By Michael Boriero
While the Brome-Missisquoi riding has a history of flipping between federal parties, the Liberal Party has been successful at the polls since MP Denis Paradis won the seat in the 2015 election. Liberal MP Lyne Bessette took the riding in 2019.
However, Bessette announced over the summer that she will not be running for re-election, opening a seat for a new face. There are ten candidates looking to represent the Brome-Missisquoi riding in Ottawa:
St-Onge, Pascale (Liberal Party)
Duhamel, Vincent (Conservative Party)
Alarie, Marilou (Bloc Québécois)
Panton, Andrew (New Democratic Party)
Corcos, Michelle (Green Party)
Stogowski, Alexis (People’s Party)
Richard, Maryse (Free Party)
Cotton, Lawrence (Veterans Coalition)
Lefebvre, Susanne (Christian Heritage)
The Record spoke to six of the 10 candidates to hear their thoughts on the election, environmental protection, minority language rights, pandemic recovery, and discuss issues brought up by constituents.
Conservative Party candidate Vincent Duhamel told The Record that there will be a focus on giving “oxygen to small business owners in every region in Canada” by providing them tax benefits, including a temporary break on GST.
The plan is to also move away from the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB). He wants to do this by first helping businesses attract workers who need to re-engage with the workforce. There is currently a worker shortage affecting many different industries.
“The main item that comes back all of the time from the employers, business owners, across the riding is always the lack of manpower. The fact that they have to compete against the government to try to attract employees, that drives them up the wall,” said Duhamel.
On the Official Languages Act, Duhamel said both French and English are important to Canada. It won’t change much in the Eastern Townships if it is altered, he continued, and it helps ease concerns in French-speaking communities across the country.
“I’ve lived overseas, I’ve lived in B.C., for example, and other places in Canada, and part of what makes a dynamic language, as a minority within a majority, is how active they are, and in Brome-Missisquoi there has always been an active Anglo population,” said Duhamel.
He added that health services will be another target for the Conservative Party. According to Duhamel, his party intends to tackle the health network’s funding issues within the first 100 days. He also noted many people in the area are concerned about internet access.
Duhamel mentioned the importance of preserving Lake Memphremagog, but he said it will be difficult because responsibility falls on municipal and provincial shoulders. He added that there needs to be a closer look into the garbage dumping practices in Newport, Vermont.
Liberal Party candidate Pascale St-Onge said that as she was doing her rounds, meeting with citizens, mayors, and entrepreneurs, the main issue to surface had to do with environmental protection. People are worried about climate change, she added, and access to clean water.
“Well one thing that is very important to me is problems with exotic species, plants that are invading our lakes, so I’m very happy with the $1 billion engagement for the protection of our lakes and rivers and the St. Lawrence River,” said St-Onge.
The government recently invested in protecting lakes and rivers, including Lake Memphremagog. The intention is to also give municipalities more leverage so that they can regulate their lakes and protect the environment.
“In 2023 the government is going to stop funding oil companies, so that’s also something that I’ve been hearing a lot about and also the electrification of cars, vehicles that should be completed in 2035, so I think it is a good plan that we put on the table,” St-Onge said.
She also discussed the conclusion of the CRB set for the end of September. The relief fund will continue to be used for certain industries, though, including the cultural sector and tourism. This is phase two of the Liberals’ plans, she explained, and it is the right way to do it.
St-Onge said the government will also support seniors through guaranteed revenue, which will provide more financial security. She added that the Liberals want to support at-home assistance, as well, as seniors would rather stay in their own homes.
When it comes to the Official Languages Act, she believes it needs a makeover. The plan is to invest in minority language institutions across Canada, St-Onge explained, which includes financial support for CBC and Radio-Canada so they can better serve their communities.
“What we’re saying is that we’re going to protect even more the official languages in minority situations so that goes for the English community in Brome-Missisquoi,” said St-Onge, adding that the Liberals will make the court challenges program permanent.
Bloc Québécois candidate Marilou Alarie said that to no surprise, most people are stressed about the health system. She recently visited Cowansville Hospital, speaking to several nurses and staff. They are all exhausted, and they want better support, she concluded.
There is also a serious worker shortage across Canada. She has heard from business owners that they are struggling to keep their doors open because they can’t find enough people to fill out their staff. She wants to eliminate the CRB, but maintain it for the cultural sector.
“There are 20 cities in the Brome-Missisquoi so all of the small towns, little villages, everyone is saying the same thing, they can’t find people to work. I mean restaurants are closing at lunch time because they just don’t have enough staff,” said Alarie.
Alarie, a former environmental activist, added that there is a budding phosphate problem in Lake Memphremagog, the Yamaska River, and Missisquoi Bay. She said the government was presented a list of recommendations in 2020, but have yet to act on them.
One way to recover from the pandemic would be to fund and develop a train line, she said, it would help the economy and increase tourism. This has been a discussion for years, Alarie continued, adding that Quebec’s railroad network is lagging behind other countries.
“The country was built by the train. The train between Montreal and Sherbrooke would be, for me, an extraordinary project. It’s eco-responsible, it’s needed, it takes cars off the road,” said Alarie.
While she respects language minority rights in the province, Alarie said she is a native French-speaker and French should be considered the common language in Quebec. Although, something she doesn’t agree with is embracing the snap election.
“I don’t think these elections are necessary, but I’m happy to be here. I’m taking advantage of it just to be back talking with people and making sure that Quebecers’ voices will be stronger in Ottawa. I think there is an opportunity for it right now,” said Alarie.
Christian Heritage Party candidate Susanne Lefebvre said that one of the major concerns she has heard from her constituents has to do with illegal immigration. She wants to see stronger measures imposed at the border between the U.S. and Canada.
“People want to make sure we go back to what it was before, legal immigration, you have to go through the border, and if you are not eligible to come in, then you just stay where you are and just fill out the papers,” said Lefebvre.
She also discussed a burgeoning housing crisis, and the need for more affordable housing in the area. Houses are being sold for three, four, five times more than what they were bought for 10 years ago, she explained, and it is becoming a problem in the community.
Lefebvre noted that seniors need to command more respect from the Federal government. The current tax format needs to change in an effort to help them. And it should not be in the form of a one-time $500 payment, she added, which the government proposed this summer.
She also spoke about defunding the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster, and privatize the radio and television corporation. Lefebvre said the CBC’s agenda does not correspond to her party’s values. And she wants to create more press freedom, rather than muzzling journalists.
This falls into her larger issue, which is to protect and uphold the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She believes the charter has been violated throughout the entire pandemic. It’s a free country, she added, people are free to take the vaccine, and to not take the vaccine.
“I’m completely against the vaccination passport because it breaks our rights and freedoms. Go read the charter, you will see […] we’re in Canada, we need to fight for our rights or we’ll lose them and it won’t take 10 years. It will take a few months,” said Lefebvre.
People’s Party of Canada candidate Alexis Stogowski plans to tackle the pandemic recovery plan, which he believes was set back due to the Federal government creating the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). It made things worse for business owners, he said.
“The Liberal government lost $9 billion in CERB fraud, so that doesn’t help anybody. As far as going forward I think we’re not out of the woods yet, but segregating our population isn’t the right answer, that’s for sure,” said Stogowski.
Canadians should have been placed on an adjusted unemployment benefit, he continued. And there needs to be more transparency, he shared, adding that Canada cannot continue to move the goalposts back every week, especially when it comes to vaccinations.
“We’re talking about third doses, soon we’ll be talking about fourth doses. Is it ever going to end? People have the right to choose what goes into their body, the same as women have the right to choose what happens to their bodies for abortion,” Stogowski said.
He is also vehemently against altering the Official Languages Act, which the government tabled a few months ago. He wants to go even further by scrapping both the Liberal’s proposal, and the Quebec government’s Bill 96, which aims to strengthen the French language.
“My girlfriend is French. I have nothing against French people, but for the government to go out and say we’re going to protect our language by throwing these English people under the bus, it’s childish,” said Stogowski, adding that being bilingual is a strength, not a weakness.
In an interview with Green Party candidate Michelle Corcos, she explained that her focus is mainly on the environment, and creating a stronger food chain throughout the country and in the Eastern Townships. There are a lot of opportunities for green recovery, she said.
“We need to make sure that the food that we produce in the area gets transformed in the area, and is accessible locally,” said Corcos. “50 per cent of the food that is produced in Canada is wasted because it is not transformed properly and conserved well enough.”
There is also an opportunity to promote and develop tourism through agriculture, according to Corcos. She was happy to see more Quebecers re-discovering their province, and the Brome-Missisquoi area throughout the pandemic, since travel outside of Quebec was prohibited.
Corcos has also noticed a pattern throughout her brief campaign period. People have a lot of resistance to change, she explained, they are dependent on petroleum, for example, and large vehicles and machinery. But her supporters want to create a better life for their children.
“They are trying to feed their children with organic food to make sure that they are healthy, but what world are they going to grow into? […] I met a lot of people who have moved to the country to offer fresh air and nature to their children,” said Corcos.
She also mentioned that she is very close to the English community, and there needs to be a harmony between French and English culture in Canada. And she discussed recycling practices, which, she noted, is abysmal in hospitals.
Corcos linked many of Canada’s issues, transportation, the economic recovery plan, the housing crisis, and seniors care, to the environment. The environment isn’t just one issue, it encapsulates everything, she explained, and people are starting to take notice.
“I think the government did a great job with the tools they have, the things that Greens are proposing are a shift in paradigm, we have to think differently. My point is every time you vote Green, you are taking votes away from the old parties,” said Corcos.
The Record was unable to reach Veterans Coalition Party candidate Lawrence Cotton, New Democratic Party candidate Andrew Panton and Independent candidate Dany Desjardins. Free Party Canada (FPC) candidate Maryse Richard was unavailable for an interview.