In advance of the upcoming Quebec provincial election, Parti Québécois (PQ) leader Jean-François Lisée spoke about about public transportation, unpaid internships, and the role of science in society at the Université de Montréal’s (UdeM) Ernest-Cormier amphitheatre on Sep. 11. The event was organized by the Fédération des associations étudiantes du campus de l’Université de Montréal (FAÉCUM), the University’s student-union federation. A second event, featuring Québec Solidaire (QS) co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, is scheduled for Sept. 24.
“There are two phenomena that are transforming our reality, and which we must attack before it’s too late,” Lisée said. “These are the environment and the climate crisis and [economic] inequality.”
The PQ leader emphasized his party’s education policies—most notably, their plan to make CEGEP and university free for the bottom 50 per cent of Quebecers by income. Funding would come from initiatives like the proposed ‘glutton tax’ on high-earning CEOs.
“Education is the absolute key to social mobility,” Lisée said. “Education must be the nation’s permanent priority.”
Outside the amphitheatre, several students cited this policy as a key reason for their support for Lisée. Tobie Raphaël Godue and Sophie Lemieux, second and third-year students in UdeM’s Faculty of Law, were motivated to join Lisée’s campaign because of his priorities.
“Free tuition for the middle and lower classes is important,” Godue said. “We need to give everyone the ability to become educated, and to become well-educated [….] It’s something that motivates me, working for education for everyone.”
Lemieux underlined the reasoning behind the PQ’s promise to pass a bill establishing a minimum level of funding for education.
“It’s to assure that, ver the years, if we lose an election or not, there won’t be cuts to education like what happened in the last [Parti Libéral du Québec] mandate,” Lemieux said. “I think it’s a concrete and very interesting measure.”
The crowd at UdeM included politically unaffiliated students who came to educate themselves about their options for the Oct. 1 election. Despite not being deeply engaged in the election, first-year UdeM political science student Marc-Antoine Héroux is still impressed by Lisée.
“Because I’m a political science student, I wanted to get more involved,” Héroux said. “I think he’s [Lisée] set his sights higher than the rest of the candidates. He’s running the best campaign.”
However, not everyone is as impressed with Lisée and the PQ. Lisée’s campaign endured controversy on Sep. 7 when Jewish NGO B’nai Brith revealed in an open letter to Lisée that Michelle Blanc, PQ candidate in the riding of Mercier, had posted “racist, anti-Semitic” content online. Examples listed included a Tweet that read “[expletive], I forgot to celebrate Hitler’s birthday” and a blog post titled “Am I a racist?”, wherein she expressed a desire for the Hasidic Jewish community of Outremont to disappear.
Lisée dismissed B’nai Brith’s concerns in an interview with The Montreal Gazette three days later.
“It’s clearly an attempt at intimidation, and them wanting to involve themselves in the political process, as is their right,” Lisée said. “Ms. Blanc has the right as did hundreds of thousands of Quebecers to criticize a religion.”
Daniel Minden, VP Communications for Hillel McGill, a Jewish student group, is disappointed by Michelle Blanc’s comments. However, he is willing to attribute it to misguidedness and drew attention to her outreach to LGBTQ2 Quebecers.
“Mme. Blanc’s tweet about Hitler’s birthday seems to be a poor attempt at dark humour but does not constitute hate speech in our view,” Minden wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune. “Without a doubt, Mme. Blanc’s article from eleven years ago made unfortunate generalizations about the Hasidic community with which we disagree, although we do not believe they cross the line into anti-Semitism. We hope Mme. Blanc chooses her words more carefully and deliberately in the future.”