Candidates running in the Montreal riding of Ville-Marie—Le-Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs clashed on Oct. 1 at the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) federal candidates’ debate, in anticipation of the Oct. 21 federal election. Marc Miller of the Liberal Party, Sophie Thiébaut of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Liana Canton Cusmano of the Green Party, and Michael Forian of the Conservative Party discussed issues related to the riding. There were three questions set by the debate organizers, focused on the environment, reproductive rights, and Senate reform, followed by an audience question period.
Forian and Cusmano condemned the current Liberal government on their waste disposal policies, specifically regarding the dumping of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River. Forian claimed that a Conservative government would move to make the practice illegal, while Cusmano emphasizes that other issues, like air quality and freight train traffic, have also fallen under the radar on the Liberal’s environmental agenda.
“The fact of the matter is that in Montreal alone, nine billion litres of raw sewage were dumped under this Liberal government,” Forian said. “Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment, has to take responsibility for that. I would hope under Marc’s watch that he would have been able to stop it, [but] he did not. So I think it’s very important for us to recognize that this is something that a Conservative government will make illegal come October 21.”
Miller responded by pointing to a $26 million green infrastructure fund created under the Liberal government to deal with those issues.
Candidates also discussed reconciliation with Indigenous communities particularly in Montreal: Despite making up 0.6 per cent of the general population, Indigenous people constitute 10 per cent of the homeless population. Cusmano called on Miller, the incumbent, to take steps to alleviate some of the burdens that Inuit people in Quebec, in particular, disproportionately face.
“I think that Marc has to speak to the staggering rates of Inuit homelessness,” Cusmano said. “The fact that since nothing has been done, a lot of them are going to be freezing in the streets this winter. And that that’s unacceptable. I think truth and reconciliation comes in many different forms. And in this riding, in particular the local level, it comes down to being there for the people who need it, because they have been systemically and systematically failed by forces that are larger than them and that are still acting on them today.”
Miller cited the Liberal government’s report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and the Truth and Reconciliation report as evidence of the Trudeau government’s effort to increase dialogue with Indigenous communities, and pointed to a number of their investments that serve reconciliation.
“We’re still in the process of reviewing a very, very complex report coupled with the other report that came out,” Miller said. “I want to make clear, particularly with urban Indigenous issues and poverty, the failure at all governmental levels. But the Trudeau government made the largest investment in Indigenous people in Canadian history [and it has] yielded results.”
A question from the audience prompted discussion on student loans, given that the collective Canadian student debt currently towers above $15 billion. While Cusmano endorsed major institutional adaptive changes, Forian said that the Conservative Party’s corporate welfare taxes will redirect savings to Canadians more generally, benefiting students. Thiébaut proposed gradual changes that will work towards the NDP’s goal of making post-secondary institutions part of the public education system.
“We want to make education more affordable,” Thiébaut said. “We want to eliminate the interest of student loans to stop the fact that the bank can profit from student debt. And we want to move away from loans to bursaries.”
Additionally, all four candidates affirmed that they were pro-choice and that none of their respective parties would introduce new abortion laws.
The federal election will take place on Oct. 21. Students are able to vote at at New Residence Hall or La Citadelle from Oct. 5 to 8, or at polling stations in Montreal on the day of the election.