Quebec 2022 Notebook: Debates, Doubling Down, Trains and Buses

It’s been a busy few days in Quebec politics, as is to be expected in such a short election season. Let’s start with some observations on the Face a Face leader’s debate Thursday night (it was in French, so all quotes are translated):

  • Best line of the night goes to Québec solidaire (QS)’s Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, when speaking to Premier François Legault of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ): “You’re proposing managing the climate crisis a bit like Mr. Duhaime would have managed the pandemic.” A reference to Conservative Party of Quebec (CPQ) Leader Éric Duhaime opposition to pretty much any health restrictions.
  • Biggest screwup also goes to Nadeau-Dubois, for when he let Parti Québécois (PQ) Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon goad him into saying a racial slur which is part of the title of a book considered by some to be a seminal part of Quebec literature. While many voters might not care, the QS base who do the door-knocking, phone banking and signage surely do. And there’s no political upside for QS, as the ‘right to racism’ (or ‘anti-woke above all’) crowd won’t vote for a party that opposed Bill 21 (nor the PQ, for that matter, Legault and Duhaime have that vote sown up), regardless of whether Nadeau-Dubois had said the word or refused to.
  • Overall, though, Nadeau-Dubois gave a strong performance. He was confident and reserved most of his attacks for Legault. He also clearly articulated the party’s message of changing times with respect for “the generation that built Quebec”. It’s unfortunate that his screwup might detract from that strength and his message.
  • Quebec Liberal (PLQ) Leader Dominique Anglade did better than I, or the polling, expected her to. She came across as an earnest underdog and I almost forgot that she was representing one of the
  • Duhaime, as opponents jokingly suggested, is looking to win some votes on the West Island. With COVID restrictions and Vaccine Passports now months in the past (for now), railing against them won’t bring the electoral bounty he once thought it would. And he knows he can’t beat Legault on general right-wing issues, so why not try and reach out to right-leaning anglos. His vocal opposition to Bill 96 played like a last-minute switch, albeit a bold one to make in a French debate.
  • If St-Pierre Plamondon’s goal was to weaken QS with progressives without taking back the votes they lost to them last time, mission accomplished. If it was to win back relevancy and maybe power, his debate performance was a total failure.
  • As for Legault, he came across as, well, Legault, which is all he needed to do, really.
  • On systemic racism, Anglade, the only person of colour (and the only woman) on stage, came out strong against the myth, or the spin, that it doesn’t exist. Duhaime and St-Pierre Plamondon towed the “racism is bad, but let’s not say it’s baked into the system, it’s just words, let’s all get along” (not a direct quote) line.
  • Legault tried to make the argument that the “problems in Joliette” (where Atikamekw mother Joyce Echaquan recorded racial slurs by hospital staff before dying) were resolved (more on this later) and therefore no systemic racism. Nadeau-Dubois countered that Legault wasn’t Premier of Joliette and the problem still exists across Quebec.
  • Anglade attacked Nadeau-Dubois for voting for Bill 96 (something QS has tried to distance themselves from) and Nadeau-Dubois attacked Anglade for waffling on the same bill (first trying to toughen it, then voting against it because it was too tough).
  • On protecting the French language, four of the five leaders argued for some variation of the “stick” approach: the stick, or Bill 96 (Legault), a bigger stick, or a tougher Bill 96 (St-Pierre Plamondon), a smaller stick, or Bill 96 lite (Anglade), and a different stick, a law that left the historic anglos out of it and focused on immigrants (Duhaime). Nadeau-Dubois opted for the “carrot” approach, or free on-the-job French courses and a $500 voucher for French music, theatre and cultural production for all new immigrants.

Whether or not this debate swayed any voters has yet to be seen. But the campaigning continued.

Problem Not Solved in Joliette According to Atikamekw Community

Remember how François Legault argued during the debate that changes made at the Joliette hospital where Atikamekw mother Joyce Echaquan died were proof that the problem was solved in Joliette and that there was no systemic racism in Quebec? Well, the Manawan Atikamekw Council, the Atikamekw Nation Council and Joyce Echaquan’s spouse, Carol Dubé, released a statement saying that the situation had not been fixed, even in Joliette.

Dubé also sent a letter, through his lawyer, stating that “if the premier had bothered to meet with Ms. Echaquan’s family over the past two years, or if he had simply taken the time to read the report of coroner Gehane Kamel tabled in September 2021, he would have realized that the systemic problems that led to Ms. Echaquan’s death are not of a nature that can be ‘solved’ by essentially cosmetic changes.”

Legault responded on Saturday, saying that: “They want to come back to the issue of systemic racism…they want to make a debate of words instead of ensuring that we solve the problems on the ground.”

So it’s now not just Nadeau-Dubois and Anglade that the Premier is arguing with about systemic racism, but a victim’s family and community as well.

QS’s Rail and Bus Proposal

On Friday, Québec solidaire unveiled what could be its most ambitious proposal this election season: a $13 billion investment in public inter-city train and bus transit. Here is what it would look like:

  • Two new public bodies will be created to administer it: Québec-Rail and Québec-Bus.
  • The rail network will be comprised of five lines: Matane-Quebec, Quebec-Montreal, Quebec-Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke-Montreal and Montreal-Gatineau.
  • Existing rail lines would be used, three of them are currently under provincial jurisdiction and two are federal. Some tracks would need to be doubled and some passenger cars constructed and a deal worked out with CN.
  • The bus network would cover 4000 kilometers not served by the train network.
  • The initial investment would be $2 billion a year and there would need to be investment from a different level of government.

One of the things we know QS would cut, even before announcing this project, is the Legault-backed Third Link tunnel project for the Quebec City region. So we have two different transit visions as well as two different takes on systemic racism.

The debate may have ended, but the debating continues, as do the various campaigns. Until next time.

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