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By-Election in Concordia’s backyard

by Archives September 2, 2008

While the country waits for an election call that may or may not come, a federal by-election is already underway on Concordia’s doorstep, in the riding of Westmount Ville-Marie. The seat has been vacant since last January when Liberal MP Lucienne Robillard stepped down. Robillard represented the riding since it was formed in 1997, but its history of electing Liberals goes back even further; parts of the riding have gone for the party since 1925. Including the city of Westmount, the borough of Ville-Marie, eastern NDG, north Saint-Henri, and the eastern end of the Plateau, the riding includes some of the city’s richest residents and some of its poorest, as well as the Sir George Wilson campus, and McGill.
Hoping to hold on to it, the Liberals have brought out the big guns, Canada’s first man in space, Marc Garneau. This is his second election, in 2006 he ran in the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, losing to the Bloc Quebecois.
Garneau, who said he is the only candidate who actually lives in the riding, plans to focus on homelessness. “There are thousands of homeless people in Westmount Ville-Marie, it isn’t the riding a lot of people imagine.” He said that if he is elected – and if the Liberals regain power, the party will renew two programs that support the homeless, programs that are set to expire this March.
“The other area where I think I can contribute is in the area of my background, which is in science and technology, and that’s particularly important in a riding like Westmount Ville-Marie that has universities, like Concordia and McGill,” said the former astronaut. “I think I bring to the riding an understanding of what universities are like.”
The NDP is hoping to catch some momentum from their by-election victory last September in Outremont, another traditional Liberal stronghold.
“We’re being very well received.” said NDP candidate Anne Lagacé Dowson, the former host of Radio Noon on CBC. “I think a lot of the Liberals in the riding are very disheartened by what they see the Liberal party doing in Ottawa. I think they watch the Liberal party continually propping up the Conservatives . . . there were 43 confidence votes, in all cases the Liberals either abstained or voted with the Conservatives.”
Green party candidate Claude William Genest also thinks he has a chance, despite the fact that his party has never won an election. “We’re the only party that’s growing, every other party is declining, where are they going? Green.” This is the fifth time the television actor turned professor has stood for election with the Greens, he is also the party’s deputy leader.
Genest thinks the plans laid out by the other parties don’t go far enough when it comes to protecting the environment. “What [the NDP] is proposing is cap and trade, and the Liberals are proposing carbon taxes, here’s the thing, you can’t have one without the other.”
But Dowson disagrees, “A carbon tax is regressive by nature, it’s a flat tax, it affects all of us the same way. Many of us don’t have choices about how we use carbon based fuels in the short term . . . we feel that it’s an unfair tax.”
“The Liberal party grabbed on to the carbon tax because it’s simpler, but is less effective then the NDP’s plan of cap and trade.” She thinks the cap and trade system, where large polluters have to reduce their emissions or buy credits from those who have will be enough. “We know that it can work, it’s been done to get rid of acid rain.”
Genest thinks that part of the problem is with the way people look at the environment. “This thing we call the environment is not a thing outside ourselves . . . what part of the economy is not related to the environment? What part of your health is not related to the environment?”
“We keep hearing this ridiculous argument that going green is bad for the economy, but whose economy are we talking about? I ask people if you change a light bulb and it lasts 13 times longer and your car runs longer and your house is better insulated, have you made money or have you lost money, for God’s sake?” he said.
All three candidates think that the Conservative’s focus on crime is an attempt at distracting the public from a host of issues, including the economy.
“I don’t think it’s a pressing issue, it makes easy news copy, but I don’t think it’s people’s everyday experience,” said Dowson. “It plays to the fear, when we know that crime rates are down.”
A position echoed by her Liberal rival. “Crime figures overall have been decreasing for decades now,” said Garneau. “If you can somehow eliminate the social roots of crime then you’re going to end up with less crime, and it’s been proven, stiffer sentences don’t work.”
The office of Conservative candidate Guy Dufort did not return phone calls related to this story. As well calls to Bloc Quebecois candidate Charles Larivee, who has no office and no website, were not returned.

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