While Quebec Liberal Party leader Dominique Anglade spent Thursday’s campaign in Sherbrooke and Gatineau, her Conservative counterpart, Eric Duhaime, was in one of his flagship ridings in Montreal, seeking to woo his traditional base. .
Duhaime plans to make inroads with the province’s English-speaking minority on October 3. While Duhaime describes himself as a “nationalist,” the former radio host said his vision is inclusive and sees English-speaking Quebecers as allies, not enemies, in protecting the French language.
“Seventy-five percent of Anglophones in Montreal currently send their children to French schools, bilingual schools or French immersion programs,” he said in an interview Thursday.
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“You can’t say that these people don’t want to live in a French society. These people love French, they are allies.
While the Anglophone vote in Quebec has traditionally tilted toward the Liberals, the party won less than 20% overall.
Additionally, the party has come under fire from organizations representing Anglophones for its handling of the province’s new language law reform – known as Bill 96 – after the party initially proposed an amendment requiring English-speaking undergraduate students to take three core courses in French.
Duhaime said he offered an alternative to the Liberal Party – which he said took English-speaking voters for granted – and the Coalition Avenir Québec government, which introduced Bill 96. This law limits registrations in English-language colleges and requires immigrants to communicate with the government exclusively in French after six months and introduces measures that some fear will limit access to health care in English.
“The current prime minister has been very controversial on many issues,” Duhaime said.
“During the (COVID-19) crisis, he divided us between essential and non-essential workers, between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Now he is trying to divide us into anglophones and francophones.
Duhaime’s isn’t the only party hoping to appeal to mainstream liberal supporters.
The Liberals face the challenge of two upstart parties hoping to impress English-speaking, multicultural Montreal by promoting bilingualism and opposing laws that are unpopular among non-French speakers.
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The Canadian Party of Quebec and the Bloc Montreal both campaigned on pledges to repeal Bills 96 and 21, which prevent public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work, as well as Bill 40, which abolished most school boards.
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Desiree McGraw, Liberal candidate in the Montreal riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, maintains that her party is the best choice to represent Anglophones.
“We are the only party in the (legislature) that voted against Bills 40, 21 and 96 – period,” she said in a phone interview Friday.
“No one else can say that.”
McGraw said the politics of running for Liberals in Quebec can be “complicated” when the interests of English-speaking voters in Montreal can sometimes seem at odds with the desires of the French-speaking majority – which has largely supported the bills on the language and secularism.
Even in the liberal stronghold where she is running, she says she was “warned” of the amendments proposed by the liberals to the language law.
Unlike some of the Liberals’ challengers, whom she described as “interest groups” rather than parties, she said hers is a “big tent” party that aspires to govern for all Quebecers.
“We don’t have room for linguistic extremism on either side, and we think we’re occupying the progressive center,” she said.
As for the Conservatives, she suggested that voters read the full statements of the leader and his candidates.
The Duhaime Conservatives, who won less than 2% of the vote in the last provincial election, increased their support due to the party’s opposition to public health measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
On Thursday, Duhaime was campaigning in the St-Leonard borough of Montreal, an area known for its Italian population, and was scheduled to meet with a Jewish organization later in the day.
Duhaime said he wants Quebec to have more control over immigration and that the government should encourage the immigration of people who already speak French and provide an education for those who don’t.
He also wants to increase the province’s birth rate.
“It’s always a concern when you see a people who are not reproducing,” he said.
“It’s great to have children. Many people would like to have children, but there are now all kinds of barriers that make young couples hesitate.
On Thursday, at a cafe Duhaime was due to visit – before canceling due to what he said was a busy schedule – the name of the conservative chef received little recognition from a group of English-speaking customers.
Client Dominic Vendetti said he had heard Duhaime’s name and heard he was conservative, but said he knew nothing about his platform.
“It would have been nice if he was there, maybe he could have said something, but it won’t change anything. He’s going to split the votes everywhere,” he said.
Client Nick Campana, who voted Conservative in the federal election, said he had abandoned the provincial Liberals.
“I’ve voted for them all my life and after a while you get sick of getting stabbed in the back,” he said.
However, he believes that little will prevent the Liberals from winning the riding.
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