Pontiac’s election debate

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Mike Owen Sebagenzi (Quebec Solidaire); André Fortin (Liberal Party of Quebec); Terrence Watters (Quebec Conservative Party); Coaltion Avenir Quebec’s Corinne Canuel-Jolicoeur, plus Pierre Cyr for the Green Party of Quebec at CHIP FM’s election debate.

Aidan Belanger

FORT-COULONGE – September 6, CHIP FM’s all-candidate debate at the Pontiac Conference Centre for the upcoming provincial election saw five of seven candidates present to argue their election platforms: Mike Owen Sebagenzi (Quebec Solidaire); André Fortin (Liberal Party of Quebec); Terrence Watters (Quebec Conservative Party); Coaltion Avenir Quebec’s Corinne Canuel-Jolicoeur, plus Pierre Cyr for the Green Party of Quebec. The Partie Québécois and Canadian Party of Quebec did not participate. CHIP’s François Carrier was moderator.

Health: many solutions, few details

Healthcare prompted the longest discussion. In brief, Quebec Solidaire is focusing on accessibility, proximity, and CISSSO’s labour shortages; QS proposes building public institutions, including a 24/7 CLSC but autonomous from urban bureaucracies.

The Liberals insist rural Pontiac deserves city-equivalent services, and propose “competitive salaries” here. While the CAQ agrees health care has been underfunded for decades, Ms Canuel-Jolicoeur stressed a “solid health plan” with salary hikes and more free services. The Green Party would re-evaluate the entire system, plus shorten nursing school to attract more students. Conservative Terrance Watters said the health system itself “is sick” and needs privatization as its remedy — with all other candidates disagreeing.

Pierre Cyr raised environmental issues, “We’re ruining our world, polluting the planet.” The Greens want local production of essentials, and Cyr sees this boosting local economies. QS’s Sebagenzi proposed renovating buildings to increase housing and stimulating business.

Local arts and culture, welcomed by the audience, brought vague proposals: Greens will “support artists and their projects”. “The region will best be revitalized by local people with initiative,” said Cyr.

Sebagenzi noted the government’s obligations to stimulate and promote local culture, “but they haven’t had the means”. He wants financing for cultural institutions, libraries, museums, plus cultural outings at school. Liberal Fortin proposed the government sell local culture to other regions, and stressed the importance of consuming culture within Quebec. The CAQ’s Canuel-Jolicoeur agreed on investing in culture, and Watters proposed “joining” culture and education within the schools.

Addressing Pontiac’s economic weaknesses, Fortin proposed two prongs: “finding more jobs”, and bringing in more workers, via immigration. Fortin also mentioned inflation: “People who make less are more affected by inflation, they can’t make it month to month. A fixed salary does not work.” Sebagenzi suggested suspending sales tax to help families, raising minimum wage, and opening distribution centres to support local businesses. The Greens stressed supporting farmers, and bringing companies here to build a self-sustaining “circular economy”. The CAQ proposed capping “government fees”, and building (or attracting) a strong cellular network on top of the new high-speed system, to attract more work-at-home start-ups. Watters also promoted working from home — as well as more rigorous exploitation of resources, especially forestry.

Forestry: needs more than a chainsaw

Forestry drew a lot of comment.

Watters wants free cutting of trees “for use within the community”.

Cyr stressed the need to respect the environment, which would increase jobs; Sebagenzi agreed, claiming “traditional methods” do not work and are not durable. Fortin said the Liberal Party will promote multiple projects, including forest tourism, and the CAQ will “work with many partners”, since the forest is Pontiac’s biggest asset.

Education focused on the difficulty of rural students travelling to attend school. The CAQ proposes major renovations, especially for post-secondary facilities. The Greens will focus on keeping teachers in the Pontiac — and ending all private schools; education is not a right unless it is free, in essence. Quebec Solidaire wants improved working conditions for teachers, financing regional programs and building new schools, while Liberals propose balancing under-populated rural schools with crowded urban schools. The Conservatives say one in four students do not graduate; Watters wants more decision-making powers given to the schools “instead of the government.”

The hot topic – Bill 96!

Bill 96, strengthening Law 101, was the evening’s hot topic. Quebec Solidaire says businesses should not have to force employees to speak a certain language, and that Aboriginal rights be strengthened and immigrants better protected. The Liberals say Bill 96 “divides Quebecers” in health-care, business, and schooling decisions. The Conservatives disagree that use of French is deteriorating, and will revoke Law 96. The CAQ insists the rights of Anglophones do equal Francophones’, while Greens will work to protect the French language across Canada.

Wrapping it up, Andre Fortin affirmed he is a federalist and always defends this region. Watters, also a federalist and a “defender of democracy”, will protect all citizens’ rights, anglos and francos. Canuel-Jolicoeur, acknowledging the CAQ’s nationalist bent, said she understands the region, both languages and cultures, and Mr Cyr, admitting the Greens do not have a big political machine, said he will collaborate with and support the entire community he lives in. Twenty-two year old Sebagenzi insists young people’s voices haven’t been heard. “Other people will take control if we don’t. Change starts with us!”

Election day is October 3 across Quebec. For more details, see related articles on pages 11 to 14 or consult party websites.