Snubbed, heckled, and chased out of her own hotel: Marine Le Pen's trip to Quebec was not a success.
The welcome mat remained conspicuously rolled up, and every high profile politician from Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre to the architect of the Parti Québécois' controversial Charter of Values, Bernard Drainville, loudly told anyone listening that the leader of France's best-known far-right party, the Front National, was not welcome.
Which came as absolutely no surprise to anyone, except, perhaps, Marine Le Pen and her team. What the hell was she thinking?
On Monday night, outside her hotel in downtown Montreal, I asked Jaggi Singh that question. Singh, a well-known anarchist activist, had just addressed about 100 or so anti-Le Pen protesters who'd gathered in front of the Chateau Champlain before punching play on an iPod. The set list, blaring from a nearby loudspeaker, featured familiar protest songs, songs in Arabic, and an appropriate few by French '80s punk legends Bérurier Noir.
"I have no idea" why she came to Quebec, Singh said. "Anyone who aspires to be a mainstream French politician winds up doing these foreign tours. But I don't want to put myself into her head."
It was never going to be easy for Le Pen. One by one, Quebec's political elite declared they wanted nothing to do with her. Not the Couillard Liberals, not the opposition PQ. "We don't have a single minute to spare for that person," sniffed a PQ spokesperson. Two other parties, one the right-leaning CAQ, the other the avowedly left-wing Québec solidaire, also received, and declined, invitations to meet her, as did the mayor of Quebec City. The spokesperson for Denis Coderre, a former federal Liberal immigration minister, said they hadn't received an invitation and would have turned it down if they did.
Things didn't get much better as the trip went on. After publicly bashing Quebec and Canada's immigration policies and its political leaders on various media appearances over the weekend, she headed up to the provincial capital for a press conference Sunday.
That press conference had all the dignity and gravitas of a Donald Trump rally, as a group of about 10 protesters got in and chanted anti-Le Pen, anti-fascist slogans. "OK kids, a quick shower then bed time," she snarled.
Then, on Monday, as the protest outside her hotel was in full swing, the Chateau Champlain's management stated it had cancelled a Front National reception. She wound up addressing supporters in a sports bar, and her press conference scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled.
Her visit wasn't a total waste for her though, thanks to the horrors in Belgium. Her line was predictable enough: "I don't get the sense that Islamic fundamentalism is being treated like the threat it really is," she told reporters. "And just like I saw in France in the past, here in Canada, whoever condemns Islamic fundamentalism is accused of Islamophobia."
Still, a morning's worth of quotes is a pretty poor return on a trip that is already being hailed as a failure. The French newspaper Le Figaro is calling her visit a "fiasco." Hotels are cancelling or declining her reservations. The whole thing reeks of an organization that doesn't know what it's doing, according to McGill University's Daniel Weinstock.
"This is a sign of political amateurism in the Front National," he says. "If you're a serious candidate for the presidency, you don't do things like this without doing a lot of advance work, so you can avoid surprises. And clearly, this wasn't done."
Weinstock speculates that Le Pen was perhaps counting on a warmer welcome from the province and political party that came up with the Charter of Values, the PQ policy platform that would have barred "ostentatious" displays of religious paraphernalia—think the hijab or the kippah. But he says she badly miscalculated the thinking behind the charter, which he says, misguided though it may have been, was designed to be inclusive rather than exclusive. At any rate, the charter and the PQ were both roundly rejected in the 2014 election.
"She should have known this," he says, adding that someone on her team didn't do their homework. "You don't do [a foreign trip] without having anyone willing to do a photo op."
Le Pen's visit is scheduled to conclude with a trip to St. Pierre et Miquelon, a pair of French-owned islands just off the south coast of Newfoundland before she leaves for home at the end of the week.
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