. The Conservatives are focusing all of their energies on a bid to reclaim a handful of seats that they lost in the Quebec City region four years ago. The Liberals, meanwhile, will aim to reclaim past strongholds in largely federalist areas in the greater Montreal area, while the Bloc Québécois will argue in nationalist parts of Quebec that the NDP failed to defend the province's interests in Ottawa.

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The NDP was attacked by political rivals over its decision in 2011 to put staff on the House of Commons payroll in the NDP offices in Montreal. While NDP officials said they did nothing wrong, they add that the staff at the party offices in Montreal are now working solely on the campaign, out of the NDP budget.

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