What do four Quebec snowmobile clubs, Porcupine Canvas Manufacturing and the Saint-Hubert garrison all have in common?
They were all paid visits by federal ministers Tuesday or Wednesday during a busy two days of fundraising announcements, roundtables and tours.
The federal cabinet is meeting in Sherbrooke, Que., and the Liberals used the opportunity for more than just internal meetings, fanning out across a province that will be critical for an election win in 2019.
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Half the cabinet — 18 people including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — held more than two dozen events before the retreat got underway Wednesday night.
At a $400-a-ticket fundraiser at a Sherbrooke hotel, Trudeau addressed a room of about a 100 people and commented on how to bring more people under the Liberal tent.
“That’s the challenge I have for all of you tonight and over the next ten months: how we choose to build a better country and how we choose every day to have the conversations that will bring more people around in thoughtful ways,” Trudeau said.
And bringing more people around in Quebec would be extremely helpful if the Liberals want to keep their majority in 2019.
The party currently holds about half the seats in the vote-rich province.
In Sherbrooke specifically, the riding is held by the NDP’s Pierre-Luc Dusseault, who became the youngest-ever MP when he was elected in 2011 at the age of 19. Liberals haven’t held the seat since 1980. (The Liberals also chose to hold their last cabinet retreat in NDP territory on the other side of the country — in Nanaimo, B.C.)
Across Quebec, 40 per cent of voters are most likely to vote Liberal, according to the most recent IPSOS polling done exclusively for Global News in December. That’s followed by the Conservatives (21 per cent), the Bloc Quebecois (17 per cent) and the NDP (16 per cent).
But 18 per cent of voters polled in that province are still undecided — up slightly from the national average.
Trudeau has an unusual tool on his side — a so-far-peaceful relationship with Quebec’s new premier, Francois Legault. While the right-leaning CAQ is of a very different political stripe than the Liberals, Legault hasn’t picked a fight with Ottawa. It’s an unrocked boat and an unusually calm moment in Quebec–Canada relations.
Bolstering that alliance is an issue the Conservatives are determined to make the mainstay of the election: the carbon tax.
While it’s been pitting premiers against the prime minister, especially in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Quebec has had a cap-and-trade system since 2013. (In one of the myriad of pre-retreat events, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna took part in an armchair discussion at the University of Sherbrooke “to discuss climate action in Quebec and across the country.”)
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This retreat is being held just days after the cabinet shuffle. It’s a chance for ministers to gel with each other in their new roles and to get to know two rookie faces. The new justice minister is one of those rookies — and David Lametti is from a Montreal riding.
Including Trudeau, there are now nine ministers from Quebec — a boost to the ranks that can’t hurt in the 2019 campaign.
Abigail Bimman is an award-winning journalist and an Ottawa-based correspondent for Global National.
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