How Justin Trudeau is winning Quebec

Unlikely as it seems, support is pouring in from La Belle Province


Photograph by Peter Bregg

Until a fateful fall night last year, François Remillard hadn’t found a way to scratch his political itch. A history teacher awoke the interest in high school but, as the 27-year-old Quebecer points out, that was 10 years ago; since then, his passion has been for work (he is studying to be a surveyor) and studiously avoiding talking politics with his family, most of whom support the Parti Québécois.

And then on the evening of Oct. 2, Justin Trudeau declared his intention to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. His speech, replete with frothy declarations of his love for Canada and reminders of how much he has to learn, was classic Trudeau; he has the ability to at once come off as both outrageous and humble. After watching it on the Internet, Remillard was hooked. He followed the campaign intently from then on, and became a volunteer in January. “There are no other leaders who inspire me,” he says. “For me, it’s a question of image, of an idea of Canada. Trudeau has what it takes to get young people in Quebec and Canada interested and involved in federal politics.”

Starry-eyed optimism of the freshly converted? Perhaps. Yet there is something remarkable in Remillard’s sudden attachment to all things Liberal and Trudeau. That any young French Quebecer could find a home in a party synonymous with the sponsorship scandal—last decade’s ill-fated and corrupt attempt to sell the virtues of federalism to the province—goes against a well-worn narrative. That Remillard has been drawn to politics by the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau would border on heresy for many in the province. After all, so the story goes, Trudeau père forced the Constitution on Quebec and stunted the province’s aspirations.

Yet Liberal fortunes are on the rise in the province. For the first time in nearly a decade, the party is ahead of the Bloc Québécois, according to a recent CROP poll. There are caveats: it’s by a single percentage point, well within the poll’s margin of error. And, with support hovering at 23 per cent, the Liberal party is far from its glory days of 2004, when upwards of 40 per cent of the party’s seats were in Quebec.

Polls aside, more Quebecers are showing their support where it matters: with their wallets. According to an analysis of Elections Canada data, the party raised just shy of $600,000 last year in Quebec, more than the Conservatives and the NDP. Perhaps more significantly, the party raised this amount through 2,635 donations—more than the NDP’s 2,206 and the Conservatives’ 1,142. (In 2012, the Bloc raised roughly $164,000 through 425 donations.)

For the Liberal party, this represents a 34 per cent increase in Quebec donations—and a 125 per cent increase in the number of donors—over 2010, the last fundraising year before the election. It is also a marked difference from June 2012 when, as reported at the time, Liberal membership in the province was down nearly 40 per cent from the 2011 election.

Two things have changed, according to Liberal officials in the province: the Trudeau campaign, which has garnered the most supporters of any of the leadership candidates and dwarfed the party’s fundraising expectations, and the party’s new “supporter” category, with its focus on smaller donations.

Adopted at the Liberal biennial convention in January 2012, the supporter category is essentially a free, limited membership to the party. Supporters provide their name, postal code and email address and declare that they aren’t a member of another federal political party. This allows them to vote for the party leader and, the party hopes, prompts the cultivation of new Liberals.

The initiative is the brainchild of former Liberal party president Alfred Apps, who based the idea on a key element of the renewal of the Democratic party under Barack Obama. “We don’t make money from memberships anyway, so we asked, ‘Why the hell don’t we open a category where we can get people engaged in the party without having to pay $10 first?’ ” Apps says.

Those who joined as supporters have dug deep. Across Canada, the Liberals raised nearly $5.5 million from 28,595 donations in 2012, second only to the Conservatives’ $6.9 million (from 20,548 donations).

There are mixed feelings over the supporter initiative among Liberals themselves. “Our party is very vulnerable to special interest groups right now because of the supporter category,” says Alexandra Mendès, the president of the Liberal party’s Quebec wing. The worry, Mendès thinks, is the category will allow for the foisting of unpopular (or un-Liberal) views on the party.

At the same time, though, she credits this new crop of supporters for the increase in donations in Quebec—and most of these supporters, she says, came to the party thanks to the Trudeau campaign. “By reaffirming strong Liberal stances, Justin has reawakened the party, especially with Liberals who had lost interest and faith,” Mendès says. “Just the name ‘Trudeau’ reawakens passions in the province—good or bad.”

And how. Though born in Quebec, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was never wholeheartedly embraced by his native province. One of Trudeau’s first public appearances as Liberal leader, during Montreal’s St. Jean Baptiste parade of 1968, brought the city police force’s anti-riot squad out for the first time. He had evident disdain for former premier (and secular saint) René Lévesque, barely tolerated Lévesque’s successor, Robert Bourassa, and had a protracted, decades-long battle with Quebec nationalists that ended only with his death in 2000.

Few nationalists see much daylight between father and son. In certain media circles, Justin Trudeau’s nickname is le petit PET, a play on his father’s initials that translates to “the little fart.” Worse, Justin Trudeau remains nothing short of “the symbol of the negation of [Quebecers’] most fundamental collective rights,” says sociologist and sovereignist columnist Mathieu Bock-Côté, adding, “Justin is a media superstar before being a politician. He wouldn’t be anything without his family name.”

Yet Pierre Trudeau, for all his notoriety, last held power nearly 30 years ago­—three years before Remillard was born. “The old cat fights—who won and who lost the referendum—that’s less important than health, education and debt,” Remillard says. “Priorities have changed.” That’s certainly a message echoed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, meanwhile, has made much of his young Quebec caucus and the social democratic values to which Trudeau alludes in his speeches. So what makes it so special when Trudeau says these things? Remillard is quick to answer. “I find the other leaders don’t incarnate change,” he says. Plus, he adds, there’s the matter of Trudeau’s “star power.”

Remillard has seen Trudeau speak four times since January. Each time he has left more convinced that Justin (you don’t hear his last name much in the Trudeau campaign) is the right leader for Quebec. Three days a week, he oversees a telephone campaign at the campaign call centre; he and his fellow volunteers make roughly 1,440 calls to Quebec supporters every eight-hour shift. “I was very, very young when Pierre Trudeau was around,” he says, shrugging. “You can’t change the past, but his son is the future.”



How Justin Trudeau is winning Quebec

  1. It is not hard to win Quebec. It is called socialist give Away, It will be interesting to see the two Mulcair and Trudeau battle for Quebec.Harper must be elated.

    • The interesting part will be in Ontario, where a small dip in NDP fortunes and slight rise in Liberal numbers could tear seat after seat away from harper.

      • Agreed. Though aren’t the NDP equally vulnerable? I could see Justin wiping out the NDP in 416. An opposite phenomenon could happen in Quebec- there will be lots of interesting 4-way splits where NDP lose votes to Justin and Bloc, meaning Tories with high 20% shares of the vote sneak in.

      • Oops…there goes Mr H’s majority coalition. Cuz he’s decided he doesn’t need QC eh. What will he do then? Retreat to fortress Calgary/AB? Redraft the firewall letter?

    • Excellent point most Liberal gains are likely to come off the NDP. In Quebec Mulcair aint no Jack

  2. The fund raising numbers across Canada, are interesting. The Liberals are rapidly gaining on the Conservatives, and have more people than the Conservatives do, who are making donations to the party. It doesn’t look like Harper’s changes in the way parties finance themselves, is going to hurt the Liberals. Thanks to Trudeau, the Liberals are back in the game!

    • The Conservatives raise almost as much money from supporters as the NDP and Liberals combined.

      • most of those donations came from the oil companies that want lesser corporate taxes so that explains why. ahole.

        • Big oil has been implicated in CPC leadership bids, but they’d be banned from making contributions, so if they’re doing so and it comes to light they’d be in trouble. CPC technique has been focused on finding maybe the less discerning voter, filling them with crap (they’re here to take yer guns away and give them to pedophiles!) and fleecing them. Not illegal, just a bit dodgy and if the party delivers tends to favour bad policy – people expect you to put through good ideas regardless, they’ll pay ya for the self-interested bad ones.

          • You continue to demonstrate little or no knowledge of the typical Conservative supporter.

            Since this article is about Trudeau, let`s centre on his typical supporter.
            I would put them in 2 camps:
            The first is the lifer Liberal—he or she is probably savvy enough to know this guy is a lightweight compared to a Chretien, or a Martin and certainly a Pierrre, but they are desperate enough for a winning possibility that they will go along with him and hope he could win a minority and take a chance on him forming a coalition with the socialists and the separatists. I`m surprised Liberals are so risky with their country`s future—but I guess I shouldn`t be surprised.
            The second camp is the newbie like the 27 year old mentioned in the first paragraph ( by the way, how many years of schooling in Quebec does it take to become a surveyor—all you`re doing is holding a flipping stick up in the air ). This group may be what you are thinking about when you use the phrase ” less discerning voter “.

          • Even if what you said had value, clearly I was talking about the average CPC donor, the poor saps they hit up for $. Have a big glass of reading comprehension next time.

          • “All you’re doing is holding a flipping stick up in the air”

            How many years did it take you in school to come up with that beauty?

            Nice bit circumlocution. Shall i shorten it for you – liberals are either:

            a] Utterly cynical and so desperate for power they’d vote for a rabid dog if they thought it would get them back in power.
            b]So stupid they don’t know or care what they are voting for…and apparently the ones in QC require at least a extra six or seven years to qualify to get a job holding up a stick…guess a good con like you could do it at birth, while standing on your head?

            Really, i luv your longer screeds. They reveal far more about you and your political/social pov than they ever do about your subject.

          • ‘All you’re doing is holding a stick in the air’? That has to be the dumbest thing, in a long list of dumb things you’re posted on here.

        • Corporations and unions are not allowed to donate to political parties – it’s against the law. If you have evidence, give it to Elections Canada.

          However, I’m pretty sure you don’t – you’re just parroting left-wing lies.

          • While you (we) are right in fact, the day that Peter P. resigned for collecting donations is probably not the day to bring this up anymore!

          • Why? If anything, it’s a perfect illustration of the point that corporate donations are illegal!

            Besides, it seems to me that he’s done the honourable thing by paying back the money, and resigning so the voters can judge for themselves.

          • Corporate donations are illegal and so cheating on your taxes or speeding. Or exceeding election spending limits. Lots of people do things that are illegal and just hope they don’t get caught.

            And if the worst happens and they are the Harper government they claim they were obeying the law as they understood it, pay a fine and carry on as if nothing happened.Or the Alberta Conservatives for that matter.

            In the Penashue case, corporate donors got around those pesky rules by getting the employees to make donations on their behalf. I find it hard to believe this was an isolated incident or a brain-storm of a couple of Labradorians.

          • Brian! Foul and negative language make it unpleasent for me to read these comments. I’d rather concentrate on the facts and opinions without being turned off by personal attacks.

          • Tend to get carried away Wayne . You are right I was wrong,sorry

      • True, but the Libs have more PEOPLE donating. It means that many people that are not fortunate support the libs but cant afford to give a lot. In the end its the number of people and not the size of their pocket book that matters

  3. What a proud look he has on his face!

      • Exactly!

        • You sound like the old farts in the Muppets balcony, and you’re about as relevant.

          • You sound like a Bieber Groupie

      • and fall hard he will.

  4. Bourassa “mangeur de hot-dog” was Levesque’s PREDECESSOR, not his successor!

    • he was both!

      • not strictly speaking- Pierre-Marc Johnson was his successor, then Bourassa defeated Johnson after Trudeau had retired, at which point there was not really a relationship to be antagonistic.. Patriquin & Co no doubt refer to the fraught relationship circa 1970 October crisis

  5. I really wish Justin were running for Quebec Liberal leader instead.

  6. After observing the pathetic bunch that Quebecers have sent to Ottawa as their representatives the past few Elections, I am not the least bit surprised they are considering a fluffer like the little fart.
    Quebecers were once thought off as the most strategic of voters— always picking the winning side. I don`t know what happened to all that wisdom—-maybe they all died off.
    Anyway Quebec, good luck with that fluffer—-I know you feel you have few other options, but for chrisakes—-give your head a shake.

    • I wonder what could possibly be different this time? Oh yeah, that Harper guy is leading this particular CPC winning team!

      Er…might have been something Harper said or did? It isn’t like the haven’t chosen Conservative govts with a western contingent before..yeah sure it has to be their fault

      Get over yourself. QCers have as much right as anyone to vote for folks who at least come close to matching their values. This band of happy con warriors doesn’t cut it period. Maybe you should separate from them if you’re so unhappy with their choices..

  7. I went to his father’s first big rally in 1968 and I can still remember the electric enthusiasm of the crowd as Trudeau the elder stood on top of a flatbed truck and spoke of his love for Canada and laid out his vision.. Justin may not be a chip off the ole block, but he certainly can draw a crowd and in fact seems to love being amongst people, no matter where he is.. This, in my opinion, is political dynamite that cannot be taught, or faked – either you have charisma or you don’t and young Trudeau seems to be like his dad in that respect.

    • clamoringfor days of yore!

  8. “I find the other leaders don’t incarnate change” – just about as vague and ambiguous as Justin Trudeau himself.

    • Look up “incarnate”, and “change”. And “leader”.

  9. Vancouverois Alim A • 3 days ago
    and unions are not allowed to donate to political parties – it’s
    against the law. If you have evidence, give it to Elections Canada.

    However, I’m pretty sure you don’t – you’re just parroting left-wing lies”.

    I just copied and pasted Vancouverois, because he is correct, and that is why I am currently a Tory supporter..The US Supreme court, with their majority of right wing judges allowed superpacs to buy votes, while the Canadian Tory’s went the other way, giving Canadians a vote that counts. Super pacs have diminsihed and impaired this famous preamble to the United States Constitution.

    “We,the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,
    establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common
    defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of
    Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this
    Constitution for the United States of America.”

    I’m not saying a would never vote Liberal, but Justin is not Pierre by any stretch of the imagination. I would have been interested far more in Garneau.

    • Not me, I find him nice, but boring.

    • But that little old ‘best MP’ from Labrador seems to have taken corporate donations,,,

  10. Justin Trudeau is so refreshing and sexy–he would make a great leader of the Liberals and like his father a great Quebec Prime Minister. He has my vote all the way.

  11. At the time of the next election, Justin Trudeau will be 42 years old, the same age as JFK when he won the US presidency. It augurs well for Justin. I will certainly vote for the Liberals because of him being their leader.

  12. Trudeau need to deal with the voter fraud perpetuated by Bill C-31 – An Act To Amend The Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act (into law June 22 2007). With public records he can prove that the Conservatives released the “Unique Voter I.D Number” into the candidate’s voter lists to data track voter and generate suppression lists (along with also helping to get out the vote). The act also allowed”Election Canada bingo card” to be used in elections. Named by the election staff the “bingo card” is a tear-off sheet that is distributed to candidate reps every half hour during the election giving early warning if there is a close race. These 2 changes enabled the Robo-Call Scandal and public record. Harper is holding the smoking gun. Trudeau need to make it a kill issue. Maclean’s needs to expose this issue for what it is, the Death of The Secret Ballot.

    • Your observations about details in C-31’s Executive Summary all check out but isn’t claiming the near death of the secret ballot a little extreme. Explain

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