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Politics Trudeau’s Quebec advantage? Having so many opponents in the province

Quebeckers know that Justin Trudeau is the Prime Minister. Now the question is, Who is the leader of the opposition?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer holds the title in Parliament, but that doesn’t mean that he will be viewed by Quebeckers as the chief alternative when they vote in October’s general election. Who will it be?

At the moment, Mr. Trudeau’s big advantage is that he is up against three, or four or five opponents.

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Last time, in the 2015 election, there was a four-way race in Quebec. The Liberals won the most seats, but the NDP, Tories and Bloc Québécois each took a share of the province’s seats, too. In some ridings, MPs were elected with 28 per cent or 29 per cent of the vote.

Right now, Mr. Trudeau is way out ahead of a pack – Mr. Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, Green Leader Elizabeth May and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier. If it stays that way, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals will virtually run the table in Quebec, winning nearly all of its 78 seats. That would make them hard to beat nationally.

Mr. Trudeau’s father, Pierre, benefited from something like that. In 1972, when Trudeaumania wore off, he narrowly held onto a minority government by winning 74 of Quebec’s 75 seats with 49 per cent of the vote – because the votes against him were split between Créditistes, Conservatives and the NDP.

In 2019, Mr. Scheer’s Conservatives don’t have much hope of winning the election if they don’t catch up a little in Quebec. The NDP could easily lose one-third of its seats in the province alone, relegating it firmly back to perennial third-party status.

Mr. Trudeau certainly has weaknesses, though. A new poll conducted by Léger found that many Quebeckers would describe the Prime Minister in some positive terms: friendly, modern, dynamic. But 46 per cent would describe him as superficial.

Tellingly, only 33 per cent of Quebeckers would say that Mr. Trudeau “understands people like you” – and only 29 per cent of francophones. In other words, average Quebeckers think he is out of touch with them.

Mr. Scheer and his party are already trying to exploit that weakness, and not just in Quebec. They fill Question Period with assertions that Mr. Trudeau has a “family fortune,” and never had to make ends meet.

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But Mr. Trudeau’s position in Quebec is a bit like that old joke about two campers being chased by a bear − you know, you don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun the other guy. And Mr. Trudeau’s opponents are far behind.

The NDP came second in the province in 2015, and won 16 seats. Now, the Léger poll has them in a distant fourth, with 8-per-cent support. When asked to rate leaders in eight categories – for example, who is best to defend Quebec’s interests, manage public finances effectively or welcome immigrants – the NDP’s Mr. Singh never placed higher than a distant third.

And while Quebeckers don’t see Mr. Trudeau as someone who understands ordinary folks, there isn’t much sign they feel a connection to Mr. Scheer. Thirty-five per cent still don’t know the Tory Leader. His French is still awkward.

One thing Mr. Scheer gets credit for, the Léger poll suggests, is being willing to let Quebec collect federal income taxes so Quebeckers only have to fill out one tax form. That’s one of several demands made by Quebec Premier François Legault, which Mr. Scheer has embraced in a bid to dig into the nationalist vote. But the poll found that Bloc voters have a more negative view of Mr. Scheer than Liberal or NDP voters do. Mr. Scheer is going to have a hard time building a base by attracting Bloc voters.

There is a vein of nationalist voters who won’t vote for Mr. Trudeau. But the Bloc will be fighting the Conservatives for them. Mr. Blanchet, the new Bloc Leader, is a former provincial cabinet minister and political pundit with some wit and personality. But the Bloc is a shadow of its former self, and Mr. Blanchet can’t argue that he’ll replace Mr. Trudeau as prime minister.

There is more competition among Mr. Trudeau’s opponents than with the Prime Minister. There’s talk the Greens are eating into the NDP vote. Mr. Bernier’s People’s Party has the potential to dent the Conservatives.

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For all his weaknesses in Quebec, Mr. Trudeau has one big advantage: There are so many opponents.

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