NOTEBOOK: Trudeau caps 10 days of pork barrelling in vacant Quebec riding

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is greeted by aluminum plant workers at an announcement on clean aluminum smelting technology, Thursday, May 10, 2018 in Saguenay, Que. Those workers will soon be voters in a byelection Trudeau is expected to call as early as this weekend. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday a $60-million injection of federal funds into a new organization which will develop advanced aluminum manufacturing techniques, an announcement that is likely to benefit voters in a vacant Quebec riding where Trudeau is widely expected to call a byelection as soon as this weekend.

Trudeau’s announcement capped off 10 days of various Liberal MPs and ministers showing up in the vacant riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord to hand out nearly $5 million in cheques and interest-free loans to various local organizations, an orgy of pork-barrel politicking not found in a database maintained by Global News of more than 20,000 spending announcements stretching back to 2008.

READ MORE: Apple, feds to fund new carbon-free aluminum smelting project in Quebec

The flurry of government largesse may be a sign that, though the Trudeau Liberals have enjoyed significant success in the 12 byelections already held during this Parliament,  the party is nervous about its ability to hold the riding of Chicoutimi—Fjord.

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And, on the other side of the ledger, the Conservatives, who have lost two seats to the Liberals in those 12 byelections, believe they have an excellent chance at a steal in Chicoutimi.

The Conservatives have nominated a popular junior hockey coach, 57-year-old Richard Martel. Martel, who has more wins than any other coach in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League history, has already had visits to the riding by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as well as Quebec Conservative MPs Alain Rayes, Gerard Deltell, Steven Blaney and others.

Doninic Poulin of Quebec City is flanked by Sagueneens owner Guy Carbonneau, left, and team coach Richard Martel after he was picked as third overall pick of the 2010 QJMHL draft in 2010 in Drummondville, Que. Martel is now the Conservative candidate in a soon-to-be-called byelection in the riding of Chicoutimi–Le Fjord. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

On Thursday, the Conservatives launched a new 30-second French-language advertising spot featuring Scheer who, in the ad, says, “Trudeau’s priorities are not the same as yours. By recognizing the Quebec nation, I want to see Quebec thrive. I want to collaborate, not confront.”

The Conservatives do not have a good history in the riding, finishing fourth in 2015 with just 16.6 per cent of the vote.

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Since the riding took its current form for the 2000 general election, it has been held by the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois. The last time a conservative candidate won in a general election was in 1997. That was Progressive Conservative André Harvey but he crossed the floor to the Liberals shortly afterward.

But the Liberals are hardly a lock in this region. Liberal Denis Lemieux narrowly won the riding in 2015, edging the NDP incumbent, Dany Morin, by just 600 votes or 1.3% of all votes cast. But life as a backbench MP was not for Lemieux who quit late last year.

Former Liberal MP Denis Lemieux points out a landmark to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he welcomed Liberal MPs to his riding of Chicoutimi-Le Fjord for a caucus meeting in 2016. Lemieux would quit politics within weeks of that meeting. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

While Lemieux was an MP, the federal government provided a combined $59 million for 24 projects in his riding, the single biggest of which was a $46.9-million major renovation for Canadian Forces Base Bagotville, the eastern Canadian home of the RCAF’s CF-18 fighter jets.

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The riding has been vacant since Dec. 1.

Since then, according to the Global News Ottawa Spends database there has been just one funding announcement where the beneficiary was an organization in the riding, a $795,000 grant given on Dec. 17 to the l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.

But, apart from the Dec. 17, announcement, there have been no spending announcements affecting Chicoutimi—Le Fjord organizations until late last month when what appears to be a pre-election blizzard of spending announcements began:

Not counting Trudeau’s announcement Thursday, that adds up to 14 projects funded in the riding with a combined federal contribution of $5,035,664.

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Trudeau must call the byelection by June 2.

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