A New Perspective on Federal Politics for Quebec

A New Perspective on Federal Politics for Quebec

LIQ_Mag_Mar2014_Cover_FinalThis article first appeared in the March 2014 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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Though it used to be a commonly-cited maxim, the notion that young people are cynical and disillusioned with politics has largely been debunked in the last few years.  Movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Maple Spring closer to home have proven that, now more than ever, there is at least significant momentum among young people to energetically push for their place at the table when it’s time to talk about society’s challenges.  In many ways, Joël Lightbound represents the beginning of this youthful energy’s integration into the mainstream political system – in his case, at the federal level.

Although provincial politics tends to take centre stage here in Quebec, Joël would like for more people to understand why what’s happening in Ottawa deserves more of our attention.  “Quebec might not pay much attention to Canadian politics, but sometimes it also feels like Canadian politics aren’t paying much attention to Quebec either,” he says.

When asked for examples, his eyes light up.  “It’s easy to point to the Manège Militaire or the Quebec Bridge, for instance, and those are serious, real issues that need to be addressed by the Canadian government,” he begins, but quickly adds, “but that’s only part of the picture.  What drives me is that I feel I’m seeing the society that allowed me to become what I am today disappear, and feel that there’s an urgency to act.”

Though outwardly he’s the very image of the “nouveau-bourgeois” mid-twenties professional, Joël is very open about his humble beginnings.  He and his older brother were raised in a small apartment by their mother.  He worked his way from high school at Rochebelle to Champlain Saint-Lawrence College, earning the support and recognition of his community throughout, and became one of the rare few students accepted to McGill University’s Faculty of Law directly from CEGEP. Joël thereafter passed the New York and Quebec Bar exams and joined Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, a major law firm in Montreal. At the end of last year, he walked away from his job to come home to Quebec City and seek the Liberal Party of Canada’s nomination in Louis-Hébert, hoping to be his riding’s voice after the next federal election.LiQ_Mag_Sub_Banner

Quebec – the city as much as the province – does seem to have a very uneasy relationship with Canadian political parties.  The province has repeatedly swung wildly around the political spectrum the past few elections, with Quebec City’s “mystère Québec” adding an additional wild card to its unpredictably shifting allegiances. On this, Joël’s practical reasoning could prove a breath of fresh air to a region apparently so disenfranchised with party line politics.  “A party is a means, not an end,” he says flatly.  “The way the current system works, you need to join a party that matches as many of your values as possible, and then work from the inside to push it in the direction you feel is best for both your constituents and the country.”

What are those values?  ‘’For one, we have seen the gap between rich and poor widen substantially over the course of the last decade and the middle class is constantly shrinking. In that regard, Canada has moved largely from a compassionate society of heart and reason to one where increasingly only the strong survive. In many ways, this is why I decided to run, because I feel that we are moving away from the society of opportunities which allows us all to fulfill our full potential.’’

He also has more direct goals which tend to resonate with younger voters. “Internet privacy is also a big issue to me,” he says, “and few people realize just how important the federal government is in that. I don’t believe it’s right that our government can pry on our private communications without a warrant or even any kind of due process,” as has recently become a concern.  “Telecommunications is a federal jurisdiction and it’s up to the federal government to step up.”

Of particular importance for his own riding of Louis-Hébert, which is home to Laval University and many CEGEPs and research centres, is his interest in promoting research, which has seen its federal funding cut in the last few years.  These cuts do more than just hurt the economy of the region, he argues, but “they have a real impact that lowers our ability to improve, through scientific research, the lives of people across the country, and across the world.  It all starts here, and the Canadian government has an important part to play.”

For many of his longtime friends, his political bid is a step that was a long time coming, and so along the way he’s managed to draw together support from unlikely sources.  The Rwandan and Bosnian communities in his riding, for instance, have shown groundswell support for Joël.  “Quebec has a strong history of accepting refugees and immigrants trying to build or rebuild their lives.  The federal government oversees both immigration regulation and keeping our foreign policy focused on peacekeeping.  To immigrants and refugees, that’s not some lofty ideal – it’s a reality they carry every day.”  Joël also mentions he’s concerned about Canada’s international reputation, which was hit hard when for the first time ever, Canada lost its bid to have a seat on the UN Security Council.

Joël is not the only member of the younger generation showing a keen interest in politics.  Throughout Quebec, many aspiring candidates are already preparing groundwork for eventual nomination contests to become official party candidates, particularly within the Liberal Party.  Many of these would-be candidates are taking to the internet and social media like never before, building websites and Facebook pages to connect more closely with their communities.  Joël is no exception.  “One thing Quebec’s rapidly-changing voting habits shows us is that it’s not good enough to drop in to your riding once every four years and hope to get re-elected on your party’s popularity,” Joël argues. “Today, new media gives us many options for proximity with our communities, even if we’re in Ottawa, but nothing beats having your boots on the ground and being accessible in person.  Especially in Quebec, that’s the only way we can serve our communities, politically, over the long term.”

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