MONTREAL – The Gaspé region in eastern Quebec is best known to foreigners for its charming villages, outdoor recreation opportunities and panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River, but it could also become a contested territory on election day.
The riding of Gaspésie-Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine narrowly remained liberal in 2019, Diane Lebouthillier having beaten her rival from the Bloc Québécois by less than 700 votes. In just over a decade, the predominantly rural riding in the eastern part of the province has been owned by the Bloc, the NDP and the Liberals.
To mark his significance, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau visited the riding in July to make a $ 25 million campaign-style announcement to expand a wind turbine plant to produce blades for U.S. markets. and Europe.
Throughout the day, Lebouthillier was by his side, walking with him along the scenic Percé promenade for a photo, introducing him to locals and taking over from Trudeau at a press conference when questions on local issues were raised.
In an interview in July, Lebouthillier, 62, was unequivocally confident in his chances of winning a third term, despite the proximity of the vote the last time around.
The outgoing federal revenue minister said close elections were normal in a constituency with such a small population, noting that she won her first election – as reeve of her regional county municipality – by just one vote.
“I’m going to win the next election and I’m going to win it with the Madelinots and I’m going to win it with the Gaspésiens because they want to continue to see themselves represented in Ottawa,” she declared.
Its main challenger is the Bloc Québécois candidate Guy Bernatchez, mayor of the locality and an executive in the forestry industry that it narrowly beaten in 2019.
Bernatchez said he was better known and prepared the second time around, being more familiar with the process of recruiting volunteers and working over the phone.
“Certainly, I will be better, I will be better known. The Bloc does not come from that far and has done a great job since 2019,” he said.
Lebouthillier and Bernatchez will both have to tackle the main issues in the constituency, including an aging population, labor shortage, the need for jobs that go beyond seasonal tourism work or fishing. , the threat of erosion from climate change and the need to repair and maintain key infrastructure such as ports.
Recently in Gaspé, citizens expressed mixed opinions.
Marie-Andrée Beauchamp, who works seasonally in the hotel industry, says that the return of the Bloc Québécois would be “a dream”, but is not sure that will happen.
She says the Liberals have made investments in the area, including repairing the storm-damaged Perce promenade, but believes most of the investments were for tourists and not locals. What locals need, she said, are higher wages.
A retirement home in Gaspé, about a 45-minute drive away, seemed like more liberal liberal territory. Several residents seated enjoying the sun and the river view at Résidence Foyer de Gaspe all said they would likely vote Liberals.
One resident praised Lebouthillier, who has been described as outspoken. A guest, who was visiting her mother at home, praised Trudeau on his handling of the pandemic.
“I think he was the only one who really helped people,” said Rose-Marie Dorion, as she sat outside on a wooden bench.
But Dorion, who works part-time with seniors, said she also believed the benefits last long enough and people were now reluctant to work.
Lebouthillier said the Liberal government has invested heavily in the region and has achieved results.
As an example, she cited the announcement of the Trudeau wind farm as a major investment that will help the region continue to develop as wind power and create some 200 well-paying jobs in a region where wages are traditionally linked to service and fishing. .
Unlike the Liberals, “the Bloc Québécois can only complain,” she declared.
Bernatchez, for his part, acknowledged that Lebouthillier is appreciated in some quarters, but he also believes that citizens are disappointed with the Liberals’ inaction on certain issues, ranging from the failure to increase benefits for young seniors to the non-restoration of the popular Cap-des-Rosiers lighthouse, which adjoins Forillon National Park.
He rejects Lebouthillier’s argument that the Bloc can do nothing because it will only ever be an opposition party, noting that the country has several opposition parties that have never formed a government.
Also in the riding, Lisa Phung for the New Democrats, Jean-Pierre Pigeon for the Conservatives and Christian Rioux for the People’s Party.
– This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 18, 2021.