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Martin denies Liberals writing off Quebec

[PoliticsWatch Updated 2:00 p.m. August 25, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Paul Martin strongly denied newspaper reports Thursday suggesting a closed door meeting of the Liberal caucus on election-readiness was told the party's strategy would be writing off gaining seats in Quebec and focusing on Ontario and Western Canada. 
   
"I don't know who said that or where that came from, but let me tell you that in no way reflected anything that was said in that caucus," Martin said at a news conference closing out the Liberal caucus retreat in Regina. 

"At no time did anybody in that caucus say we can win a majority without doing very well in Quebec."

According to stories in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail that were published Thursday morning, David Herle, co-chair of the Liberal election campaign, held a strategy session with the Liberal caucus on Wednesday in which he suggested a risky strategy focusing on gaining seats in Western Canada and Ontario. 

According to the reports, Herle provided no numbers to back up the strategy. 

The Star story went further and suggested some MPs felt like Quebec had been written off. 

"The caucus was told it faces significant challenges in the months ahead and many MPs left yesterday's briefing not entirely reassured," the Star reported.

"Some are still worried that there doesn't seem to be any plan to regain strength in Quebec - that it's been written off as a lost cause - and that rural ridings are similarly out of reach for the Liberals."

But Martin denied that and said that he, Herle, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Lucienne Robillard and his Quebec Lieutenant, Jean Lapierre, have had "countless" meetings about winning more seats in Quebec. 

"It's exactly the contrary. We need Quebec, we intend to win in Quebec and we will work very hard to increase the number of members we will be electing in Quebec."

Liberal national caucus chair Andy Savoy backed up the PM's version of events. 

"That comment is absolutely false -- absolutely and unequivocally false," he said. 

"As the prime minister said, that was never said. In fact, I would say the contrary was said the fact that Quebec is very, very important to our future and that Mr. Herle reinforced that during his presentation."

Due mainly to political fallout from the sponsorship scandal, the Liberals lost 16 seats to the Bloc Quebecois in the last federal election and currently hold 21 seats. 

The Bloc won 49 per cent of the vote in Quebec during the last election and have been polling in that range for the past year. 

Meanwhile, the PM also outlined to reporters the work ahead for Liberals during the pre-writ period. 

"I think that our members are confident, but they're not cocky and they understand full well that governing in a minority government is not easy," he said. 

"And it won't be easy this fall and we're going to have to work very hard. And they also understand that when the election comes it's going to be a tough election and we don't think anything for granted."

The Star story also reported that Liberal MPs were told by Herle Wednesday that it was important for them to appear modest and humble

"'Modesty, modesty, modesty,'" they were reportedly told to embrace as their motto," the Star reported.  

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