First impressions mean a lot, and television journalist Pascale Déry immediately impresses with her sparkling personality, positive outlook, friendly approach, and grasp of political issues.
We met for the first time at a Monkland Ave. café last month. I had arrived early, but she was already there, working from her smart phone, as she motioned for me to join her.
After a 45-minute discussion, I came away persuaded that the Conservative Party has recruited a potential candidate for Mount Royal who has what it takes to wrest the riding from the Liberals.
Déry, 38, and mother of two young children, is trilingual – French, English, and Spanish. With a B.A. in journalism and communications (Université de Montréal), an M.A. in political science (Université du Québec à Montréal), and having worked for almost 20 years as a journalist, she easily handles questions on policy.
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Because she was raised and educated in French, her profile sets her apart from the two others who are seeking the Conservative nomination, the former Côte St. Luc Mayor Robert Libman, and weekly newspaper editor Beryl Wajsman, both of whom are from Ashkenazic Jewish backgrounds.
Déry has Sephardic Jewish roots. Her father, dentist William Déry was born in Rabat, Morocco, and like many in the riding, which is about 35 per cent Jewish, he has shifted his support to the Conservatives.
Young Pascale was raised in Town of Mount Royal, attended École Maimonides in St. Laurent, where French is the language of instruction and Collège Marie de France.
After working with TV producer Stéphane Laporte and host Julie Snyder, then at Radio Canada, Déry became a familiar presence on air as a journalist and newsreader at TVA and LCN, the French-language all-news network.
She is not yet well-known among the riding’s English-speaking and allophone voters, but Conservative organizers asked her to run, Déry says, reflecting a belief she has what it takes to win. (No date has been set for the nomination meeting.)
Three members of the Conservative caucus – Public Security Minister Steven Blaney, Michelle Rempel (Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification), and Maxime Bernier (Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism) have offered their support.
Though neither of her opponents have any declared caucus support, Déry believes her endorsements are individual decisions and not necessarily a reflection of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Déry says she believes she can stage an upset in Mount Royal and reverse 75 years of Liberal hegemony, with such MPs as Pierre Trudeau and Irwin Cotler, who is retiring.
“I know it’s a red, red, red riding, but there is a mini blue wave surging,” she said.
Underlining her commitment, she resigned from her TV job. “I have no salary – I am doing it for conviction. Resigning from a job I could have kept for 20 years is a big decision,” she observed.
Déry rises early at the duplex residence in Côte St. Luc she shares with husband, recycling entrepreneur Éric Castro (his family roots are in Tunisia), and with a team she recruited, works full-time to win the nomination. Building that team, she believes, is part of the path to final victory.
Déry says the party is surprised at the number of memberships she and her supporters are signing up. She declined to give the exact number, but they include members of ethnic groups, such as Lebanese Christians, and others who she says are responding positively to her candidacy.
“I have support from Chabad rabbis and others in the Jewish community, including those who voted Liberal only because Irwin Cotler was the candidate,” she asserted.
Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather is the new Liberal candidate. Asked about Conservative policies that have been widely opposed by Quebec governments, Déry says she supports tough-on-crime legislation that has resulted in longer jail terms and more inmates in prison. Déry says there is no change to policies on rehabilitation in prison, and that Quebecers approve Harper’s approach.
She also supports the cancellation of the mandatory long-gun registration, which Canadian chiefs of police, successive Quebec governments, and anti-gun lobbyists have denounced. Déry says the registry was costly and ineffective, and ignores the fact that handguns are already restricted and need to be registered.
She was unable, however, to answer a question on the Conservative scrapping of the compulsory long-form Census, which statisticians say renders the findings less reliable and has been widely criticized. More fundamentally, Déry says Conservative economic, fiscal, and social policies are in tune with changing sentiment in Quebec.
She points to tax credits for young families like her own – her daughter Chloé is 15 months old, and son Sasha is 5 – and other fiscal measures as being part of the reason middle-class voters in Quebec will support Harper.
Harper’s embrace of Israel, including his speech to the Knesset last year, has led to what Irwin Cotler has identified as a shift of Jewish support in the riding to the Conservatives. Déry points to some attractive new candidates who are running for the Conservatives, including lawyer Valérie Assouline in Pierrefonds-Dollard.
Another high-profile recruit is Gérard Deltell, a CAQ member of the national assembly since 2008, who is expected to run in Louis-St-Laurent riding in northwestern Quebec City. Architectural entrepreneur Roland Dick is running in Laval-les-Îles.
“There’s a surge right now – the Conservatives are just coming out from everywhere,” Déry asserts.
The latest poll as of press time, an Internet survey by CROP in December of 884 decided votes, showed the Tories gaining in the province, notably among Francophones and non-Francophones in Montreal and Quebec City.
But the governing party has a long way to go: The Conservatives picked up three points to reach 16 percent support – far below the average 23 per cent in five more recent polls in Quebec, but far behind the Justin Trudeau Liberals, who dropped four points to 33 per cent. The NDP stood unchanged at 30 per cent, the Bloc Québécois remained at 17 per cent, and the Greens at 4 per cent. An EKOS poll taken Feb. 11-17 has the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Bloc in a virtual tie, given the small provincial sample, at 22-24 per cent.
The CROP poll indicated: the Liberals led in and around Montreal, with 34 per cent on the island, followed by the NDP with 31 per cent, and the Conservatives, were up with an 11-point jump to 18 per cent, behind the Bloc with 20 per cent.
This is part of what makes Pascale Déry hopeful.