Pre-election Quebec push continues with Harper heading to riding lost in 2011

OTTAWA — Among the seats the NDP captured in Quebec during the last election was a riding won by only nine votes — and the Conservatives want it back.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads to the community of Berthier-sur-Mer, Que., today, a small town of roughly 1,400 people best known for the nearby Grosse Ile National Historic Site.

But politically, the town’s electoral district of Montmagny-L’Islet-Kamouraska-Riviere-du-Loup is famous for being the final Tory seat to fall to the NDP when it swept the province during the 2011 federal election.

The vote count on election night put the New Democrats’ Francois Lapointe up by just five votes, forcing a recount which 10 days later declared him the winner by nine.

Lapointe is running again in this October’s campaign and so is the Conservative he beat — Bernard Genereux.

The riding is part of the so-called Blue Arrow, a swath of seats running from around Quebec City down to the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River, which the Conservatives see as fertile ground to expand their existing crop of only five MPs from the province.

“Quebecers have four years of NDP MPs to ask themselves what that got them,” Harper said Thursday at an announcement in Montreal, where the Conservatives are also hoping to secure a seat.

“And I think the answer to that is pretty obvious.”

The Conservatives won Montmagny-L’Islet-Kamouraska-Riviere-du-Loup in a 2009 by-election prompted by the resignation of the Bloc Quebecois MP who had held it since 1993.

But the New Democrats pushed the Tories out again in 2011, thanks to the surge of support in that province that catapulted their party to official Opposition status.

Recent polls suggest the New Democrats still hold a lead in support in the province, with the Liberals in second place, but the Conservatives continue to see gains as well.

In Montreal, Harper attributed that growth to the Conservative record on the economy and on security.

“If you look at the position of our party, compared to the positions of the other parties, I think it’s clear we are far closer to Quebecers on these issues,” he said.

“So I’m optimistic.”

Friday’s event will see the prime minister announce more money to help get travellers to the region, which is known as a good sailing destination.

He is to be joined at a local marina by Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel, Maxime Bernier, the minister of state for tourism and Blake Richards, an Alberta MP who also chairs the all-party tourism caucus.

But the opposition will also be looking to see if Genereux shows up; they’ve been crying foul in recent weeks over candidates appearing at government funding announcements and using photos taken there for campaign-style promotion.

The opposition says that turns what ought to be straightforward government events into far more partisan rallies.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press