A former TV journalist is jumping into the Conservative fold, hoping to help the party shed its negative image in Quebec and win the long-coveted seat of Mount Royal on Montreal Island.
Pascale Déry, 38, said she feels the Conservatives have been unfairly criticized in the province since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2006. The party has never managed to gain a foothold in the Montreal area under his leadership, but she feels that she can help to make a difference.
Ms. Déry's candidacy is being greeted as a "breath of fresh air" in the Conservative Party, and the fact she is Jewish stands to help her win the Conservative nomination in the riding, which has a large Jewish population and has long been courted by Mr. Harper's team.
"For the last few years, I have witnessed what has been said and written about the Tories as a journalist," Ms. Déry said in an interview. "Frankly, I think we really need to change this bad perception, this poor perception that the Tories have in Quebec."
She said the Conservatives are frequently seen as being "hostile and non-transparent" in her home province, even though they have a strong record on the economy and in providing help to families.
"I don't think they really made bad decisions for Quebec; I think people probably misunderstood the message of the Conservatives," she said. "I want to be one of those candidates who will be able to change that perception."
Having just retired from journalism after 15 years, Ms. Déry announced her intention to run for the Conservative nomination in the riding of Mount Royal on Wednesday night.
A key selling point for the Conservative Party in the riding is the Harper government's steadfast support for Israel. Ms. Déry, whose parents are Sephardic Jews from Morocco, said the government's position helps to explain why she was attracted to the party.
She was born in Mount Royal and is currently living in the riding with her husband and two children. She attended primary school at Montreal's Maimonides School, which describes itself as a jewel of the city's Sephardic community.
"The support from Mr. Harper towards Israel is a big thing," Ms. Déry said. "But this is not the only reason that I am running."
The Conservatives have steadily increased their share of the vote in the riding, which is currently held by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler. Whereas Mr. Cotler took 76 per cent of the vote in the 2004 general election, his share fell to 41 per cent in 2011, when he won by only 2,260 votes. Mr. Cotler said last year he would not be running in 2015.
In addition to Mount Royal, the Conservatives will also focus on two other ridings in the West Island, Pierrefonds-Dollard and Lac-Saint-Louis, in this year's election.
The Conservative Party has yet to open up the nomination in Mount Royal, so no date has been set for the vote and the party has yet to approve any candidacies. Other potential candidates include Robert Libman, a former provincial MNA and long-standing defender of anglophones' rights, and newspaper editor Beryl Wajsman.
Still, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney's presence at Ms. Déry's nomination launch suggests the Conservative hierarchy sees her candidacy as an "encouraging sign" for the party in Quebec and proof the party "hasn't given up on the province," according to a senior Conservative official.
The Liberal candidate in the riding is Anthony Housefather, a prominent municipal politician who is the mayor of Côte-St-Luc. In 1999, he stepped aside when Mr. Cotler, an internationally renowned lawyer, agreed to run for the Liberals in a by-election, and he has been at work in the riding for months to try to keep it in Liberal hands.
While the Conservatives have worked hard to win in Mount Royal, they suffered a setback when their previous candidate in the riding, Saulie Zajdel, was charged with fraud as part of a corruption probe in 2013.
Still, Ms. Déry said that Mr. Cotler's retirement will provide "a window of opportunity for the Conservatives."