Montreal, News

Candidates face off at SSMU-organized election debate

Candidates for Westmount–Saint-Louis, the riding encompassing McGill and Milton Park, vied for students’ support in a heated all-party debate in Burnside Hall Sept. 19, discussing issues such as the deregulation of international student tuition, minimum wage, and immigration.

Candidates from the four main parties—the governing Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ), the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), the Parti Québécois (PQ), and Québec Solidaire (QS)—spoke alongside contenders from the Parti Vert du Québec (PVQ), NDP of Quebec (NPDQ), and the Parti Conservateur du Québec (PCQ). The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) organized the debate, with Elections SSMU Deputy Electoral Officer Isaac Levy and volunteer Dany Morcos moderating the event. SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer also attended the debate.

“I think it’s going to go great,” Mansdoerfer said. “Elections SSMU did a great job […and] I’m hoping students learn more about voting and decide to go vote.”

Each candidate gave an opening statement, beginning with Jennifer Maccarone, the PLQ candidate and projected winner of the riding. In her statement, Maccarone highlighted the theme of inclusion.

“I chose [to join] the Liberal Party of Quebec because it’s the only party that represents my values […] of inclusion, my values of building a strong Quebec, my Canadian values, and my belief in listening to the community to best serve [it],” said Maccarone. “Liberal values are ones that unite us and not divide us.”

CAQ candidate for Westmount–Saint-Louis Michelle Morin pushed back against criticisms of her party’s immigration plan in her opening statement.

“The CAQ is a party of diversity,” Morin said. “The candidates come from diverse backgrounds, diverse educations, [and] diverse professional backgrounds [….] The CAQ fulfills the true meaning of the word ‘diversity.’”

The candidates then responded to queries from the moderators before answering audience questions. One contentious topic was the candidates’ support for the governing Liberals’ decision to deregulate tuition increases for international students.

QS candidate Ekaterina Piskunova, a professor of political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) and runner-up to Maccarone in the polls, expressed her opposition to the policy.

“I respectfully very strongly disagree with the Liberals’ policies concerning tuition fees for foreign students,” Piskunova said. “We are a party based on inclusion, and when we present our plan for free education, it’s a question of principle. It should be universal, free tuition for everybody. I’ve seen how deeply concerned UQÀM students are about this new [policy].”

The moderators also asked the candidates about their parties’ immigration policies. The CAQ has proposed an immediate 20 per cent reduction in the number of new immigrants accepted to Quebec per year, and a mandatory French-language skills and Quebec values test and expulsion for those who do not pass it within three years. Polling indicates that the proposed reduction in the influx of immigrants is partially responsible for the CAQ’s drop in support.

During the question period, an audience member asked Morin if her party would rule out separating families under this policy. Morin elaborated on resources new immigrants would be given to learn French, including free language classes.

“Well to answer that question, how we’re going to design the French classes is we’re going to group,” Morin said. “So for example, somebody that might have no knowledge of French will be grouped together, somebody that might have 50 per cent knowledge of the language will be grouped,” said Morin.

Asked to clarify with a yes or no, Morin refused.

“The CAQ never said that we would break up families, so that’s false information you’re receiving,” Morin said. “You’re saying the CAQ said this, they never said this [….] You’re asking us to answer a question that we never stated.”

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