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Quebec mayors weigh in with conflicting opinions on Tories

From Friday's Globe and Mail

MONTREAL — Two powerful Quebec mayors are wading deep into the federal election campaign with decidedly divergent opinions of their local Conservative candidates.

A glowing endorsement from Montreal's mayor for struggling star Tory candidate Michael Fortier, who is actually running outside the city, was quickly overshadowed by harsh words aired Thursday from popular Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume.

Mr. Labeaume said he sometimes gets so frustrated he could smack Josée Verner, the Heritage Minister who was also responsible for Quebec City under the Conservative government.

Mr. Labeaume, speaking on a Quebec variety show, suggested the Tories are in deep trouble in Quebec City – an area widely perceived to be a Conservative stronghold.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe has described the Tory dominance in the region as “the Quebec City mystery.”

“You will see that the so-called Quebec City mystery might vanish in one night,” Mr. Labeaume said in his appearance on

“The Conservatives' place in Quebec City is far from guaranteed.”

Mr. Labeaume, who voted Yes in the 1995 referendum but now maintains he is allergic to partisanship, was asked to describe relations with Ms. Verner.

“I get along well with Ms. Verner, but sometimes I could just smack her, those culture cuts, I just don't agree with them.”

Mr. Labeaume, who is well known for speaking his mind, has also complained that local Tory candidates were nearly invisible. Ms. Verner held a news conference with the candidates on Wednesday as word of Mr. Labeaume's taped appearance started to dribble out.

“That's just Mr. Labeaume's way of doing things,” Ms. Verner said, as she angrily complained that protests against cultural funding cuts had gone “way overboard.”

“He'll run his campaign his way, we'll run ours our way.”

The dispute shows how far the Tories have fallen in Quebec. Even in their strongest region, they've gone from aiming to sweep seats to squabbling with local politicians as they try to keep the ones they already have.

But federal-municipal relations are much warmer in Montreal, where Mr. Fortier and Mayor Gérald Tremblay met provincial Economic Development Minister Raymond Bachand to work on reviving Montreal's cancelled Formula One race.

Mr. Tremblay endorsed Mr. Fortier this week, saying the International Trade Minister is an “an ally, a partner, not only for culture, but also for infrastructure and major projects in Montreal.”

It's hard to see how far the endorsement will carry Mr. Fortier. A poll released 10 days ago showed him trailing 28 percentage points behind the Bloc incumbent, Meili Faille, in Vaudreuil-Soulanges, just west of Montreal.

The poll was taken in late September, before Conservative support started to fade.

Mr. Bachand also endorsed Mr. Fortier earlier in the campaign. The 2008 election campaign has been marked by all kinds of Quebec provincial politicians crossing party lines to offer support. Mr. Tremblay, a former Liberal minister, and Mr. Bachand met Mr. Fortier after he started in politics in 2006.

“I don't think any of these people could be qualified as a rabid Tory supporter,” Mr. Fortier said in an interview.

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