On September 13th, Quebec’s four main party leaders faced off in the first french
language debate. At times, the leaders were tough to follow as they spatted with each other, talked over one another, pointed fingers, raised papers and jumbled ideas to sway voters. After quite the performance for two whole hours, the leaders shook hands and spoke to scrutinizing journalists, to whom they projected confident auras and happiness with their debating abilities.
The debate opened with a segment on health care — a subject which polls are indicating is one of the most important election topics for Quebeckers. The Premier came under heavy fire for essentially all initiatives and the actions – or lack thereof – of his eternally unpopular health minister, Gaétan Barrette. In response, he desperately clung to his two most promising statistics; that the number of citizens with family doctors has increased by 10% since he came to office four years ago, and that the creation of 25 super clinics has proven to be effective in keeping patients with non- urgent cases out of emergency rooms. While Couillard did admit that this was only the start of accomplishing the widely desired overhaul of our health care system, the other three leaders insisted that this progress is too insignificant given the amount of time the liberal party has had in office in the past 15 years. The CAQ’s Francois Legault insisted that all hospital wait times could be reduced to a maximum of 90 minutes, but had a rather tough time outlining the specifics of his plan when pressed by the other leaders. He relentlessly brought up that the Jewish General Hospital has an average emergency room wait time of 91 minutes — he claimed it was proof, indeed, that the CAQ’s goal is realistic. The impassioned Legault omitted the fact that the Jewish General is one of the most privately funded hospitals in the province. The PQ’s Jean-Francois Lisée further pressed the Premier on the fact that doctors’ salaries have increased drastically in the
past few years, while nurses’ and orderlies’ wages have seemed to stagnate. He also cited a number of statistics which proved that hospital staff have poor working conditions and are terribly overworked. Couillard, a doctor himself, rebutted by saying that doctors’ wages had to increase so as to not lose Quebec med school graduates to other provinces where they could make far more money. Quebec Solidaire’s Manon Massé pledged to increase government spending for all health care services across the board, and pledged to completely revitalize Quebec’s CLSC system. When it came to home care, all four leaders agreed that more work had to be done, however their respective plans for achieving better services varied.
The second segment of the debate revolved around education. Manon Massé spoke about her party’s plan to end government subsidies to private schools, and put that money towards making education completely free for all students from prekindergarten to the end of their first university degree. Jean-Francois Lisée vowed to decrease the daily cost of daycare and reinvigorate the CPE system (essentially public daycares), which was originally implemented by his party long before he was ever leader. Couillard expressed his desire to make daycare free for all 4 year olds enrolled in designated government subsidized daycares. The Premier cited some progress his government has made in education, most notably through consecutive increases in education spending for latter years of his term. Francois Legault, who pledged to scrap the school board system, promised to send all four year olds to public schools for prekindergarten, where he pledged to free up a substantial number of spots.
The third part of the debate broached the topic of the economy and the environment. Couillard emphatically lauded his economic feats, in balancing budgets, paying off the province’s debt and creating jobs, all the while increasing government spending in many sectors, improving a number of social services, and altogether stimulating the economy. Legault, branding himself as a shroud businessman, tried to steal the spotlight in outlining his economic plan which, ironically, seemed uncannily
similar to what the Couillard Liberals have been doing since forming government in 2014. Lisée and Massé, both self-declared champions of the middle & lower classes, hit back insisting that Couillard’s austerity was abysmally detrimental to Quebec families and social services. Both leaders hinted that a government under their leadership would not be seeking balanced budgets or surpluses in the remotely foreseeable future. When pressed about their environmental plans, Massé was clearly the most outspoken. She went as far as to say that environmental sustainability would top her agenda, and essentially admitted it would come at the expense of fiscal responsibility. Lisée and Couillard slammed each other’s parties on their environmental track records, which largely camouflaged their respective visions for the years ahead. Legault, much to the consternation of the other leaders, stayed unusually quiet about his environmental agenda, which led many to believe that he may not really have one.
The fourth and final segment of the debate was related to nationalism and immigration, during which voters saw the liveliest part of the debate. Legault hammered home his plan to decrease immigration, and force immigrants to take both a so-called “values test” and a language test. Any new Canadian failing either or both of them would result in their immediate deportation. Couillard rebutted with what was probably his strongest moment of the night, insisting that Legault was driving fear and panic into Quebec’s immigrant population, and that the CAQ’s proposed cuts in immigration would be detrimental to the Quebec economy by creating a workforce shortage. The PQ and Québec Solidaire appeared aligned in their views which were somewhere between those of Legault and Couillard. When it came to nationalism, Legault’s former separatist allegiances manifested themselves as he struck a distinctly anti-Canadian tone, albeit without uttering the word “independence” and ensuring he would not hold a referendum. Massé towed her party line by being outspoken as ever in describing Canada as a destructive state, pleading that Quebec would be better off without any association with the maple leaf. Couillard, on the other hand, promoted his
staunchly federalist views and insisted that Canada was a helping friend, not a hindering enemy. Lisée opened his stance on separatism by saying that no referendum would be held in a first term. However, as the digital background behind him began coincidentally turning deeper blue, the PQ leader began reviving the hopes and dreams of René Lévesque’s party by declaring his profound desire to eventually see the liberation of his province in becoming a country. That, of course, being the stinging proposition which has landed him in a distant third place in the polls, fighting to keep official party status and stay relevant, despite surveys indicating millennials are not interested in separating.
Throughout the debate, Philip Couillard was the clear voice of reason amidst the hysteria which reverberated from the other leaders. He kept his cool and constantly turned to unassailable facts which point to his incredible progress. Legault’s demeanour was entirely unbecoming of someone seeking the highest office in this province, as he appeared unable to stay calm or let others finish their remarks. Lisée was unrelenting with his separatist ideas and was far more aggressive than he had to be. Massé’s ideas are unrealistic, period. She wants free education (and defund private education), free dental care, free public transit, separate from Canada and then turn nearly all fiscal focus from economy to environmental sustainability. I appreciate ambition, but I do not appreciate stupidity.
The choice to be made on October 1st is clear; the economy is booming, the province’s metropolis (Montreal) is back on the map, the books are balanced, the province’s debt is being paid off, taxes are going down, health care reform is underway, the education system is improving, the province is promoting environmental sustainability and jobs are being created. It would be foolish to vote out a government with this track record. To conclude, young people like us must vote in this election, in order to ensure that our voices are heard and our futures are protected. It is paramount
to our democracy and to our province wellbeing that, on October 1st, we turn out in droves to cast our ballots!