MONTREAL — The ultimate political indignity a party leader can face is to run a criss-cross campaign around the country only to be defeated in his or her home riding.
It happened to Liberal chief Michael Ignatieff and Bloc Québécois boss Gilles Duceppe in the last federal election in 2011. This time around Justin Trudeau is attempting to ensure Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party suffers the same fate in the Montreal riding of Outremont.
To that end, the man leading the Liberal forces dropped in at a campaign event Thursday evening to boost his local candidate, Rachel Bendayan.
“What’s happening in Outremont is a real groundswell. I’m feeling the momentum,” said Bendayan, a lawyer who says voters are telling her that they want a change from Mulcair, even if the NDP leader himself is campaigning on that same theme.
“This riding happens to be one of the youngest ridings in Canada. I feel like I really represent them, not only their generation, but also their interests and their concerns,” the 35-year-old said during a break in afternoon campaigning outside a Starbucks on Montreal’s Park Avenue.
There are no set rules outlawing the practice, but bringing the national campaign and the flocks of journalists who follow it into Mulcair’s riding when he isn’t there to defend himself is perceived to be one of the few no-noes that remain in Canadian politics. Mulcair himself didn’t seem troubled by it.
“It’s a free country. People can do what they want,” he said at a campaign event in Alma, Que., adding that he had already won three times in what was once considered a Liberal party fortress.
“I have every intention of regaining the confidence of voters there, but I think Mr. Trudeau has to explain to you why he has spent most of his campaign going after me,” Mulcair said.
Bendayan insists there is “no bad blood” between the Liberal and NDP camps, though her campaign signs suggest that the local fight is particularly feisty.
What sets them apart from the hundreds of thousands of other Liberal election posters across the country is the black sticker that has been applied to them underscoring that Bendayan is “PRÉSENTE!”
“It signifies that I am present and from what I hear at the doors people are telling me that they don’t see him, that he isn’t here,” she said of Mulcair.
A few blocks north from where Bendayan was canvassing for votes, Mulcair’s local campaign manager, Graham Carpenter, said he was “not at all” concerned about Mulcair’s job security after next Monday’s vote.
But he was dismissive of the Liberal party’s late-campaign incursion into Outremont on a day when Mulcair, Trudeau and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper were hitting different parts of the province in a bid for seats.
“If I were Justin Trudeau I’d spend a little bit more time in my own riding because that’s the one where he actually has a chance of winning,” Carpenter said, adding that he would be willing to bet money with Bendayan on a Mulcair win.
Bendayan’s retort showed the aspiring politician is already well-versed in sticking to her message.
“I find it interesting that most of the times that journalists have done stories on this riding it’s Mr. Carpenter that speaks and not the candidate.”
– With files from Joanna Smith