• James Armstrong

Bilingual political debate challenges Soulanges candidates


PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO

Moderated by Natalie Poirier (left) candidates who opted to participate in the Soulanges debate cohosted by Csur la Télé, NéoMédia, and The Journal were able to project their ideas to potential voters via direct feed on Facebook.

The political debate held on Sunday, September 16 in Vaudreuil-Dorion gave candidates in two local ridings, Soulanges and Vaudreuil, the opportunity to test-drive their platforms in French and English giving local voters a chance to assess their suitability for public office. Billed as two bilingual debates, one for each riding, the event was a joint venture amongst three local media outlets, Csur la Télé, NéoMédia and The Journal and was broadcast through the community cable television network and on social media.

Soulanges debate

Moderated by Natalie Poirier, the debate questions were presented in both languages but not all of the candidates took the plunge in English. On the platform were Etienne Madelein, of the New Democratic Party of Quebec (NDPQ), Patrick Marquis of the Équipe Autonomiste (EA), Lucie Charlebois representing the Liberal Party (Lib), Maxime Larue-Bourdages for Québec Solidaire (QS), Marilyne Picard representing the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), and Dominik Prud’homme of Citoyens au Pouvoir du Québec (CPQ). The range of questions and debate topics revolved around six themes: the economy, transportation, environment, health, education and culture and identity. Candidates were not informed of the questions in advance.

Economy

The question regarding the Soulanges economy focused on the Soulanges Canal as an example representing several aspects of the economy including tourism, outdoor activities and its characteristic historical value. Candidates were asked how they intended to move the development of the canal forward, considering it’s the property of the Ministry of Transport Québec. Charlebois opened the debate by welcoming viewers in both languages followed by a description of the Liberal government’s approach to the situation and the work accomplished to date.

She said the development process involves local elected officials and the Municipalité régionale de comté Vaudreuil-Soulanges (MRC-VS). The five candidates agreed, in principle, that the canal is an important tourist attraction and has historic value. Picard, however, said the file needed to move more quickly. Larue-Bourdages cautioned that the environmental aspects of the canal development project needed to be addressed. Marquis questioned Charlebois regarding the economic viability of the project. Charlebois replied the canal was already a tourist attraction and that systems are in place for the project to move forward with input from all the regional players.

Transport

Suggested solutions for public transport problems in the Soulanges region ranged from more public transportation such as buses across the region to public taxis and encouraging carpooling. Picard accentuated the need for public transport from one town to another and recounted that many Saint-Zotique residents who work in Vaudreuil-Dorion were looking for public transport solutions. Charlebois said municipal mayors and the MRC-VS were also responsible for the decision-making process regarding regional transport. Marquis did not support any further development of public transport services in the region noting that transportation is the responsibility of the individual. For those lacking a vehicle, he proposed using the internet to find carpooling options.

Environment

The question, ‘How do you propose protecting valuable farmland from development?’ was redirected by Larue-Bourdage as a criticism of Charlebois and the Liberal government’s choice to expropriate 24 acres of agricultural land for the Vaudreuil-Soulanges hospital project rather than the required nine acres. Charlebois replied the decision had been made with the input of several ministries, the MRC-VS and the municipalities. She pointed out the land, although agricultural, hadn’t been farmed in many years. Madelein noted the hospital project was necessary and the environmental protections needed to be observed including increasing protections for agricultural land in the coming years. Picard said protecting agricultural land was a priority.

Health

Picard described the hospital as the primordial project for the region, needing to be built as soon as possible. She promised if the CAQ are elected, construction would begin before 2022. Charlebois countered the CAQ promise saying provincial laws regarding infrastructure projects of that magnitued have to be respected. Marquis asked if the budget for the hospital had doubled due to its expansion from the original 200 beds to 404 beds. Charlebois replied the project had not doubled but it was a little bit more. Prud’homme proposed financial support for doctors to continue their studies in Quebec and to work in the regions of the province. Larue-Bourdanges supported the hospital project and proposed reopening Centre Local de Services Communautaires (CLSC) that were closed over the previous years.

Education

With an expanding population in the region, the need for more schools, renovation of existing schools, teacher training, and supplementary classes for students has increased. Candidates were asked how they prioritized public education. The question ignited the hottest exchange of the evening, beginning when Picard said that under a CAQ government, the school boards would be replaced with local service centres that would be occupied with the infrastructure, while and the schools would focus on hiring teachers.

“You have just heard that the CAQ are going to abolish the school boards. You know what’s in that for you, you have just heard that. Think about it,” responded Charlebois in English. She said that, financially, the Liberals had balanced the budget and subsequently have the finances in place to invest in the education system. She also promised more teachers for kindergarten classes and primary schools as well as renovations of all schools by 2030.

Madelein proposed investing more money in the public system and less in the private sector. Parents would be able to choose their school of preference for their children. Prud’homme suggested a conversion to the Swiss model where students are immersed in a particular field of training.

Culture and identity

Marquis was clearly for increasing government support for cultural projects saying they were currently underfunded. Picard said the CAQ platform included financial support for cultural activities for primary and secondary school students as well as public funding for libraries. For Larue-Bourdages, the most important factor in Quebec cultural life was the artists who make a living from their work and the need to support them. He said the most popular artists are the ones that regularly receive government financial support. Charlebois said the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC) has the responsibility of making those funding decisions. The candidates agreed cultural activities played an important role in the Soulanges riding and required financial support from the government.

It became clearly evident early in the debate that very few candidates were comfortable expressing themselves in English. For Madelein, who is fluently bilingual, it wasn’t difficult and Charlebois, who has worked to improve her linguistic competency, also took the risk of expressing herself in English. Picard ventured into English with her prepared statement at the end of the debate.

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