The epicentre of Quebec’s shifting political forces that will help decide the 2019 federal election is in Trois-Rivières, an oft-forgotten, slow-growing regional hub halfway between Quebec City and Montreal.
For the next six weeks and until the Oct. 21 vote, the city where Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer launched his campaign Wednesday will not lack for political attention. Trois-Rivières is one of 14 seats currently held by the NDP where Conservatives, Liberals and the Bloc Québécois are trying to take advantage of New Democrat decline.
Montreal may be a Liberal stronghold and Conservatives enjoy a base in Quebec City, but in the vast vote basin stretching outward from the Montreal suburbs and eastward along the St. Lawrence River valley through Trois-Rivières, two dozen ridings are up for grabs. Trois-Rivières and other regional hubs such as Drummondville and Saint-Hyacinthe will be regular campaign stops and play a key role in deciding Canada’s next government.
St. Lawrence River
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A city founded 400 years ago and forged on iron foundries and pulp and paper, Trois-Rivières spent the 1980s and 90s in steep industrial decline before recent mild recovery driven mainly by government investment and service industries. Federally, the riding has spent a lot of time in opposition, backing Bloc or NDP MPs since 1993, when a Conservative government member held it.
In the 2015 election, each of the Bloc, Liberal, Conservative and NDP candidates received at least 10,000 votes in Trois-Rivières. New Democrat Robert Aubin was re-elected with 19,193 votes, 1,000 more than a Liberal challenger.
Once decrepit with empty shops and crumbling pavement, the city now has a revitalized waterfront where cruise ships stop and a modern stone town square where decorative fountains spray along while passersby tinkle on a piano. Potential voters who mill about the square and the city, which is 96-per-cent francophone and 3.2-per-cent immigrant, have made no final decisions.
“It’s pretty mixed up around here, personally I find it very complicated, not a simple decision at all,” said Claude Lamy, a 61-year-old retiree who worked in the pulp and paper industry. Mr. Lamy said his NDP MP has done a good job, but he’s leaning toward the Liberals and Leader Justin Trudeau, saying he hasn’t done anything “catastrophically wrong” as Prime Minister while the other leaders are unknowns. He remains open to a change of heart.
For the governing Liberals, which have 40 of 78 seats in Quebec, boosting their MP count is seen as essential to offset potential losses outside the province. For the Conservatives, which currently have 11 seats in the province, the goal is to at least double that score.
Some of the country’s most fickle voters will decide the outcome. In 2011, they abandoned the Bloc in droves and formed the Orange Wave, swinging massively to Jack Layton’s NDP. In 2015, just four years later, after Mr. Layton’s death from cancer, Quebeckers rallied behind Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal Party.
Many of these voters are again wondering if it is time for a change.
The Conservatives and Liberals have invested considerable resources in Quebec and have found dynamic candidates. But many voters are disappointed by Mr. Trudeau’s four years in power, and unconvinced of Mr. Scheer’s ability to do better. Many voters say they simply don’t know him.
Interviews with voters show how both leaders are weighing down their parties.
The first thing on Gilles Rousseau’s mind when he met Conservative candidate and former Olympian Sylvie Fréchette at a hamburger joint in the Laurentians, was attacking Mr. Scheer’s intention to allow backbench MPs to introduce anti-abortion legislation.
But Mr. Rousseau, who voted Liberal in the last election, is unimpressed by Mr. Trudeau’s disastrous trip to India last year, in which he and his family members wore local garb at a number of stops. “The image that he projected over the last four years is that of a clown who likes to dress up,” the retired municipal worker said.
Neither he nor his wife, Nicole Fortin, are tempted by the Bloc. They are typical Quebec voters who, polls say, are more likely than other Canadians to decide where to mark their X at the voting station.
“We still have to listen to what the leaders have to say,” Ms. Fortin said. “Maybe a bit of change wouldn’t hurt.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s turban remains his defining feature in a province where secularism and religious symbols have been a dominant issue.
“They don’t know Jagmeet, and they latch on to the one thing they know about him,” said Mr. Aubin, the NDP MP who is again running in Trois-Rivières.
“When it’s demystified, there’s a door that opens. … Yes, it’s an extra challenge in Quebec, but it’s not insurmountable.”
For Mr. Trudeau, his trip to India sticks with many voters.
“The image he projected when he put on his disguises in India certainly tarnished the credibility he should have as the person who occupies the function of prime minister,” said Patricia Cossette, a health-care manager in Trois-Rivières.
Still, she hasn’t ruled out voting for him. “He’s incredibly accessible and open to people. We’ve had others who were more distant and imposing. His human side is definitely his strength.”
Pollster and political analyst Jean-Marc Léger said the NDP support has collapsed in Quebec, which opens up three-way races between the Liberals, Conservatives and the Bloc to win the 14 NDP seats.
“It’s like three armies are advancing, and the question is which one of them will invade the other’s territory,” he said. “Among francophone voters, it’s nearly a tie between the three parties. … It’s hard to predict what will happen because a lot of the seats will be won with one-third of the vote.”
Initial Conservatives gains in Quebec would likely come near Quebec City, where they could add two Liberal seats to the five they hold. Liberal and NDP seats in the Saguenay/Lac-Saint-Jean region to the north are also targets.
The Conservatives have adopted a nationalist message, saying they are willing to work with Quebec to hand over more immigration powers and allow the provincial revenue agency to collect federal income tax in Quebec.
The Conservative strategy also hinges on attracting strong local candidates. In Trois-Rivières, former mayor Yves Lévesque is running. North of Montreal, they have attracted the candidacy of Ms. Fréchette, who many Quebeckers remember for winning Olympic gold and silver medals in synchronized swimming in the 1990s.
Ms. Fréchette is representative of the voters the Conservatives seek: She voted for Mr. Trudeau in 2015, but became disillusioned over deficit spending and a sense he wasn’t serious enough.
Ms. Fréchette knows her success in the riding of Rivière-du-Nord, north of Montreal in the Laurentian Mountains, will depend on name recognition. “People will vote for the Bloc or for Sylvie Fréchette,” she said.
Still, she hopes to help Mr. Scheer break out of his shell and find a way to tell Quebeckers his values align with theirs. “If I could give myself one mission, it would be to humanize him,” she said.
The Liberals hope to sweep the island of Montreal, which entails taking three NDP ridings and one from the Bloc in the eastern part of the city.
The Montreal strategy rests on Mr. Trudeau, who is popular in his hometown, but also Steven Guilbeault, a noted environmentalist who will argue Liberal climate change efforts are effective.
Liberal MPs have travelled the province in recent weeks with funding announcements. The Liberals are raising fears of massive cutbacks if the Conservatives form government, contrasting with Liberal deficit spending on infrastructure.
“We are in an expansionist mode, we are not simply trying to defend our positions,” said cabinet minister Pablo Rodriguez, who is seeking re-election in Montreal.
The Bloc, with 10 seats, remains a wild card that could take advantage if the Liberals flag or if the Conservatives fail to break through. After years of infighting, the party has stabilized under Yves-François Blanchet, a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister and television analyst. It is running under the slogan “Le Québec, c’est nous” (We are Quebec) and a platform railing against Canada’s dependence on non-renewable energy.
“The Bloc can create a surprise,” said Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, the son of former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe and the party’s candidate in Lac-Saint-Jean. “A lot of people are telling us they are willing to come back to the Bloc.”
At an oldies concert on the lawn of a retirement home on the residential outskirts of Trois-Rivières, the Liberal candidate Valérie Renaud-Martin, a charismatic 37-year-old city councillor, recently shook hands and chatted with retirees in lawn chairs. Ms. Renaud-Martin said complaints about the SNC-Lavalin affair or the India trip are not what she usually hears.
“Honestly, what I hear about most is cannabis,” she said, adding that many people in Trois-Rivières still worry about runaway use among young people. “People still haven’t completely gotten used to [legalization].”
A range of political views were in the concert crowd. One woman was annoyed about Mr. Trudeau’s liberal immigration rhetoric and the ever-present trip to India. A man had questions about Mr. Singh’s turban while another worried about Mr. Scheer and abortion. Hélene Mailloux sat on a bench near a pétanque pitch listening to the conversations and eating a hot dog like a spectator at a sporting event. “It’s going to be close!” Ms. Mailloux said. She remains undecided.
Pedestrian killed by car in Surrey
One person has died after being struck by a car on Saturday night in the Newton neighbourhood of Surrey, B.C.
RCMP say a pedestrian was hit by a vehicle around 10:34 p.m, near the busy intersection of 152 Street and Highway 10.
Police say the pedestrian was pronounced dead on scene.
Evidence markers dotted Highway 10 for several dozen metres west of the intersection where a white car sat with front end damage.
The intersection was closed to traffic overnight while collision analysts examined the scene.
Police have not announced any details on what caused the crash.
Anyone who witnessed the collision, saw the vehicle beforehand, or has dash camera footage of the incident is asked to contact Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
Mississauga mayor statement after shooting in the city
The mayor of Mississauga, Ont., says she’s “shocked and saddened” after a teenage boy was killed and five other people were wounded when gunfire erupted in the city west of Toronto on Saturday evening.
Bonnie Crombie called the incident a “senseless act of gun violence” and says her thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families.
Peel Regional Police Chief Chris McCord said at a news conference late Saturday night that according to witnesses, multiple suspects unleashed a barrage of gunfire from semi-automatic weapons near a parkette behind an apartment building at around 6:20 p.m.He said a 17-year-old old boy died at the scene and that five others – a 13-year-old, a 16-year-old, two 17-year-olds and a woman in her 50s – were injured.
McCord said one of the wounded was in serious condition and that the other four suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
No suspect information has been released as officers continued to canvass the area for surveillance footage and police are asking anyone with information on the shooting to come forward.
Crombie thanked first responders who rushed to the scene and she says she hopes to take action in response to the shooting.
“As a member of the police board, I am committed to ensuring Mississauga remains one of the safest cities by working to get illegal guns off our streets,” said Crombie in a statement.
McCord has said that “a lot” of shell casings were found scattered over a wide area and that several vehicles were hit by the gunfire.
He said it’s early in the investigation and that many questions about the incident remained unanswered, including the motive, whether the victims were targeted and whether the shooting was gang related.
A music video was being filmed near the scene of the shooting, but McCord said he didn’t know if it was in any way linked to the case.
Police seeking 7 suspects in shooting in Mississauga
A 17-year-old boy who was killed in a shooting in Mississauga on Saturday night was an innocent victim, Peel Regional Police say.
Peel Police Chief Chris McCord told reporters on Sunday that investigators believe there were seven shooters involved in gunfire that injured four other teens and a woman in her 50s in a parkette behind an apartment complex.
The shooting occurred on Darcel Avenue near Dunrankin Drive, in the area of Morning Star and Goreway Drive. Police were called to the scene at 6:22 p.m.
Officers have recovered more than 100 shell casings at the crime scene.
McCord said police also believe the shooting was motivated by a rap music video that was filmed in the parkette and released last week.
The teen boy, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead at the scene. The five injured people — a 13-year-old girl, a 16-year-old boy, and two 17-year-old boys — were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Police say one of the injured people has been released from hospital and the remaining four are in stable condition
McCord said some of the injured are also believed to be innocent victims.
He said the shooting occurred as people in the parkette were setting up to shoot a music video and an ice cream truck was nearby.
No one is in custody, no suspects have been identified and officers are reviewing security camera video.
Police believe the shooters used semi-automatic weapons, but none of those weapons have been recovered.
Mayor says she is ‘deeply shocked’ by shooting
On Sunday morning, police canvassed the neighbourhood, knocking on doors in the hopes of finding witnesses and security camera video.
Officers also sent out a drone to obtain an aerial view of the crime scene and brought in a metal detector to scan for stray bullets in the grass.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said in a statement Sunday that her thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.
“I am deeply shocked and saddened to hear of this senseless act of gun violence in our city, it’s simply unacceptable. I urge anyone with information to contact police immediately,” Crombie said.
“As a member of the police board, I am committed to ensuring Mississauga remains one of the safest cities by working to get illegal guns off our streets.”
Crombie also thanked Peel police and paramedics who “swiftly” went to the scene.
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