Party targets Ungava riding
Nunavik could be key to Liberal victory
The Quebec Liberal Party wants to grab the Ungava riding from the Parti Québécois during the province's Dec. 8 election.
Winning Ungava, which includes Nunavik, would put Jean Charest's government one step closer to a majority government.
And Nunavik's vote could hold the key to a Liberal victory, said Pierre Gaudreault, the Liberal candidate.
Gaudreault went to Nunavik this week where he hand-delivered his "go out and vote" message at the Kativik Regional Government's regional council meeting in Kuujjuaq.
Gaudreault, who was, until recently, the right-hand man to provincial native affairs minister Benoit Pelletier, also planned to travel to Puvirnituq.
Two in three voters cast ballots for the Liberal candidate in Nunavik during the last Quebec election in March 2007, but only about 36 per cent of eligible voters in the region turned out.
In the southern portion of Ungava, turnout reached as high as 57 per cent.
But less than half of Kuujjuaq's 1,025 registered voters voted, and only about one in three of Puvirnituq's 624 registered voters turned out.
In 2007, the PQ's Luc Ferland – who is running again this year – won 4,555 of Ungava's 11,126 votes, beating the Liberal Party candidate by only than 1,000 votes. So if Nunavimmiut vote – and they usually vote Liberal – they could win the seat back for the Liberals.
Ferland has openly criticized Charest's decision to call an election, saying it's bad judgment to hold an election in the middle of a global economic crisis and just after a federal election.
But Ferland may be secretly wishing for voter apathy and fatigue on Dec. 8.
That's because if the Liberals don't turn out to vote, Ferland can count on strong PQ support in the heavily francophone towns of southern Ungava.
Since the last election, Liberals have been in a minority position, holding 48 of the legislature's 125 seats, compared with 39 for the ADQ and 36 for the PQ. Two seats have been vacant.
To encourage Nunavimmiut to turn out and vote Liberal, Gaudreault promised that if Charest's government is re-elected, Liberals will make sure no time is lost pushing ahead with Nunavik's important files, such as self-government.
Gaudreault also vowed to continue working towards a separate provincial riding for Nunavik.
He put the blame on Mario Dumont, leader of Action Démocratique du Québec party, for blocking the Liberal plan for a new Nunavik riding.
"I support a riding for Nunavik because Nunavik Inuit are an emerging political force. And they have the chance in this election to prove they have this force and vote," Gaudreault said in an interview last week.
The Liberals will also continue to work towards providing more social housing for Nunavik and lowering the cost of living, he said.
During this campaign Charest has often touted his northern plan, which would develop mining, energy and tourism in the North as a way of beefing up Quebec's economy. However, he hasn't mentioned what kind of input the original residents of the region will have into this plan.
Quebec is planning a major meeting in 2009 on the plan, which will involve all northern residents, native and non-native, Gaudreault said.
"The position of the Liberal party and the current government is to develop the North, but in partnership with the people who live in the North," he said.
Pascal Dion, the ADQ candidate in Ungava, is a former municipal councilor from the town of Chapais in the southern end of the riding.
In 2007, the ADQ received 21 per cent or 2,363 of the votes in Ungava – but polls suggest the ADQ is unlikely to do as well this time.
A recent CROP survey estimated that about 42 per cent of Quebec voters intend to vote Liberal, with the PQ support at 31 per cent and the ADQ at 15 per cent.
Québec Solidaire, a nationalist party formed from a coalition of left-wing splinter parties, is also running a candidate in Ungava – Mélanie Dufour, a teacher in Chapais.
Dufour's web page says she is hoping to get support from the "Jamesians," the name used to describe French-speaking people who settled in the Cree territory.
An independent candidate Gilbert Hamel is also running in Ungava. In an e-mail communication, Hamel said he wants to represent the Inuit, the Cree and the non-natives "to work in a respectful manner with them."