NOTEBOOK: Jagmeet vs. Justin in a city where an election likely changes little

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WATCH: Global News chief political correspondent David Akin provides updates on issues that will be pivotal in the election race and who is leading the polls at the end of week 1. – Aug 23, 2021

Jagmeet Singh became the first federal leader to campaign in the riding of another leader when Singh, with his wife Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu at his side, did a little ‘mainstreeting’ on a hot muggy Monday afternoon in the riding of Papineau.

The incumbent Liberal in Papineau — Justin Trudeau, of course — happened to be out of town at the time, campaigning for votes in Halifax.

There is little chance that Singh’s candidate in Papineau, Christine Paré, is going to knock off Trudeau though the NDP did finish second here in 2019. Second, for the record, was more than 16,000 votes behind Trudeau’s 25,957 votes.

Generally speaking, leaders do not waste precious moments in a short campaign like the current one to do stops in no-hope ridings. But, unless something radically changes, the entire city of Montreal is filled, with one notable exception, of no-hope ridings for the NDP.

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So Singh’s Papineau stop was really designed to boost the spirits of Quebec New Democrats, shoot a few more Instagram and TikTok stories and have a little fun poking the Liberal leader in the eye in his home riding.

Read more: ANALYSIS: Election’s first week had a heavy focus on B.C. and a strong start from O’Toole

During his hour-long stop, Singh visited a few shops on rue de Castelnau, near Montreal’s Jarry Park. At one shop — a toy store — Singh bought a set of Monopoly Deal card, “M-Deal” apparently being the go-to game for the Gurkiran and some of the NDP staff on the bus.

Also accompanying Singh on his swing through rue de Castelnau was Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP MP for the riding of Rosemont-Petit-Patrie. Boulerice is the only New Democrat in the province and last to survive among the 59 NDP MPs washed into office by the Orange Wave 10 years ago during the 2011 election.

It is vital for the NDP that Boulerice remain in the NDP parliamentary caucus and there is a good chance he will. In 2019, Boulerice had a relatively easy win and the 25,435 votes he received were nearly 11,000 better than the Bloc Quebecois candidate that finished second. And in almost every poll done since the writs dropped and before, the NDP is a few points more popular now in Quebec than it was in 2019.

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But the party has not become popular enough to think there is any other seat in Montreal where a New Democrat could conceivably be said to have much of a chance. Indeed, in Quebec as a whole, there are but two best bets: re-taking Berthier—Maskinonge back from the BQ and Sherbrooke back from the Liberals.

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Canada Election: Singh blasts Trudeau’s record on climate change at same site where Trudeau joined 2019 climate protest – Aug 23, 2021

Both those seats were first won by Jack Layton’s Orange Wave in 2011. Ruth Ellen Brosseau in Berthier—Maskinonge was famously on holiday in Las Vegas when she won that seat in 2011 and then went on to become one of the NDP’s best MPs before the BQ’s Yves Perron beat her in 2019.

In Sherbrooke, Pierre-Luc Dusseault became the youngest person to ever win a seat in Canada’s history when, as a 19-year-old, he won in 2011. He, too, had an excellent Parliamentary career including as a committee chairperson before Liberal Elisabeth Briere beat him in 2019.

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But back in Montreal, there is unlikely to be much change to the electoral map if the current polls hold steady. A Global News aggregation of the most recent publicly released polling data shows that 37 per cent of Quebecers would vote Liberal right now versus 28 per cent for the BQ, 16 per cent for the Conservatives, and 13 per cent for the NDP. That compares to the 2019 popular vote for Quebec of Liberals 34 per cent, BQ 32 per cent, Conservatives 16 per cent and NDP 11 per cent.

Read more: ANALYSIS: The path to a Trudeau majority this spring is in the West

In other words, things are a bit better versus 2019 for the Liberals and the NDP and a bit worse for the BQ. At the ballot box, that likely translates into the status quo.

Indeed, just one seat in the entire city can be said to be realistically up for grabs and that is the working class riding of Hochelaga. In 2019, Liberal Soraya Martinez Ferrada narrowly beat Bloc Quebecois candidate Simon Marchand by just 328 votes or 0.6 per cent.

The BQ hopes to improve on its 2019 performance by at least eight more seats and Hochelaga would be at the top of its list of target ridings. But if BQ support is sagging a bit and Liberal support is the same or a bit better, the odds would be on Ferrada’s side to hold.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and NDP incumbent candidate Alexandre Boulerice pose for media cameras on Monday, August 23, 2021 in Boutique Randolph, a toy shop in the Montreal riding of Papineau, the riding held by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. (David Akin/Global News).

But where else in Montreal might a close race from 2019 herald a dogfight in 2021? Absolutely nowhere.

After Hochelaga, the next closest race was in the riding of La Pointe-de-l’Île and, well, it wasn’t really close: BQ incumbent Mario Beaulieu won by 16 points. The next closest race in which a Liberal prevailed was in the riding of Ahuntsic-Cartierville where Mélanie Joly ran away with it, winning by 30 points. With the exception of Hochelaga, the races in the 18 ridings in Montreal were all like that — big wins that will be tough for challengers to overcome in 2021.

In fact, there are probably more ridings in Calgary and Edmonton which are in play in this election than there are in Montreal.

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So Singh’s stop Monday here is unlikely to have any impact on electoral outcomes and, indeed, NDP insiders said it was more of a “wave the flag” mission, a signal to voters elsewhere in Canada who want their federal leader to at least say have a toehold in Quebec. That is not an insignificant consideration for many English-speaking progressive voters, particularly those in Ontario.

But beyond that, there is little reason for Justin Trudeau, Erin O’Toole or Jagmeet Singh to spend much time this campaign in Montreal proper. They will use the city’s airport but from there but only as one stop on the way to communities near Montreal like Laval, Longeuil, or La Prairie.

That’s where the action will be in this campaign in this part of la belle province.

David Akin is the chief political correspondent for Global News

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