MONTREAL - It has little money or organization but Quebec's Conservative party, which once ruled the province before falling into oblivion, is trying to make a comeback in the Sept. 4 election.
The party, though, is facing an uphill battle.
It had originally hoped to field up to 90 candidates, but was registered in only 27 of Quebec's 125 ridings by Saturday's deadline. It also contested a byelection in June but finished way back in the pack with just 129 votes.
Besides workers and candidates, the party is also short on money. A financial report filed last year with Quebec's chief returning officer said it had $96 in assets and $365 in liabilities. It did not list any contributions or memberships in 2011 but said it had $115 in memberships and $675 in contributions in 2010.
Such paltry numbers don't deter the party's leader, who acknowledges there's lots of work to do.
"The Liberals have been there for 100 years and the PQ for 45 years," Luc Harvey says of two of the main parties slugging it out in the current campaign. "We've had only six months."
The Conservative Party of Quebec, which is not connected to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's federal Tories, languished in history's dustbin until 2009 when it was registered again with the province's chief returning officer.
It started to show signs of life earlier this year under Harvey, a former federal MP who represented a Quebec City-area riding from 2006 to 2008. He began resuscitating it with several other people including Richard Decarie, a former deputy chief of staff to Harper.
It now lists two official offices, in Montreal and Quebec City, which appear to be private homes in residential areas.
Harvey, who is running in Levis riding near Quebec City, says his candidates will surprise people.
"They are not known by the public but they have the qualifications," Harvey said of his slate, joking that given Quebec's debt he should have some with experience as bankruptcy trustees.
Harvey, whose daughter Marie-Pierre is running in the riding next to Premier Jean Charest's Sherbrooke base, acknowledged it's tough to get candidates and workers because people are tied up with other commitments like jobs and families.
Those carrying the Conservative banner run the gamut.
There are experienced politicians like Harvey and Monique Roy Verville, a former Action democratique du Quebec member of the legislature, but also rookies like evangelical minister Stephane Gagne and Sylvie Gagne, who is a mother of two and a nurse.
In some cases, the party seems to have acted to correct a lack of experience in some of its candidates.
Chambly riding hopeful Daniel Nicol's Facebook page had a couple of photos mocking burka-clad Muslims on it. Nicol, who owns a local roofing company, was among 492 people to share the photo of the Muslim woman and child clad head to toe in black and passing between two dark trash bags on a sidewalk. The French-language caption translates as "the family is growing."
The photo had disappeared by Friday.
Cultural values have been an issue in the election campaign, with the Parti Quebecois vowing to toughen language laws and forbid public servants from wearing Muslim head dress.
The Conservatives would adopt a charter of democratic values reflecting Quebec's history and culture. The promise was noted as a caption on another photo that was on Nicol's site that carried an image of a burka-clad woman, although that was also removed by Friday.
The provincial Conservative party was a force in Quebec in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of its leaders were even Quebec premiers, such as Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau, who held the province's top job in 1867.
The party virtually disappeared in 1936 when it merged with Action liberale nationale to become the Union nationale. It surfaced a few times after that but never as a serious force.
Despite the province proving to be mainly barren ground for the federal Conservatives, Harvey insists the provincial team offers a clear vision in a province where there are nearly 20 other registered political parties.
A staunch federalist, Harvey has dismissed Francois Legault's Coalition for Quebec's Future in the past as trying to be something for everyone. And he worries about how the Liberals are handling Quebec's debt, increasing health-care costs and aging population.
"It's sure somebody will have to pay for this one day and I refuse to give to my kids this kind of responsibility, to pay for my (generation's) bad decisions.
"It's not sexy to say what we say," Harvey says in a telephone interview. "It's not sexy to say we have to pay our credit card. It's not sexy to say, 'hmm, that benefit is impossible'."
Quebec's gross debt has gone from $133 billion — which is 53.5 per cent of the GDP — in 2003 to $184 billion in 2012. The current amount is 55.5 per cent of the GDP, easily highest among all the provinces.
The government says it is on track to balance its books in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Harvey wants to cut the debt, privatize the Quebec Liquor Corp. and have Quebecers fill in just one income-tax form, as is the case in the rest of the country.
The Quebec Tories would also make universities more accountable for their spending and bring in a provincial sex offender registry.