Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mission: Gatineau

NDP determined to add to their Quebec caucus of one

The NDP's deputy leader, Thomas Mulcair, believes the party is on the cusp of a Quebec breakthrough -- perhaps eight to 12 ridings.

They believe they can do this by courting soft social democratic Bloc Quebecois votes in numerous ridings, including Gatineau.

In fact, Mulcair has looked to his own seemingly-unlikely triumph in Outremont as the measuring stick for potential success there. “Your numbers are almost identical to mine,” Mulcair recently told Francoise Boivin, the NDP's candidate there.

Boivin herself is optimistic about her prospects for victory over Bloc Quebecois incumbent Richard Nadeau, and she has her list of priorities for the riding.

“We need doctors in Gatineau, and it’s more urgent than anywhere else in Quebec. The NDP’s platform is heavy on promises to improve healthcare, and train more doctors."

“People want change,” she said. “We’re a people-oriented party. With the economy taking a turn, they need a party with people at the centre.”

“We seem to draw from every sector in the region,” she added. “It used to be easy because you would look at the map and say, ‘this part is Liberal,’ but this time, my team is having great difficulty because we have to go everywhere. It’s very, very encouraging.”

Jack Layton has also spent his own fair share of time in Gatineau -- launching his party's campaign there -- and has campaigned relentlessly in Quebec.

Layton has framed his campaign in Quebec as being not only about the future of his party, but about the future of social democracy in Quebec and across Canada.

"I have had the dream of building a New Democratic movement in Quebec for a very, very long time,” Layton has remarked. “And I guess it's because I was born not all that far from here and raised here in Montreal that I have a sense that right now people want to move beyond the old debates and Quebeckers want to participate in a movement for change right across the country.”

Which is one of the reasons why a victory in Gatineau is so pivotal for the NDP. But don't expect Richard Nadeau to concede the fight easily. The four-way split of the federalist vote in Gatineau and Nadeau's strong family ties to separatism in the riding have amassed him a healthy lead amongst decided voters.

And Layton, Mulcair and Boivin can hardly expect the Liberal party to follow Stephen Harper's Andre Arthur example and take one for the federalist team in the name of blocking a separatist candidate.

If the NDP does, indeed, achieve their Quebec breakthrough, it will prove to be a boon for Canadian unity. Gatineau is as good a place as any to start that, but the success of the NDP enterprise is far from assured.

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