OTTAWA (Reuters) - Ahead of a close October election, Canada’s ruling Conservatives are pushing to revive their fortunes in Quebec, the province that helped them to power in 2006 but then turned its back amid concerns the party was too right-wing.
Quebec, the second most-populous province, has 75 seats in the 308-seat of House of Commons. The right-of-center Conservatives only hold five of those seats and even just a handful more could make the difference between Prime Minister Stephen Harper retaining or losing power.
Although the predominantly French-speaking province traditionally tilts more to the left than the rest of Canada, Harper, who represents a constituency in the western city of Calgary, wooed it hard ahead of the 2006 election and the 10 seats he won proved crucial to his fortunes.
Since then though the party has gradually lost popularity as criticism grew that the Conservatives had moved too far to the right and did not respect the province’s culture.
Conservative strategists are optimistic the party can bounce back, citing favorable polls and what they say is a strong slate of candidates.
Harper went to Quebec on Wednesday for Saint-Jean-Baptiste day, an important provincial holiday, and reminded a large crowd of candidates and supporters that Canada had initially been settled by French explorers in the early 17th century.
“Canada was born in French ... and Canada will continue to grow and prosper, thanks in no small part to the contributions of Quebecers and all francophone Canadians,” he said.
Both Conservatives and Quebecers, he said, wanted to save money, pay less tax, be protected from criminals and terrorists and know their values would be respected.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Conservative values are not Quebec values,” he said.
The party does not hold any of the 22 seats in and around Montreal, an area where it has never had a legislator elected and where its support is relatively low. Instead it is focusing on the rest of Quebec, especially the area around Quebec City.
“It’s central to what we’re trying to achieve here,” said a Conservative strategist.
Defence Minister Jason Kenney on Tuesday announced Ottawa would open talks about a possible ship building contract with the Davie yard, situated just to the south of Quebec City.
Davie - which is in the parliamentary constituency of Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney - says that unless it gets more orders it may be forced to cut jobs.
The official opposition New Democrats, who swept the province in the 2011 federal election and hold 54 of Quebec’s 75 seats, called the announcement a blatant political bribe.
The other party competing in the province are the Liberals of Justin Trudeau, a Quebecer who is the son of former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Additional reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Alan Crosby