MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Rachel Bendayan, his candidate for the upcoming Outremont byelection, walked carefully along the ice-covered sidewalks Monday evening in Montreal to campaign, door to door.
At their first stop, a young boy opened the door wide enough for his head to fit through the crack. "Hello! Are your parents home?" Trudeau asked. The boy shook his head no. Trudeau and Bendayan spoke to the child for a few moments and moved on to the next house.
The Liberals are hoping they can snatch Outremont back from the NDP in the Feb. 25 byelection, more than 11 years after former NDP leader Tom Mulcair won the seat in 2007. Before then, the riding was considered a Liberal stronghold.
"Thank you so much for coming out," Trudeau told about 20 of Bendayan's volunteers, many of whom were holding clipboards with voter addresses, getting ready to trudge up and down sidewalks covered in thick ice and abrasives that made the journey slightly less slippery.
Outremont a former Liberal stronghold
After visiting only a handful of homes, Trudeau and Bendayan walked down the neighbourhood's busy Cote-des-Neiges Road to have a light dinner at a coffee shop. The ice and frigid temperatures — it felt like -25 C with the wind chill — forced some pedestrians to keep their heads down and not notice the prime minister walking by.
But many recognized Trudeau and asked him for photos, dragging out what would have been a three-minute walk into a frigid 15-minute photo shoot with fawning citizens.
At the coffee shop, Raphael Assor, 74, said he would do everything he could to make sure Trudeau wins again.
"I like his leadership, it's in the style of his father," referring to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
"(Justin Trudeau) is open, accessible. He defends liberty on the international stage."
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Mulcair's surprising win in 2007 gave his party its only seat in Quebec at the time and was a harbinger for the 2011 election where the NDP won the majority of Quebec seats, allowing them to become the official Opposition.
The NDP did not repeat the performance in 2015 and the Liberals made big gains in the province. Still, the Outremont riding, flanking part of the north end of the city's Mount Royal, remained elusive.
The Liberals currently hold 40 of Quebec's 78 seats. The byelection in February is a precursor to the general election in October.
With polling indicating Liberal ridings are at risk in Ontario and the West, the party is looking to pick up seats in Quebec in October to preserve its majority.
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In an interview after Trudeau left for the night, Bendayan said her and the prime minister spoke during dinner about the importance of the byelection. The vote next month is the second time she's trying to win Outremont, after her second-place finish to Mulcair in 2015.
"I was running against the leader of the official Opposition," Bendayan said, as to why she wasn't part of the Liberal team that won a majority government in 2015 and most of Quebec's seats. "(But) the responses I'm getting all over the riding are really positive. I'm taking nothing for granted."
The Liberals continue to lead nationally in public opinion polls, but their support is down in every region of the country compared with their 2015 election results. Support for the party remains strongest in Atlantic Canada and Quebec ahead of this fall's general election.
And while this byelection will be a test to see if the Liberals continue to enjoy strong support in Montreal, it will also help gauge support in the province for the NDP under its new leader, Jagmeet Singh.