POLITICS

Quebec's new political party courting ex-Liberal MP Marlene Jennings

01/05/2012 12:49 EST | Updated 03/06/2012 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - A popular new Quebec political party, keen to make inroads with traditional Liberal voters, is courting an anglophone former federal Liberal MP to run provincially.

Coalition For Quebec's Future has held meetings with Marlene Jennings, a former Liberal MP from Montreal who lost her seat in last year's federal election.

Adding a high-profile Anglo to the mix could be a coup for the party — which is counting on strong support from both sides of the federalist-separatist divide.

So far, the party's most visible faces come from the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois or nationalist ADQ.

The party appears determined to address that imbalance. Leader Francois Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister, has met twice with Jennings in the hope of adding her to his ranks.

"I'm seriously considering it. I really am," Jennings told The Canadian Press on Thursday.

"I think it's a viable choice and I'd love to see the breaking of this political logjam which has existed for so many decades over whether it should be independence or sovereignty-association.

"So much energy and time and effort has been wasted on that (debate)."

Jennings, a former lawyer and civil servant, served as a Liberal MP from 1997 until 2011, when she was defeated by the NDP during the party's so-called orange wave.

Thus far, the party is short on prominent federalist voices. It does have some high-ranking ex-federal Liberals working in the backrooms, but its sitting members are largely made up of disgruntled sovereigntists and ex-members of the nationalist ADQ who'd been sitting as Independents.

Led by Legault, the party says it wants to put aside the independence debate for a while. Its central message is that, after decades of that bruising debate, it wants to rally people of different stripes.

It has sought to underscore that message with its name — "Coalition" — and with a rainbow-like emblem that borrows from the colours and themes of other party logos.

Now it's going about recruiting candidates from various points on the political spectrum.

The party says Jennings would be an ideal candidate and an asset to the team.

"She's a woman who knows Montreal, who is close to the anglophone community, she understands the justice system very well," said Jean-Francois Del Torchio, a spokesman for the Coalition.

Since her election loss, Jennings has remained president of the federal Liberal association in her former riding in west-end Montreal and she says she will continue to be an active "federal Liberal until I take my last breath." She has also been doing research at McGill University.

Jennings says she was originally intrigued by policy papers produced by the Coalition. She was then introduced to the leader by a common friend — a former Michael Ignatieff federal aide who now works for Legault.

Jennings says her original intention for the meeting was to discuss the party's plans for the English community, and that Legault invited her to run.

Legault has said he expects to announce sometime this month the names of several high-profile candidates for the next election, expected between spring 2012 and late 2013.

The Coalition says Anglophones are poorly served by the current political climate, in which English-speaking Quebecers feel forced to vote Liberal provincially, if they oppose the PQ's independence project.

It says a new party, with a strong Anglo presence, could shake things up.

"Anglophones have been taken for granted for too long by the Liberal party," Del Torchio said.

The Coalition is poised to add the remnants of the Action democratique du Quebec, depending on the outcome of a mail-in vote by the party's 2,500 members later this month.

On Thursday, one ADQ party member made his opposition to the merger clear. Quebec City taxi driver Eric Barnabe said he's gathering the 100 signatures necessary to start a new political party.

The former president of a Quebec City-area riding association said he wants the new party to return to true conservative ideals.

The new Coalition is presenting itself as centrist, non-ideological alternative. Legault describes himself as slightly conservative on economics and slightly left-leaning on social issues.

The ADQ voting is expected to be wrapped up by Jan. 22. It currently has four sitting members in Quebec's legislature.

The CAQ has already absorbed four Independents — two ex-ADQers and two former Pequistes.