Candidates tackle student-submitted questions on internships and more.
Tuition fees, climate change and mental health are just some of the issues on the minds of Quebec students this election, based on the questions submitted at the all-parties debate on student and youth issues.
On Friday, Sept. 23, representatives of six provincial political parties hashed out their ideas and traded respectful jabs for a mostly young audience at Concordia’s D.B. Clarke theatre. The debate was organised by the Concordia Student Union and the Political Science Student Association. Among the representatives were former Montreal Gazette journalist and Liberal Member of the National Assembly David Birnbaum, Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) candidate Christopher Skeete, New Democratic Party of Quebec (NDPQ) leader Raphaël Fortin, Québec Solidaire (QS) co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, Parti Québécois (PQ) candidate Jennifer Drouin, and Green Party of Quebec (PVQ) leader and Concordia alumni Alex Tyrrell.
Here are some highlights from the debate:
International student tuition fees
Drouin said the PQ has a plan to facilitate studies in Quebec for international students from french-speaking countries. Fortin and Nadeau-Dubois agreed that international students are beneficial to the province. “I think the Liberal Party of Quebec [made] a big mistake by deregulating completely the tuition fees for international students. The consequence is that we won’t recruit the best students, but the students who have the means to pay for those unbelievably high tuition fees,” added Nadeau-Dubois. CAQ candidate Skeete said international students are “a vector for immigration [and should be kept] within normal parameters. However, we don’t believe the price should go up beyond inflation.” On the one hand, Birnbaum stated “our universities start by belonging to quebecers.” On the other, Tyrrell said “we’re opposed to this bill to deregulate international tuition fees.”
All parties focused on the importance of investing in public transit across the province, as a solution to climate change. QS’s plan includes a $7.6 billion investment into public transport. While Birnbaum praised the Réseau express metropolitain (REM), a rapid transit train connecting downtown with the greater Montreal area, Drouin said “the REM actually stands for ‘real estate money.’” Both Tyrrell and Skeete said they would implement a carbon tax.
Bill 151: sexual assault on campus
Creating a special chamber of the Courts of Quebec for sexual crimes is on the to-do list for the Parti Québécois, according to Drouin. PQ, CAQ and QS all agree on extending the prescription time for reporting sexual crimes. NDPQ would invest funds into community groups to research the reality faced by Indigenous women and people from the LGBTQ+ community. Tyrrell added that the Green Party wants to make catcalling a ticketable offence. Skeete proposed a specific help line for reporting sexual violence.
The Liberal Party of Quebec (LPQ) and PQ focused on the importance of paying teaching internships, as many teachers leave their field after five years of work, according to Drouin. Skeete, Nadeau-Dubois and Fortin were all in agreement that all internships should be paid. Nadeau-Dubois pointed out that often times the unpaid internships are in female dominated fields, and it’s important for every type of internship to be remunerated whether it be in the private or public sector. While Tyrrell agreed, he said it shouldn’t apply to NGOs, as their work is considered to be activism.
“Canada is a colonial state, and we have huge problems with systemic racism towards First Nations people,” said Tyrell of the PVQ. He pledged to offer seats in the national assembly to each of Quebec’s 11 First Nations, and to allow Indigenous communities to return to traditional governance. The CAQ pledged to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, while the PQ promised to repeal the Indian Act. Drouin said that PQ leader Jean-Francois Lisée was the first and only leader to meet Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, in the first 100 days of his mandate; Nadeau-Dubois contended that Manon Massée had also done so.
Retaining non-francophone students
“The last thing we want is for anglophone students to take the 401 to Toronto at the end of their studies,” said the PQ’s Drouin, quoting her party’s leader. She said the PQ would impose mandatory French tests on anglophone CEGEP students, as well as mandatory exchanges with French CEGEPs, before graduating. QS, CAQ and PLQ agreed that the workplace is the most important environment for learning French. The PVQ pledged to offer free French classes for all Quebec residents and to introduce universal bilingual schooling in a language of the students’s choice.
Several candidates opened up about their own battles with mental health; Fortin, his experience with burnout; Skeete, his struggles with panic attacks. The NDPQ’s Fortin said that super-clinics were not the solution, and that mental health services should be provided on-site at hospitals. QS pledged to fight the causes of mental illness by improving work and study conditions, and by investing $250 million into mental health services during their first mandate. The PQ pledged to increase the salaries of mental health professionals and appoint a minister of mental health. The Liberals’s Birnbaum touted his party’s $29 million Autism Spectrum Disorder action plan, which drew praise from the CAQ’s Skeete.
Photos by Gabe Chevalier.