Candidates from Quebec’s newest political party discuss the issues facing Concordia students
For some Concordia students, provincial politics tend to be an afterthought to the constant pressures of student life. Whether it’s catching up on assignments or finding classrooms in the Hall building, most students don’t have the time to remain informed or even have a conclusive opinion on Quebec politics.
This is why it may surprise some to learn that Concordia alumnus Rizwan Rajput is running in his first ever election at the age of 38. This fall, he’s the candidate for Bloc Montreal in the Saint-Laurent district.
If you’re unfamiliar, Bloc Montreal is a newly-formed political party led by Balarama Holness — a former CFL football player and Montreal native — whose goal is to ensure that Montreal’s needs are represented and respected in Quebec’s National Assembly.
After graduating from Concordia with a Bachelor’s of Commerce in 2009, Rajput was inspired to become a CPA after seeing how vital a role they played in helping small businesses in his neighborhood.
“My dad actually opened the first halal food store in St. Laurent beside ICQ Mosque in the ’90s, catering to the needs of the community seven days a week,” said Rajput.
Rajput, whose family immigrated from Pakistan, recognized the innate challenges that English speaking immigrants like himself face throughout the province.
“There was this one time when I was on the bus with my mom while I was younger,” Rajput recalled. “A lady was saying something to her in French and my mom and I didn’t speak French at the time. I remember looking up and instinctively knowing it was disrespectful.”
He was motivated to enter politics after seeing how little emphasis other parties and candidates were putting on the city of Montreal and immigrants.
“Bill 21 especially affects my family,” said Rajput. “My wife who wears a hijab won’t be allowed to find employment in some public sectors. Also, Bill 96 forces all home sale contracts to be written in French. This makes it hard for Anglophone Montrealers to understand the papers they are signing.”
Rajput is hoping that his campaign, if nothing else, brings attention to the issues facing his community. “I want to be a part of the rebirth of Montreal,” he said.
Now, 12 years since he graduated from Concordia, Rajput is looking to his alma mater for support in his endeavor. He is hoping to help end the stigma that surrounds young people getting involved and caring about politics and social injustice.
“As a student, I often didn’t vote with the assumption that my vote wouldn’t make a difference,” said Rajput. “However, every vote counts. This is our democracy and if we don’t vote we are allowed to be taken advantage of. We need to educate ourselves on how our voting can impact our lives when we vote for a leader that listens to our needs, visions, well-being and rights, versus one that does not support them.”
This opinion is shared by Bloc Montreal leader Balarama Holness, newly minted politician, who recently ran for office in Montreal’s city election for the first time.
“It’s not good enough in this day and age to bow to the Coca Cola politics of the Liberal party, the Pepsi politics of the CAQ and the Crush politics of Québec solidaire,” said Holness. “It’s about going to that fresh-pressed juice. That new political party that’s actually going to fight for you and that’s authentic. That cares about your issues, that you could even be a candidate for.”
Holness did not shy away from asserting the importance of Quebec’s English language educational institutions, such as Concordia.
“People should certainly be concerned about the future, not scared,” said Holness. “But if there is a concern, it shouldn’t be about voting. It’s about going to engage your democracy at the highest level. As a party, we are from a grassroots movement that was founded on fighting systemic racism and discrimination across all anomalous lines. Whether that’s citizenship, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation. We are at the forefront of the fight for human rights and civil rights.”
The pre-voting for this year’s election begins on Friday Sept. 23 and runs until Election Day on Oct. 3.