Trudeau fizzles outside Ontario and B.C.
In the bigger national picture, the wave of Trudeaumania that is sweeping the Liberal party’s leadership campaign features more sea foam than coast-to-coast momentum.
Justin Trudeau’s campaign is undeniably a hit in Ontario and British Columbia where the polls report a significant surge in federal Liberal support. And that is more than enough to get the attention of the NDP and the Conservatives as these two provinces will be major battlefields in the 2015 election.
The New Democrats cannot move forward without doing better in both regions and the Conservatives are counting on the vote-rich Ontario and B.C. suburbs to win a second majority.
But with more than two years to go between the April 14 leadership vote and the next election, they will each have quite a bit of time to push the Liberals back.
Meanwhile, the leadership campaign is largely a non-event in Quebec and a marginal one across the Prairies.
Coming as it does after months of campaigning, the tepid Quebec response has to be worrisome for the Liberals.
Besides Trudeau, two other well-known Quebecers — former astronaut Marc Garneau and former federal justice minister Martin Cauchon — are in the running.
But in spite of that, most polls show that the federal battle for francophone Quebec remains a two-way fight between the leading NDP and the Bloc Québécois, with the Liberals running a distant third.
Quebecers’ participation in the leadership campaign is on par with the party’s tepid standing in voting intentions.
With the drive to recruit supporters for the April 14 vote completed, its results suggest that the campaign has done little to energize the Liberals in Quebec.
According to a riding-by-riding breakdown obtained by the Globe and Mail, Quebec accounts for 16 of 27 ridings with less than 200 voters eligible to participate in next month’s leadership vote.
Trudeau’s riding of Papineau is the only Quebec riding to boast more than 2,000 sign-ups.
There are mitigating circumstances.
The provincial Liberals have been holding a leadership campaign of their own this winter, with Jean Charest’s successor to be chosen next weekend.
Much of the early-year calendar was taken up by their all-candidates debates.
As a result, the only Quebec leadership debate of the federal campaign ended up being scheduled for March 23 — weeks after the cut-off date to sign up supporters to vote for the next leader.
But the excuse of dual Liberal campaigns in Quebec is ultimately a flimsy one.
In largely similar circumstances in Ontario, tens of thousands of new federal Liberal supporters have been signed up.
On the scale of the Ontario campaign that led to premier Kathleen Wynne’s leadership victory in late January, the Quebec Liberal race has been a low-profile affair with none of the three contenders scoring anywhere as high as Trudeau on the notoriety scale.
With Trudeau in the campaign, the third-place Liberals have enjoyed a disproportional amount of mostly positive media attention for months on end. It looks like it will take a lot more than that to put them back on the map of regions such as Quebec and the Prairies in which the party has become chronically weak.
If the past is any indication, popularity and the successful signing up of scores of non-paying supporters will not do the job — or at least not for long enough.
The precipitous 1993 election decline of the Progressive Conservatives under Kim Campbell demonstrated that fundamentals eventually reassert themselves, even in the face of an initially popular new leader.
In the past, a demonstrated capacity to recruit leadership supporters has not always translated into more support in the ballot box.
In 2005, a solid recruitment campaign allowed André Boisclair to beat Pauline Marois to the leadership of the Parti Québécois.
Like Trudeau, Boisclair was a big hit with younger voters and like the Liberal favourite he seduced much of his party’s aging establishment into believing that he could connect it with a new generation of voters.
Two years later, Boisclair led the PQ to its poorest showing in three decades.
Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer.