Quebec sees spike in young political candidates
Left to right are: Marcos Archambault - Parti Quebecois, Laurence Fortin - Coalition Avenir Quebec, Etienne Collins - Liberals and Jacinthe Sabourin (The Canadian Press)
Published Wednesday, August 29, 2012 6:39AM EDT
MONTREAL -- The tuition crisis that has rocked Quebec may be having a trickle-down effect in provincial politics, with a large jump in the number of young people running for office.
According to the province's elections office, the number of candidates under age 30 has increased significantly since the last election -- by more than 40 per cent.
There are 171 of those under-30 candidates in this campaign compared to 120 in 2008, 113 in 2007 and 124 in 2003. The Canadian Press interviewed the youngest person running for each of the four biggest parties.
Who are these candidates, what motivates them, and what do they want for Quebec?
Marcos Archambault may be the most surprising separatist you'll ever meet.
The 19-year-old was raised in a predominantly Anglo suburb west of Montreal, attending English schools until junior college. His mother, a born francophone, spoke English with him at home.
"I guess you can say she was anglicized," said Archambault, explaining that his grandmother had her educated in English because she thought it was the language of industry.
Attitudes have changed, according to Archambault.
"Montreal is the second-biggest French speaking city in the world after Paris," said Archambault.
"That distinction allows us to thrive economically. Going against that would be bad."
He wants the French language preserved and promoted, with the necessary resources provided for those who desire to learn more.
"Learning the most languages is beneficial," said Archambault, who speaks fluent English, French and Spanish.
"It allows you to have a greater audience."
Should anglophones fear an independent Quebec? Not according to him.
"The anglophone entity will be preserved no matter what," said Archambault, who is running in a staunch pro-Canada riding that is a Liberal stronghold.
"They've been contributing members to this society."
Archambault's foray into politics began at 15 while working on a high-school project on sovereignty. Ever curious and not at all shy, he wrote a letter to Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois requesting a personal interview.
"Everyone laughed at me, they didn't think she'd give me the time of day," said Archambault.
A few days later, Marois proved everyone wrong and called him. Within 20 minutes, he was sold.
"She made me realize the openness of the sovereignty project," said Archambault, "that it was something for all Quebecers to participate in."
Archambault said he works mostly out of his mother's home, because his Nelligan riding association is low on funds. He uses the family car to meet his electorate.
"Essentially, she gives me all the resources I need to succeed. I'm very grateful," he said.
He plans to help single mothers like his own, who's a pediatrician, and would push for more daycares to open.
"I visited a daycare in my riding with 140 people on the waiting list," said Archambault. "It's a complete shame."
Etienne Collins may be a young politician but is certainly not new to the game.
The 19-year-old, who grew up mostly in Mirabel, got his first political post as class president in Grade 1 and has been active in student politics ever since.
This year, he was among the students who won a legal injunction to go back to class during the famous strikes. Despite the group's victory, his final semester at Montmorency College was postponed, forcing him to finish his degree in communications while campaigning this month.
"I hope the protesting students respect the majority of students who voted to go back to class," said Collins. "If they still have an issue, let them take it to the ballot box. That's the beauty of democracy."
His passion for politics didn't come from his parents, an electrical lineman and a postal worker, who were never card-carrying members of a political party in their lives.
He ascribes that political yearning to his sociable nature and desire to help those around him.
"I can't help but want to be the voice of my people," Collins said.
His popularity among peers paid off, at age 14, when he came out of the closet.
Many friends rallied around him despite the occasional slur overheard in the hallways.
"That was really cool," Collins said.
He also had the support of his parents.
"They said they knew I was gay since I was three," Collins said laughing. "I didn't even know back then."
Collins is keen on promoting gay rights in his downtown Montreal riding, which includes the city's gay village, and across the province. The riding is a PQ stronghold.
He wants to launch anti-homophobia campaigns if elected and fight for the right of transgender people to identify themselves however they wish on provincial documentation -- no matter if they've had the sex-change operation or not.
Collins is not a one-issue candidate, however. He joined the Liberal party in 2010 because he liked its stance on the economy and, most importantly, on federalism.
"I think Quebec shines in Canada," said Collins. "We're much stronger together."
It might have taken Laurence Fortin some time to make the transition from being interested in politics to wanting to make it a career -- but once the decision was made no one would get in her way.
"When my ex-boyfriend told me he didn't like politics," said Fortin, "I said, 'Uh... I don't think this is going to work."'
Single, bubbly and professing complete dedication to the job, this 21-year-old from small-town Saint-Lin-Laurentides is proud to be trying to represent the area where she grew up.
"I know the people there, I know the dynamics, I'd do anything for them," said Fortin.
More specifically, she'd like to curb the high-school dropout rate which she says stands at seven in 10 for boys in her riding. She said more extracurricular activities -- and the Coalition's 9-to-5 schooling plan -- would bolster a sense of belonging.
Although Fortin is the baby of her family, she has perhaps grown up quicker than most. She skipped Grade 6 and at age 15 she left for Calgary for a summer to learn English while shucking ice cream at the local Dairy Queen.
"People were so friendly there, and religious too," Fortin said. "Similar to my community back home."
It was her dad Robert who introduced her to politics. He got her to help out with Francois Legault's local campaign in 2003 when he was still a Pequiste.
In 2011, during her final year studying political science at Laval University, she accompanied her dad again to a Coalition event with Legault in Quebec City.
There she graduated from wanting to analyze politics to becoming a politician.
"It was the first party that really matched all my interests," Fortin said.
After meeting Legault she began working as a full-time political attache for Coalition MNA Eric Caire. She was later offered the leadership of the party's youth commission.
Finally, Legault asked her to run in Rousseau, the riding he had represented when he was with the PQ.
"He told me he wanted someone special for that place," Fortin said.
"I know I have big shoes to fill but I think the pressure makes me perform better."
She said Legault no longer refers to her as Robert's daughter. Now, she says, he calls her his "protege."
Her father is still involved, helping out with the candidate's agenda.
Jacinthe Sabourin is the youngest of the bunch and the newest to the game.
Only installed as the party's nominee in Masson riding on Aug. 6, she said she was still reading the platform when asked about her party's education plans.
"We were on vacation when Mr. Charest called the election," Sabourin said.
The 19-year-old junior college student from Terrebonne says she loves singing Jason Mraz and Celine Dion songs at home. She became involved in politics after being inspired by the student movement.
"I was reading on the student movement in the newspaper," said Sabourin, "and started noticing how everything else was mismanaged as well."
During her school's student strike she passed out flyers and helped lead the nightly pots-and-pans protest in her usually quiet suburb.
She is adamant that education should be free.
"Education is a right like freedom of speech," Sabourin said. "We shouldn't have to pay for rights."
What spending would a Quebec solidaire government cut, or what revenues would it raise, in order to finance such a policy? She wasn't sure.
She was also stumped when asked last week, roughly three-quarters of the way into the campaign, who her biggest adversary was in the riding.
"I have no idea," she said, glancing for help from another party member standing nearby.
She knows that rival is a member of the Parti Quebecois -- but just can't quite recall the name.
For the record, that person is 28-year-old Guillaume Tremblay, who won the riding for the PQ with a crushing 51 per cent of the popular vote in 2008. Quebec solidaire finished with two per cent of the vote there last time.
"I'm just focusing right now on putting up posters, going to party events, and meeting as many people as possible," said Sabourin.
She said she's trying to get more volunteers to help her out through Facebook.
Besides fighting for free education, Sabourin wants to see an improvement in public transit. She says that in her riding, people have to wait an hour or two for a bus to come by.
"That's unacceptable," she said.
If she doesn't get elected, she'll be continuing her degree in early childhood education. She hopes to become a daycare worker or a primary school teacher one day.