For the New Democratic Party of Quebec, the connection to its federal counterpart ends with the name.
There’s no working relationship between the new provincial party and its national namesake, and that suits NDP Leader Raphaël Fortin fine.
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“The law in Quebec forbids provincial parties from being linked to federal parties,” said Fortin, 38, who was elected leader in January. “So apart from sharing a community of ideas and carrying a similar party name … there’s no organic link between the parties.”
Fortin said his party aims to fill a void on the left of the provincial political spectrum.
“More or less, we’re looking for a left-leaning voter who isn’t interested in a referendum on Quebec sovereignty,” said Fortin, who was raised in sovereigntist circles.
The Quebec New Democrats avoid the federalist label, advocating instead for an asymmetrical federalism that respects Quebec’s jurisdictions, he said.
“There are people (in our ranks) who consider themselves federalist, but the door is open to all political orphans,” Fortin said.
The party doesn’t see itself in competition with the Parti Québécois or Québec Solidaire, despite proposing similar policies, such as free post-secondary education and a $15 hourly minimum wage.
“They are left, yes, but they are above all sovereigntist,” Fortin said. Instead, he is targeting disenfranchised Coalition Avenir Québec and Liberal voters, or those without a political home.
The NDP is fielding candidates in 59 of the province’s 125 ridings, well behind such other second-tier parties as the Conservative Party of Quebec, with 101, and the Quebec Green Party, with 97. But Fortin considers the slate respectable, considering a provincial NDP has not run in Quebec since 1994.
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Fortin, who has taken a leave of absence and sold his condo to commit to the campaign, said electoral success will be measured by credibility raised, not seats won. He is running in the southwestern Montreal riding of Verdun.
“I tell my candidates, don’t look at the final results, look at your campaign and how many people you reach,” he said.
He got his first taste of politics campaigning for Tom Mulcair in 2007, when the federal NDP made its first breakthrough in the province. He ran and lost twice federally on Montreal’s south shore in 2008 and 2015.
The Orange Wave that swept Quebec in the 2011 federal election is a distant memory, but Fortin said that success was connected more to the late NDP leader Jack Layton than the party brand.
“We must recognize the reality that Jack was able to seduce an electorate and connect with them, so a lot of people voted without knowing about the NDP,” he said.
“They voted for the man.”
Four of those 2011 surprise MPs, defeated in 2015, are running provincially.
They include Quebec City-area candidate Raymond Coté, who lost the leadership campaign to Fortin but agreed to run in the Jean-Lesage riding. He said the former MPs bring attention to the new party.
“Many people told me, finally we’ll have a choice,” Coté said.
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Concordia University political scientist Daniel Salée said social democrats opposed to sovereignty might be intrigued by the NDP, but it will be an uphill battle when even the federal party is struggling in Quebec.
“The NDP at the federal level in Quebec doesn’t have the kind of appeal it did under Jack Layton and (or even) the kind of appeal it still had under Mulcair,” Salée said.
© 2018 The Canadian Press