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Bloc Québécois leader makes final stop in undecided ridings, hoping to recover seats

MONTREAL — Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet ended his final day of the federal election campaign on Sunday in Quebec ridings he hopes to wrest from his opponents ahead of Monday's election.

MONTREAL — Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet ended his final day of the federal election campaign on Sunday in Quebec ridings he hopes to wrest from his opponents ahead of Monday's election. 

He began his eleventh-hour push on familiar turf, campaigning in his adopted home city of Shawinigan, more than 140 kilometres away from the provincial capital and part of the riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain. 

He met early Sunday with Shawinigan Mayor Michel Angers to discuss local issues Blanchet contends have been "dragging on for too long."

"I had already planned to make a last campaign stop in Shawinigan ... since it is the city I adopted", Blanchet told reporters on Sunday. 

The Bloc leader made a "very personal commitment" to protect the 2,000 employees at the Canada Revenue Agency National Verification and Collections centre in Shawinigan, if a single tax return declaration were to be implemented in Quebec.

Quebec is the only province where people file two separate returns - one to the federal government and one to the provincial counterpart. Ottawa has an agreement with all other provinces to collect provincial and federal taxes and send the provincial amounts to the appropriate province. Taxpayers then only file one return to Ottawa in nine provinces.

The Bloc has introduced a bill in the House of Commons multiple times that would have forced Ottawa to negotiate with Quebec to have one tax return in that province, with Quebec doing the collecting.

Blanchet said there was a clause in that bill that guaranteed jobs.

The most recent version of the bill, introduced in September 2020, made it through first and second readings in the House of Commons all the way to the finance committee, where Liberal MPs voted against it, Conservatives abstained, and the lone Bloc and NDP members voted in favour.

The national union that represents Canada Revenue Agency workers in Quebec criticized the bill, arguing it would lead to job losses at the Shawinigan office.

The Saint-Maurice—Champlain riding is currently held by Liberal candidate Francois-Philippe Champagne, who served as Innovation Minister before Parliament was dissolved ahead of the election. 

The Liberals promised in 2019 to build a new federal facility in Shawinigan for the tax collecting offices, and weeks before the campaign started, Champagne unveiled the new building's design. Construction is to begin this fall on the $136-million structure.

Blanchet continued his day in Sherbrooke, Que., where he defended his candidate Ensaf Haider. Opponents have criticized Haider, the wife of Saudi prisoner Raif Badawi, for the way she speaks French. 

"I prefer someone who stands up with an uncertain French than someone who stays seated with good French," Blanchet said. 

The candidate also spoke up in her own defence.

"Do Sherbrooke residents just need someone to talk or do they need someone to act," Haider said in front of a group of young Bloc supporters on Sunday afternoon. 

Sherbrooke was a close three-way race in the 2019 election. Liberal Élisabeth Brière won just 609 votes ahead of NDP Pierre-Luc Dusseault in second place, and 2,020 votes ahead of Bloc candidate Claude Forgues in third.

Blanchet continued his final campaign day in rural ridings in southern Quebec mostly represented by the Liberals. 

He has previously expressed his desire to win at least 40 of Quebec's 78 seats, which would represent eight more than his party won in 2019. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2021. 

Patrice Bergeron, The Canadian Press