RAWQ all-candidates meeting:
Anglophones grill Pontiac candidates
About 70 residents attended the all-candidates meeting in English, organized by the Regional Association of West Quebecers at Aylmer’s Knights of Columbus hall, September 19. Participating were Roger Fleury (Green Party), André Fortin (Liberal), Samuel Gendron (NDP-Québec), Olive Kamanyana (Coalition avenir Québec) and Louis Lang (Marxist-Leninist). There were no representatives from the Conservative Party, Québec Solidaire and the Party Québécois. James Shea, chairman of the Western Quebec School Board, was the moderator.
The present government’s secretariat for the English-speaking community, established in 2017, was one topic, since the Pontiac’s English community wants the new government to keep the secretariat in place. All candidates presented supported the concept. “I know what it means living in a minority situation,” commented Olive Kamanyana.
The future of school boards and their public election was another topic. The CAQ is the only party proposing to abolish them. Fewer than 10% of citizens participated in the election of the Western Quebec School Board, said the CAQ candidate, citing the high costs of keeping such an unpopular insitution. She said other means can be more effective in managing schools and defending the rights of the English-speaking minority.
“We have to protect our institutions as English Quebecers,” said André Fortin, incumbent and Liberal Party candidate. “This community [English community] will always have an ally in me,” he promised.
Health and social services in English were also major topics. All participants agreed that English-speaking Quebecers must receive service in their language. Ms Kamanyana said wait times are equally important, and it is unacceptable to have wait times of up to 18 hours in hospital ERs. The CAQ is the only party proposing a new hospital in the Gatineau area. NDP-Québec’s Samuel Gendron wants to hire more nurses -- and a return to a decentralized system. Mr Lang argued that privitization is hurting the system, not relieving pressure on it.
Hiring English-speaking Quebecers in the public service was also discussed, as were local municipal services in this vast riding. Immigration and integration of ethnic minorities was another subject. Ms Kamanyana explained the “values test” for immigrants after three years, as insuring their integration into the French-speaking labour force. Mr Fortin admitted that rural regions need immigrants, but that the government shouldn’t limit their numbers.
Sparks flew between the Liberal and CAQ candidates over tourism. “The Liberal government is investing in other regions, not in our region,” said Olive Kamanyana. People are not staying in the Pontiac because there is little opportunity and little to do here, according to the CAQ candidate. Mr Fortin claimed this attitude does not recognize the efforts and investments made by residents.
Louis Lang, representing Quebec’s Marxist-Leninist Party, wants to bring back democracy to the National Assembly. “There is more to democracy than to vote once every four years,” said Mr Lang. He argued that political directions have to go from the people upward, not be dictated downward by the parties. Until then, he said, many of these other issues will not be resolved because the elites are out of touch with local problems. He said almost every problem here can be traced to this “backward process of government”.
The Green Party’s Roger Fleury, the most energetic of the speakers, not only wants environmental issues like the Chalk River radioactive dump, upstream from the riding, challenged by Quebec, but argued there must be better ways of listening to citizen concerns. He dismissed the Liberal claim of balancing the budget because “they balanced the budget on the little guys”. They created the healthcare problems by their cuts and then claim to have plans to solve the issues, he said, “and we pay, coming and going”.
Youth for Youth Québec, a provincial network of English-speaking youth (ages 16-30), asked candidate opinions on several topics: the decline in primary/secondary school enrollment, the exodus of youth from rural regions and the integration of anglophones into the labour market.
Citizens also had the opportunity to question the candidates. Around 15% of Quebec’s population is anglophone, according to the Regional Association of West Quebecers, with the numbers much higher in West Quebec, reaching the majority in several areas.