OTTAWA — The scene was a little surreal: in the middle of an election campaign, a party leader was making an announcement in an early childhood centre — a location with high photo op potential — to three journalists, in front of an empty play structure.
"I feel alone," a local reporter commented.
Welcome to the Bloc Quebecois' campaign.
The day before, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe had presided over an energetic gathering of some 700 candidates and party members at the party's general council. This event, Duceppe has said since the beginning of the marathon campaign, marked the launch of his party's "real" campaign.
This has yet to manifest itself in reality, either in media coverage or partisan fervour. There are rarely more than two journalists at Duceppe's press conferences, even when they're held in downtown Montreal, where all the major media outlets have offices.
His partisans are not seen at meetings much in the field, either, with the exception of their fundraising activities. Last Tuesday in Laval, four candidates drew 200 people for a cocktail with a $200 ticket price, and the next day, around 150 people paid the same amount to be at an "artist at your table" dinner hosted by artist and comedian Denis Trudel.
That's the finding of a journalist from The Canadian Press after having followed the Bloc campaign for several days last week — not on a separate media bus, as is the norm — but on the leader's bus, accompanied by three strategists, two advisers and Duceppe himself, who has a workspace in the back of the vehicle.
The press conferences "are not as covered as we would like," admits the campaign's media relations director Dominic Vallieres, while adding media requests have "started to come in" over the last few days.
"From what I understand, for many organizations, people are coming back from vacation and are starting to roll with a full workforce," he said, adding he was satisfied with the coverage of most media organizations.
If there is no media bus for the campaign, it's a matter of choice and not a lack of interest or money, Vallieres maintained.
"The 2015 campaign is not like the 2011 campaign, especially when it comes to social media use, so we decided to invest a big part of our budget there."
During the fundraising cocktail in Laval, a party member stood up at the microphone to announce the other parties' bigger budgets gave them a head start over the Bloc. Is the Bloc's war chest really so low?
The party's campaign strategist said no, and maintains the party is no worse off than in the last federal election.
"We are campaigning with essentially the same means (about $4 million) as in 2011," he said.
The sovereigntist party is also campaigning with dozens of former MPs who failed to get re-elected four years ago, swept away by the so-called orange wave of an NDP party which had a much smaller budget in Quebec, according to one NDP source.
The collapse was colossal: the Bloc Quebecois went from 47 MPs to four, and were down to two when Parliament was dissolved on Aug. 2. According to some polls, the party could be swept off the map on Oct. 19.
Could this be the last chance to ride a Bloc Quebecois campaign bus? Vallieres is betting against it.
"I don't think so. I think there would be more (analysts and political watchers) circling around us if they thought that was what was coming."
And Duceppe's presence at the French-language debates -- Radio-Canada and La Presse's will take place Sept. 24, and TVA's Oct. 2 -- could provide a much-needed jolt to the campaign thanks to Duceppe's strength as a debater, some suggest.
In the meantime, the Bloc Quebecois leader continues to face the ever-present questions about the relevance of a separatist party in Ottawa. Last Friday, he let his exasperation show.
"In every election, that's asked, and we've won most of the time, so I'm more likely to question the relevance of these questions," he said.
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