08/02/2012 11:17 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT

NDP, Tories To Steer Clear Of Quebec Election


While Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest is counting on Quebecers seeing him as the only federalist option as they head to the polls in the next provincial election on Sept. 4, the provincial leader should not count on the federal Tories or the New Democrats to come rallying to his cause.

In an interview with CBC News, NDP MP François Pilon confirmed there a directive from the party to steer clear of the Quebec election.

Pilon, who represents the federal riding of Laval-Les Îles in Quebec, said NDP MPs and staff have been instructed not to get involved in the provincial campaign.

Pilon also said he will not be getting involved with his former political aide's campaign now that she is running for Charest's Liberals in one of three new provincial ridings.

Genevieve April, who was working as Pilon's political aide until the writ was dropped on Wednesday, has taken a leave of absence — effective Aug.1 — to run for the provincial Liberals in the new Montreal riding of Sainte-Rose, Pilon confirmed in an interview with CBC News on Wednesday evening.

"I wasn't very surprised. It had been a few months since I'd noticed that she was talking with the provincial Liberals... I didn't know if she would get involved at the highest levels or run, but I was not at all surprised." said the NDP MP.

While April's jump to Charest's Liberals did not come as a surprise to Pilon himself, the federal New Democrat did not want the news to get back to NDP leader Thomas Mulcair before he had a chance to tell him personally.

Pilon said he picked up the phone to advise Mulcair of April's decision as soon as he found out more than three weeks ago.

On July 9, April re-tweeted an article published by a local weekly newspaper reporting the news of her jump to the provincial Liberals.

Prior to working for Pilon, April worked as a local journalist in both Montreal and Laval. She's running in one of three new provincial ridings which could also turn out to be one of the tighest races on election night.

MP won't help aide with campaign

Pilon said April has not asked him for help with her campaign, nor would he give her a hand should she ask for his assistance.

"I don't want to get involved until there is a provincial New Democratic party in the province," said Pilon, a long-time NDP member who was elected in May, 2011, on his fourth federal run.

When asked if he would take his political aide back should she lose on Sept. 4, Pilon said he "did not make her any promises" and that would depend on what she says during her campaign.

"Obviously, if she speaks against the NDP — no," said Pilon.

While the decision by one NDP staffer to jump to the provincial Liberals will not keep Mulcair up at night, as leader of the Official Opposition, he is concerned with keeping his young Quebec team focused on the task of defeating Prime MInister Stephen Harper's Conservatives in the next federal election in 2015.

Student protests a 'provincial matter'

Quebecers saw this first hand when students took to the streets in protest of a proposed tuition hike and NDP MPs from Quebec mostly stayed mum while the violence errupted around them.

NDP MPs Alexandre Boulerice and Ève Péclet took part in protests early on but on-the-record comments were still difficult to come by.

When asked about it, Mulcair said education was a provincial matter and declined to take sides, despite his own past as one of Charest's cabinet ministers.

Unlike in other provinces, both the NDP and Conservative party don't have direct equivalents at the provincial level in Quebec, so political activists in the province don't always divide along the same lines that form during federal elections.

Boulerice is a former member of the left-wing, pro-independence party Québec Solidaire.

Former interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel's past memberships in sovereigntist parties, as well as the pro-sovereignty flirtations of other members of the NDP caucus, caused the federalist Opposition party some grief, particularly as it sought to define itself in the first few months after its 2011 electoral breakthrough in Quebec.

Quebec's choice

Provincial Liberals will be hard-pressed to find any federal Conservatives weighing in on the Quebec election.

"We do not comment on provincial elections," said Alexandra Fortier, the press secretary for federal Industry Minister and Quebec Lieutenant Christian Paradis.

"The election results will reflect the choice of Quebecers," she said.

Officials from the prime minister's office offer the same message. The Tories have also kept quiet on the student protests.

As is customary during any provincial election, the federal Conservatives are expected to back right off what would normally be a busy summer agenda of announcements and other public events in the province during the campaign.

But local Conservatives are not prohibited from getting involved in local campaigns.

On Wednesday, Charest emphasized that while Quebec's relationship with the rest of Canada is "strong" the campaign is "a Quebec choice, by Quebec citizens."

"With the federal government, we've had real successes," Charest said, highlighting the recent deal on Quebec's harmonized sales tax among other examples. "We've had an increase in federal transfers of 70 per cent since we've been the government."

Federal Liberals wading in

While the federal Tories and NDP are steering clear of the Quebec election, it will come as no surprise to see federal Liberals lending their provincial counterparts a hand.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae wished Charest good luck in a message posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday.

Speaking on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, provincial Liberal candidate Geoff Kelly said, "I hope our federalist colleagues will help us out because we want to build Quebec's strong future within Canada."

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau is expected to help out his provincial counterpart Gerry Sklavounos, as he has done in elections past.

The two get along "very well" said Trudeau's press secretary, Louis-Alexandre Lanthier in an interview with CBC News. "They have a good partnership and frienship."

Sklavounos was "very present" in Trudeau's 2011 and 2008 campaigns, so it's "not surprising" that Trudeau would do the same in return.

At least one former Liberal MP has decided to run under for the party's provincial counterpart.

Eleni Bakopanos is running for Charest in the riding of Cremazie after losing her federal bid twice to Maria Mourani, now only one of four Bloc Quebecois MPs left in Ottawa.

Bakopanos was also special advisor to caucus under then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion from 2006 to 2008.

Former federal Liberals jump to CAQ

Charest is branding himself as the only federalist leader by lumping together his two main rivals, the Parti Québécois (PQ) led by Pauline Marois, and the newly formed Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) led by former PQ minister François Legault.

But Legault, a former cabinet minister in the PQ administrations of Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry, is trying to position his party as outside of the sovereignty debate, focused on other urgent issues.

Some former federal Liberals have jumped to his team. Long-time staffer Jean-Francois Del Torchio, who worked for both Dion and former leader Michael Ignatieff, and former candidate Brigitte Legault, a decade-long Liberal activist, are now working for the coalition leader.

Alphée Moreau, another former senior federal Liberal communications staffer, as well as Roch Gamache, who until recently was working as press secretary for Liberal MP Marc Garneau, have also joined their ranks.

The public and behind-the-scenes partnership between the federal Bloc Québécois and the provincial Parti Québécois is strong. But there are exceptions.

Undeterred by either his recent loss in a June 11 provincial byelection or his defeat as former BQ MP, Mario Laframboise will run again for the CAQ in the riding of Argenteuil. Laframboise lost the byelection to a PQ candidate.

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