With only a few days before the provincial election, student associations from Concordia University, McGill University and Dawson College hosted an electoral debate on Thursday Aug. 30.
Candidates running in the Westmount—St-Louis riding from the Liberal Party, the Parti Québécois, Québec Solidaire, the Parti vert du Québec, Coalition Avenir Québec, Option Nationale and the Marxist-Leninist party were invited to speak at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business.
At the start of the debate, some candidates began to criticize the leadership of Pauline Marois of the Parti Québécois due to her shifting position regarding the tuition increase. Liberal candidate Dave McMahon argued that Marois lacked due conviction for her platform.
“Marois has had 16 different positions in only six months,” said McMahon.
Thierry St-Cyr, of the PQ, maintained that the party’s position has been clear from the start; to cancel the tuition fee increase and to abolish Law 12, also known as Bill 78.
Benoit Guérin from Option Nationale defended the free education approach by stating that higher education for the public leads to better jobs and therefore stimulates the economy.
“Education can fund itself,” Guérin explained.
Contrary to their fellow candidates, Johnny Kairouz for the Coalition Avenir Québec and McMahon both agreed the current rate is not enough and students need to contribute more money. Both said that they would facilitate access to student loans in order to ease the tuition swell.
Tensions ran high during the second part of the debate when candidates addressed language issues in the province. McMahon asked why Jean-François Lisée, a high profile candidate for the PQ, said publically that he favours a francophone from France over a francophone from China. He followed-up by asking if St-Cyr would apply the same attitude to Quebec.
“We give points to everyone, it has nothing to do with xenophobia,” replied St-Cyr. “It is how we measure the level of integration of the person.”
During this language segment of the debate, the PQ’s intent to extend Bill 101 to CÉGEPs was criticized by most candidates with the exception of Mélissa Desjardins of Québec Solidaire.
“Having a choice [to choose the language of instruction] is an important part of our culture to preserve,” said Lisa Cahn of the Parti vert.
The Option Nationale candidate said he believes that Bill 101 should remain as is and is not in need of revisions or adjustments. McMahon concluded by emphasizing his party’s belief in “linguistic peace,” saying that the the French language is not in decline.
Many undecided voters attended the debate Thursday in an attempt to have their questions answered. One audience member was Matthew Kabwe, a Concordia student studying communications and human relations. Kabwe said he came to the debate to decide who to vote for but left unsure, and he is likely not the only one.