Young Quebec Liberals Hear From Leadership Candidates

Role of Youth in Politics, Student Associations Discussed

Members of the Quebec Liberal Party vote at a congress of the party’s Youth Commission. Photo Michael Wrobel

The four candidates running for the leadership of the Quebec Liberal Party courted the support of youth on Sunday at a congress of their party’s Youth Commission.

The candidates delivered speeches and took part in question-and-answer sessions at the convention held in Saint-Lambert.

Holding one third of the votes at the upcoming leadership convention, party members under the age of 25 hold a crucial stake in electing the party’s new leader.

Among the leadership candidates are former Finance Minister Raymond Bachand, former Health Minister Philippe Couillard and former Transport Minister Pierre Moreau.

Jean David, who chaired the party’s policy commission over 10 years ago, is also in the race to succeed Jean Charest, who resigned from his position after losing the provincial election on Sept. 4.

His candidacy comes as somewhat of a surprise; he left the party in 2002 after calling Charest a “career politician” and an “empty shell.”

The new leader will be chosen the weekend of March 16, 2013.

Couillard Will Speak Young Quebecers’ Language

Philippe Couillard, a neurosurgeon and former health minister who left the Charest government in 2008, promises he’ll reach out to young Quebecers by meeting with them individually in educational institutions and by increasing the Liberal Party’s presence on the Internet.

“You need to go to [students] and speak their language,” Couillard told The Link. “By speaking their language, I mean using social media much more, because this is the way [the youngest] generation communicates and interacts.”

During his speech at the congress, Couillard promised a “profound renewal” of the Liberal Party, that would include “a vast movement of decentralization” in the party’s structure.

“I’ve been traveling over the past few weeks through all of the regions of Quebec,” he said. “I’ve been receiving a lot of comments from party members in more distant regions—and sometimes even not-so-distant regions—that they’d like to feel a more real, more personal presence of the party.”

Couillard also said the Youth Commission set an example for the entire party on Sunday in how they went about debating a controversial policy proposal.

On Sunday morning, members of the youth wing debated whether or not they should support a resolution urging a future Liberal government to revisit a law governing the finances of student associations.

The policy proposal called for “liberty of association for students” by making all student association fees reimbursable and optional through an amendment to the Act respecting the accreditation and financing of students’ associations.

Currently, most student association fees are automatically billed as part of students’ tuition fees, and various conditions govern whether or not students may be reimbursed.

During the debate on the resolution, some members of the party argued that students shouldn’t be forced to pay fees to a student association whose political stances they do not agree with.

Those who opposed the motion, though, noted that student associations provide a wide variety of services other than political lobbying. Changing the law could starve student associations of much-needed funding for campus clubs and student activities.

In the end, the resolution was defeated in a vote.

“I’d like to congratulate the Youth Commission,” said Couillard. “This morning, you showed all of the Liberal Party how it’s done. You discussed […] an issue that is delicate, that of student associations and their funding. Let’s not shy away from talking about delicate issues amongst ourselves.

“It’s these debates that will enliven our political lives and that will feed our electoral platform.”

Moreau Positions Himself as an Advocate for Youth

Speaking to The Link, Pierre Moreau said Quebec society is currently living through a period of change which will see the X and Y generations take over the responsibility of governing from the baby-boomers.

“If we bring youth to the Quebec Liberal Party, we’ll make sure that this party will continue to reflect the society in which it evolved,” he said. “It is not a trendy idea; it is a fundamental idea that we have to bring young Quebecers [into] the party.”

Moreau wants more young people to be elected as Members of the National Assembly. He’s also committed to helping younger Quebecers to rise the ranks within the public service and to sit on the boards of Crown corporations, should he eventually become Premier.

“I made a commitment to open ridings for young Quebecers to become candidates for the Quebec Liberal Party, because we want the parliamentary wing [of the party] to reflect the society as well,” he said.

During a question-and-answer session, Moreau was asked by a young Liberal if allowing younger Quebecers to run in an election trivializes the position of MNA.

“What makes you think that a young person isn’t a good candidate?” responded Moreau. “Do you think that good ideas, reasoning and hard work belong to another generation? I don’t think so.”

“Reacting in this way is to diminish the importance of youth. It is to diminish the capacity of young people to go above and beyond. It is to diminish the capacity of young people to exert their proper influence in the National Assembly. Me, I can’t bring myself to do that.”

Bachand Says Tuition Fee Negotiations Should Have Been Public

Raymond Bachand stood by the Liberal government’s decision last spring to increase university tuition fees in an interview with The Link.

“If I had to do it again, you know what I’d do?” said Bachand. “I’d negotiate publicly, because we were clean. You’d have these three [student] leaders every day on TV, every network, all the time, and at the same time they were discussing with us […] in private negotiations.”

If the negotiations had been public, Bachand believes “the population would have had the other side of the story.”

Bachand said his strength as a leadership candidate lies in his experience in finance and business.

“The challenges of Quebec in the future years are mainly [related to] creating jobs,” he said. “We have got to create wealth. We’re all asking for a basket of social services in health and education and all that. And that’s fine, that’s our values—and I share those values. But it’s impossible if you don’t have cash.

“Look at Spain, Iceland, Ireland and Greece,” he added, referring to those countries’ financial woes.

Bachand hopes to develop an economy based on innovation and exports by focusing on employment and supporting strategic economic sectors in which Quebec excels, such as aerospace, information technology, marine biotechnology and fashion.

David Talks About the Need for Creativity

Jean David, who runs a creativity consulting firm, entered the leadership race because he thought the issue of creativity wasn’t being raised by the other candidates.

“It’s something nobody talks about,” David told The Link. “It’s an issue that’s extremely important for us now, as a nation, as a group, in the 21st century.”

David said creativity is as important an issue as healthcare or education, but it remains an “invisible” issue because of its intangible nature. He said Quebec needs to “update” its collective culture.

If he eventually becomes the Premier of Quebec, he promises he will hold a “national brainstorm” to engage all Quebecers in an open discussion on the future they want for their society.

David drew a parallel between the student movement last spring and the wave of popular support that saw 59 candidates of the New Democratic Party elected in Quebec during the 2011 federal election.

“It was a shock,” he said. “It was a wake-up call, like ‘We’re moving, we’re changing now.’

“We need to channel this energy into a new environment, a new era, a new way of doing politics.”