COVER

Cynicism in Quebec

Voters are unenthusiastic about the choices facing them

November 13 2000
COVER

Cynicism in Quebec

Voters are unenthusiastic about the choices facing them

November 13 2000

Cynicism in Quebec

COVER

Voters are unenthusiastic about the choices facing them

Mathieu Alarie got clobbered the first time he tried to get elected for the Bloc Québécois. Knowing it was electoral suicide, the 27-year-old university employee still ran in last year’s byelection in Mount Royal—the Montreal Liberal fortress held for years by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Liberal Irwin Coder won by a landslide; Alarie received only 385 votes. This time out, he faces much better odds in the suburban riding of Laval East, where he is trying to take over from outgoing Bloc MP Maud Debien. “It will be close,” he says, campaigning in a poorer section of the middle-class riding.

Throughout the election campaign, Macleans is sampling voter opinion on key issues in five high-stakes ridings across the country—Vancouver Centre, Calgary South, Markham in Ontario, Laval East in Quebec and Halifax, as well as profiling each riding. This week, Montreal Bureau Chief Brenda Branswell looks at Laval East, which the Liberals are trying to capture from the Bloc Québécois.

QUEBEC

Laval East

POPULATION

On the steps of the tiny bungalows, Alarie makes his pitch with phrases that strike a nationalist chord. And, he tells voters,

“You know you have a choice between the candidate of Jean Chrétien—and me, who grew up here.”

The Prime Minister appears to play a prominent role in the battle for Laval East, just north of Montreal and with about 80,000 voters, the vast majority of them francophone. As Alarie campaigns, several residents make unflattering comments about Chrétien. Granted, Alarie is in sympathetic territory: the handful of people he meets either support the Bloc or are leaning that way. But even at a nearby shopping centre, several Liberal and undecided voters express litde affection for Chrétien.

“I wish he would abdicate for [Finance Minister Paul] Martin, and that wont happen,” says retiree Andrée David, 63.

Laval East features a mix of modest bungalows, apartment buildings and upscale homes. It is one of 33 Quebec ridings where the federalist vote split in the

106,940

CANADIAN CITIZENSHIP 98.4%

AVERAGE HOUSEHOLD INCOME

MOTHER TONGUE

French ........

Other .........

English ........

RELIGION

Catholic ..............92.9%

Protestant..............3.2%

No affiliation............2.6%

Other..................1.3%

1997 ELECTION RESULTS

Maud Debien (BQ)......38.5%

Nathalie Paradis (Lib.) .. .32.1%

Vincent Della Noce (PC) . .28.2%

Peter Graefe (NDP).......1.3%

VOTER TURNOUT

1997 election, paving the way for a Bloc victory. Laval Liberals are hoping the Conservatives’ downward slide will swing that party’s supporters over to them; by late last week, the only campaign posters belonged to Alarie or Liberal candidate Carole-Marie Allard. “I think the riding is really divided between the Bloc and federalists,” says the Liberals’ Allard, 51, a lawyer and former Radio-Canada journalist. “I think I can rally the federalists.”

André Plourde does not expect Tory voters to simply jump ship to the Liberals. Plourde, 36, a vice-president with a commercial brokerage firm, recendy agreed to run for the Tories. He contends that Quebec voters object to the opportunism behind Chrétiens early election call. As for the Bloc, he says, the party leaves many Quebecers with the impression that it is “just guys who are trying to buy themselves a job for another four years.” Plourde thinks he can reap benefits if Tory Leader Joe Clark maintains his “very strong campaign.” But he is candid about his chances. “Do I expect to win? Do I feel it’s worthwhile for me to invest money and all my time into this?” he asks. “For now, no.” Many voters are apathetic. Yves Rouleau, 63, a retired engineer, voted for the Bloc in 1997 but now questions the party’s usefulness. “It doesn’t really interest me,” he says of the campaign. “I think the election was very premature.” David, meanwhile, a habitual Liberal voter, is unenthusiastic about the prospects facing her. “I’ll vote for the Liberals, but as a vote against the Bloc—that’s all,” she says. But she laments the negative aspect of her choice: “It’s not pleasant to vote like that.” E3

$51,214

.83.4% .12.9% . .3.7%

79.5%