MONTREAL — Shoppers at a public market in east-end Montreal were all smiles when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau paid them a visit, but behind the pleasantries was an electorate cool to the idea of voting for his party.
The early-20th-century grey-stoned market where Trudeau visited Friday is located in the federal district of Hochelaga, a majority francophone neighbourhood whose residents switched loyalties to the NDP in 2011 after voting Bloc Quebecois since the party’s first election in 1993.
Almost all the voters approached Friday said Trudeau was not their man.
When Francois Forget, 59, was asked what it would take for him to vote Liberal, he said, “If they change their leader!”
He said he used to vote Bloc but tried out the NDP last election and thinks he’ll do it again.
“The Bloc doesn’t have its place in Ottawa anymore,” he said, sitting with a coffee outside the market.
Marie-Helene, 33, sitting not too far away, said she’ll vote NDP because it’s the most palatable party.
“People are cynical,” said the woman, who did not want her family name identified. “They don’t believe politicians. The NDP is the best of the worst.”
Hochelaga hasn’t voted Liberal since Trudeau’s father, Pierre, was prime minister.
The Liberal message hasn’t resonated well in many of the eastern parts of Montreal, where residents are more francophone and poorer than the western areas of the island where the party maintains strong support.
Hochelaga is an eccentric neighbourhood with one of the only active “popular citizen committees” in Montreal, which groups local radicals and progressives who fight increases to public services and the gentrification of the neighbourhood.
Periodically, unknown vandals smash the windows of higher-end shops and restaurants seen as attracting a wealthier clientele who force rent increases and displace poorer citizens.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe used to sit on Hochelaga’s citizens’ committee in the ’70s before he entered politics and represented the riding next door, Laurier-Sainte-Marie.
Trudeau told reporters outside the market on Friday he knows the party “has a lot of work to do.”
“The fact is with 35 seats across the country there’s a lot of places that haven’t been Liberal in quite a while,” he said.
He said his party’s plan to cut taxes for the middle class and give more money than the Conservatives to families with children will help the Liberals win support in Montreal’s eastern ridings.
Christine Poirier, who is representing the Liberals in Laurier-Sainte-Marie, is taking Trudeau’s message door-to-door.
She walked through the market with Trudeau on Friday and said it’s all about the ground game — talking to one voter at a time.
“The campaign is going to be extremely important,” she said. “Before Duceppe there was a Liberal candidate in the riding and he was adored. I’ve been knocking on doors for over a year.”
But door-knocking is not going to be enough for Turcotte Rosaire, 61, who said he’s “not at all interested in voting Liberal.”
He said the party is still paying for its decision to leave Quebec out of the 1982 Constitution and for the sponsorship scandal, when millions of tax dollars were misdirected to marketing firms tied to the Liberals.
“I am persuaded that Trudeau will make a good prime minister, though,” he said. “He’s close to the people. Not like his father, who wouldn’t pat you on the back. (Justin) will.”