Last Bloc standing: Veteran MP Louis Plamondon battles to keep seat
Member of Parliament Claude Patry, middle front, walks with Bloc Quebecois members (left to right) Louis Plamondon, Francois Fortin, Daniel Paille, Andrv Bellavance and Maria Mourani, as they make their way to the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday Feb 28, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
MONTREAL -- Bloc Quebecois stalwart Louis Plamondon's didn't think twice about running federally for a 10th time.
But Canada's current longest-serving federal politician, a staunch sovereigntist who has mostly cruised to victory over three-plus decades, acknowledges this could be the fight of his life.
Plamondon, 72, the only Bloc Quebecois survivor from 2011 to stand for re-election, refuses to entertain the notion the party may be toast.
"What I hope for is the most seats possible," Plamondon said in an interview. "I'm an eternal optimist and I'm sure I won't find myself alone in Ottawa."
Since 1984, Plamondon has easily won his Quebec riding -- renamed Becancour-Nicolet-Saurel in 2015 -- twice for the Progressive Conservatives and for the Bloc since 1993.
In 2011, the New Democrats' orange wave swept the party to a majority of seats in Quebec, decimating the Bloc in the process. Even Plamondon, averaging about 60 per cent of the vote over the years, was nearly ousted by the NDP candidate, who lost by 1,341 votes.
Fast forward to 2015 and some suggest the Bloc, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in July, may not win a single seat.
Plamondon recognizes the challenge and is meeting it head-on, knocking on doors five hours a day as he plays up the party platform and past exploits.
This summer, the veteran has tirelessly attended every golf tournament, corn roast and benefit dinner in the riding, which straddles the south shore of the St-Lawrence River, near Trois-Rivieres.
Plamondon is confident he won't be among the last Bloc members of Parliament, even with the party having been plagued by defections and infighting since the last election.
To this day, he maintains the NDP's performance in 2011 was entirely predicated on one thing: the charisma of then-leader Jack Layton.
"Twenty-six people were elected without stepping foot in the ridings, that's not normal," Plamondon insists. "It was a sympathy vote for Mr. Layton, there can't be another explanation -- I don't know anyone who voted for the NDP program."
Nicolas Tabah, the New Democrat candidate running against Plamondon this time around, dismisses his foe's assertion. He says a victory on Oct. 19 will signal a vote of confidence for the NDP's hard work in Quebec.
Tabah, a political novice with local roots, says upsetting Plamondon will prove a major challenge.
"I was probably only a thought in my parents' head the year that Plamondon was first elected -- only a thought," jokes Tabah, who was born in 1985.
A former left-tackle for the Universite de Montreal Carabins, the hulking Tabah said he's been planting the seeds for this campaign for two years, cultivating local contacts.
"I have a great respect for Mr. Plamondon who has given 31 years of his life to public service, but we're ready for a change and that's what I'm hearing on the ground," he said.
In addition to Tabah, the Liberals are running a former police officer, Claude Carpentier.
Tabah says some of the gridiron instincts will come in handy on the political field.
"My job was to protect the quarterback, so that's what I'm going to do," Tabah said. "I'm used to dealing with people who are hard to move and to move them, so I'm sure we can reach our goal."
Plamondon won't go quietly: the current Commons dean is even talking about an 11th campaign if there's a minority government and another quick election.
He insists retirement is furthest from his mind.
"I said I'd fight my entire life for sovereignty," Plamondon says. "I have Quebec tattooed on my heart."