On Thursday night, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau made a surprise appearance at a campaign event in a hip, nameless bar in the heart of a Montreal riding that has been enemy territory for nearly a decade.
Leafy Outremont is Thomas Mulcair country, but the NDP leader was 300 miles north on this particular night, campaigning against the Conservatives in the Sagneau region of Quebec.
With less than 24 hours until ballots are cast, as pundits speculate about the possibility of a Liberal-NDP coalition against a Conservative minority, the two parties continue to fight hard ground wars to unseat each other's leaders in neighboring Montreal ridings. In the poor immigrant riding of Papineau, projections show Trudeau bound for a strong win after struggling to pull ahead of his NDP opponent earlier in the campaign. But one riding south, in affluent Outremont, Mulcair has suddenly found himself in a tight race against a young, first-time Liberal candidate.
Projections from polling analysis site threehundredeight.com predict that if the election had been held Friday, Mulcair would likely have taken the Outremont seat with a mere 41.2 percent of the vote — eking out a win a over the Liberals, forecasted at 38.6 percent.
Asked about the apparently tight race and Trudeau campaigning in Mulcair's riding, an NDP spokesperson said his party is not worried. "We're confident we're going to win Outremont," Marc-André Viau wrote in an email to VICE News. "It's a free country, Mr. Trudeau can go wherever he wants. If he wants to fight New Democrats that's his choice, we're targeting Conservatives."
The apparent threat to Mulcair comes from 35-year-old lawyer Rachel Bendayan. Initially written off as a long shot against the NDP leader — who first took the once Liberal stronghold in 2007 and then again in 2011 with a commanding 55 percent of the vote — Bendayan has gained ground by waging a ceaseless door-to-door campaign while Mulcair has been occupied representing his party across the country.
"The last two years has been very busy," Bendayan said. "I knocked on over 12,000 doors and held over 350 community events."
Bendayan said that she has not seen much of Mulcair in Outremont during her canvassing, but also noted that the comings and goings of the NDP leader have not been a focus. Her campaign posters, however, seem designed to suggest his absence: they bear a large sticker with the text "PRÉSENTE!"
It is perfectly normal for a federal party leader to spend the majority of an election hitting hustings across the country. Indeed, Papineau NDP candidate Anne Lagacé Dowson alleged that, despite appearances in Outremont and elsewhere in Montreal, Trudeau has only been in his own riding once or twice during the campaign.
Early in the election the NDP shunted resources from Mulcair's seemingly secure Outremont and Rosemont, another neighbouring riding, to boost efforts to unseat Trudeau in Papineau. And in September, while the Liberals languished in third place nationally, they leaked a poll to the press that showed Lagacé Dowson 11 percentage points ahead of Trudeau.
The hard fights in both leaders' ridings may be contributing the Liberal's and NDP's inability to enter coalition talks — even while both party's claim to prioritize ousting the Stephen Harper government and polls show a majority of Canadians would prefer a Liberal-NDP coalition to a Conservative minority.
During a VICE town hall earlier this month, Mulcair said that he'd approached Trudeau about the possibility of a coalition but to no effect. "I've opened that door several times including this summer. Mr. Trudeau closes it every time," said the leader. Trudeau has repeatedly told the media that he is not interested in forming a coalition, and moments of enmity have flared up between the two leaders throughout the campaign.
Bendayan declined to comment when asked if unseating Mulcair would affect the possibility of a coalition, and the same projections that have shown her gaining in Outremont have Trudeau over 30 points ahead Papineau.
Lagacé Dowson dismissed these numbers and the idea that the NDP's reallocation of resources has hurt Mulcair. She did, however, say that she expects the Liberal leader's scarcity in his own riding to have an effect when votes are cast on Monday.
"I think the absence of the current MP is a ballot box issue for some people," she said.
Follow Jake Bleiberg on Twitter: @jzbleiberg