The Conservative gal next door (National Post, January 11, 2006)

MONTREAL - My federal riding is Westmount-Ville-Marie, a lengthy east-west strip comprising most of Montreal's downtown core, including three universities, plus the demergered city of Westmount and a big chunk of bohemian-bourgeois NDG. Westmount is a family-friendly community, once all anglophone, but today boasting a robust mix of prosperous francophones and allophones.

The received wisdom in anglo-dominant Quebec enclaves like mine is that only the Liberals can dispel the fog of separatism. That they've instead -- through a combination of political cowardice, strategic bungling and a near-parodic ethics deficit -- stirred up separatist leanings since the 1995 referendum has to date not deterred us from our Stockholm Syndrome voting behaviour.

Before the holidays it seemed Martin's weaknesses couldn't (outside Quebec) mar his Teflon-smooth appeal, while Harper's strengths couldn't shake off his Velcro "scariness." But polls today offer evidence of a sea change in opinion, and with it realistic hope for a Conservative government.

Today I ask: Are Westmounters emboldened enough by this change to throw our considerable weight in the riding against its soporific Liberal incumbent, Lucienne Robillard, who represents 12 years of failed promises to unite the country?

Recall that Robillard was the minister in charge of the federal campaign in Canada's near-death 1995 referendum, a campaign that never materialized until three panicky weeks before deadline. Yet Robillard and the Liberals have never been punished for their unconscionable abandonment of us.

Now's our chance. It happens that the Conservative party candidate in Westmount-Ville-Marie, Louise O'Sullivan, formerly a high profile Liberal Party fundraiser who quit the Quebec team in disgust last year over Adscam, is no sacrificial lamb. O'Sullivan, who has lived and worked in this riding her whole adult life, is a credible alternative to Robillard, who except for official functions has not yet deigned to assume residency nor hang out in the riding she represents.

O'Sullivan is working flat out because she's in it to win, conducting an old-fashioned door to door campaign. Response has been heartening, she says; some astonished and receptive residents have told her they've never been personally canvassed before. A month ago, the very idea of a Conservative win in Westmount-Ville-Marie seemed ludicrous. Today it doesn't.

O'Sullivan, 55 and recently widowed, is a bilingual businesswoman who founded an executive search and personnel recruitment firm 23 years ago. The invitation from the Conservative party dovetailed perfectly with her ambitions and her intimate knowledge of the Westmount-Ville-Marie riding.

She was born in 1951 in Alexandria to an Irish-Catholic father and a Jewish mother. When British passport holders were ousted from Egypt by Nasser, her family returned to England and shortly after emigrated to Montreal. Politics came naturally to her, but the 1980 referendum, she says, was what galvanized her. By the 1995 referendum she was immersed in the federalist scene. But the needs of her ailing husband prevented her accepting an admiring provincial premier Daniel Johnson Jr.'s invitation to run for a Quebec City seat in 1998 (he called her the "It" girl), so she plunged into municipal politics instead.

As a member of Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay's 2001 Executive Committee, she held the Business Affairs and Social Development portfolios. When a borough resident called her about chronic burst water mains left untended, she personally rounded up the blue collars and monitored their progress. When she saw dangerous patches of ice on borough sidewalks, she bought salt and spread it. An expert on homelessness, she frequently mingled with shelter "clients" to assess conditions. (As we walked and talked on Greene Avenue in the heart of Westmount, a panhandler called out "Hi, Louise").

The core-Westmount riding -- it has gone through geographic mutations -- has elected Liberals exclusively since 1958. Almost 50 years! Politically, we're like a man in a passionless long distance relationship who won't admit to himself that the charming but indolent and self-serving partner he's been supporting for years "is just not into you." On Jan. 23 let's end our dysfunctional relationship with the Liberals and take a chance on the spirited, hardworking and straightforward Conservative gal next door.

© National Post 2006