A View from City Hall

A View from City Hall

LIQ_Mag_Mar2014_Cover_FinalThis article first appeared in the March 2014 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.
Life in Quebec Magazine is a lifestyle publication covering the Quebec region and is currently published at least 3 times per year.

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Life in Québec Magazine’s Andrew Greenfield was invited to Quebec City Hall to speak with Deputy Mayor Mme Michelle Morin-Doyle to find out more about her background, political life, and opinions on all manner of subjects.

Here’s what happened.

I went to City Hall on an extremely cold mid-January morning and once inside, after a short walk in the bracing Quebec City winter air, I was immediately struck by the warmth not just from being inside, but from the staff at the front desk. Not something that I associate with many public sector workplaces.

Greeted by Mme Morin-Doyle, we quickly settled into the interview. I was immediately put at ease and we chatted over coffee for about an hour.

I found out that Mme Morin-Doyle came to Quebec City at the age of 10 via a circuitous route taking in Kingston, (where she was born), Montreal, and latterly Toronto. She moved here with her parents and two sisters when her father, an Ultramar employee, gained employment at the refinery the company had opened. Throughout her childhood the language in the home was English as her father, who hails from The Beauce, had learnt it after meeting her mother. Michelle was schooled in English due to her mother being there to help with homework.

It was however, important to learn French out of respect for her father’s side of the family and the fact that they were living in a French-speaking province. Mme Morin-Doyle spent wonderful summers in The Beauce with her cousins, surrounded by the language of Molière. ‘Immersion was the best way to learn, and overcome linguistic obstacles’, she says.

After finishing high school, Mme Morin-Doyle studied on Prince Edward Island and, now married, moved to Calgary. Her husband, who comes from Quebec City, is of Irish stock on his father’s side and French on his mother’s. He was brought up in both languages so it became natural to constantly switch between the two languages as time went on.

The pull of Quebec City was too strong, so in the early 1980s they decided to move back to the area to put down some roots. ‘Quebec kept drawing us back. It just has something special’, she enthused.

When asked if thirty or so years ago she could ever have imagined having such an important position in the city she told us ‘No, when you’re that age, you’re raising a young family, in your sort of bubble. Politics is a little far removed, but I did take a bit of an interest in it’.

At that time, she was more focused in getting involved at the school level as she wanted to demonstrate the importance of education to her own children. For her the best way to express that was through schooling. She progressed via school committees, then the Holland School Foundation, Council of Commissioners of the school board and then became the Chair of the Board.

She says that ‘Parallel to that, I always believed that you could be involved with more than one community. So I was. I got involved as a volunteer on various committees, with the Voice of English-speaking Québec, and others.

Through that I got involved as a volunteer with municipal, provincial, and federal elections. So that’s where that side of it started really’.

As contact with municipal departments became more regular this made Mme Morin-Doyle realise that once you’re involved with your community then your local municipality actually has a lot of influence over organisations. She saw them as partners in helping provide a better quality of life for the people around her. Something that hasn’t changed today and was the major factor in her wanting to get involved with that side of things.

She says that she started out ‘doing the doors’. ‘I loved it. They were looking for volunteers and I jumped at it. It’s still a big part of the election process today. During the last campaign I did 6,000 doors’.

In all that time Mme Morin Doyle states that ‘I maybe had one or two people who didn’t react as I might have wished, but it was never done impolitely’.

I ask if this is perhaps due to the nature of the people from this region: ‘It’s such a super place to live here, do you think it’s partly because of people’s attitude?’ Mme Morin Doyle believes we’re very fortunate to live where we do. She gets the opportunity to meet many people from across the globe. She tells me that people from other cities tell her that they’re amazed at how warm and welcoming our citizens are. ‘The major reason why this city is so successful is down to the people who live here’.

Michelle_Morin-Doyle_webWe move on to talking about Mme Morin-Doyle’s role at City Hall. I asked what her main duties were as Deputy Mayor on a day to day basis. ‘Come with me for a week and we’ll see if you can keep up’, came the reply. Joking aside, Michelle tells me that she replaces the Mayor (Régis Labeaume) when he’s not available to attend an event or represent the City.

‘Can he be replaced?’ I ask.

‘No, he’s one of a kind’, was the instant reply.

I want to find out why Régis Labeaume is so well-liked and what his qualities are.

Mme Morin-Doyle says that ‘Having gotten to know him so well, it’s that he’s not a politician, he’s an elected official. There’s a big difference. He’s a person that cares. He has a vision. He’s very much part of his city, and wants to make it the best there is. He wants to quickly find solutions to issues. For him, Quebec City is tattooed on his heart. He’s accessible, and he loves being out there. You have to be capable of listening to what people want. And he can certainly do that’. She continues ‘Nobody’s perfect, neither am I. We work off each other’s strengths and we have an excellent team of dedicated city councillors. There’s the Mayor, myself, and the Executive Committee’.

I ask her if she thinks it’s difficult for someone who doesn’t speak French to move here.

She tells us ‘I think for someone to make the decision to leave their home, their network, their community, their family basically, takes a huge amount of courage and a certain type of person. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a huge, huge commitment. I have a lot of respect for people who decide to do that. The culture is certainly different here, it’s a big change, and obviously, for the majority, it’s a different language. But I believe that most people that make that decision to come, do so willing to learn the language, and knowing that they’re moving here, many start before they actually get here.’

I enquire as to whether there are any systems in place to help those integrate and settle in as quickly and smoothly as possible.

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vousMichelle says that ‘We here at the City have been working with organizations like the Voice of English-speaking Québec, and some of our people help with the recruiting of specialist labour, so that when they do come, if they need services in English, they know where to go. We help with that integration. So I don’t think it’s a difficult thing to do, but it’s a commitment on their part.’

I asked if the City does anything to welcome people who move here.

Mme Morin-Doyle takes up ‘We’re not the Ministry of Immigration, we have no jurisdiction. What’s important for us is the City. We offer information sessions in French, and you can go to our website and register for those.
People have the latitude when they’re proficient enough in French to come. We also have a bus tour built in, so they can see our infrastructure. We work with partners to make this happen. Once a year we have a welcoming reception for everyone. The Mayor attends this, it’s important for them to know what’s available.

‘How does immigration differ between here and Montreal?’ I ask. She wasn’t comfortable commenting on anything other than Quebec City but did say ‘We’re interested in people moving here and we’ll do our best to take care of them and make them feel welcome’.

The city appears to be changing, and has done so in the few short years that I’ve lived in the region with my family. So with the influx of people to the region from non-Francophone parts of the world, I’m interested to know her thoughts on what the cultural and ethnic makeup of the city will look like thirty years from now.

Mme Morin-Doyle pauses, reflects a little, and then offers ‘Good question, our objective is to make Quebec City a premier tourist destination, and also one of the most attractive cities that offers the best quality of life.’

I wonder if this is a big challenge. ‘Yes and no’ she says. And then tells me ‘I think we want to make our city attractive, lively, and vibrant. I think we’re getting there. We want to appeal to a wide variety of age groups. I think we’ve accomplished that. We have a diverse economy here, we’ve been fortunate with that. We’re lucky, the quality of life is exceptional, if you look at the city we have history, heritage, and you’re twenty minutes from outdoor activities. Twenty minutes and you’re in the mountains’.
She continues ‘We want the City to provide something for everyone. There’s a lot going on here in Quebec City and at City Hall’.

I move on to City Hall and ask her what she’s most proud of since becoming involved with Team Labeaume.

She tells me that she’s most proud of when they made their electoral commitments back in 2009. ‘We have delivered on every single thing. Take the amphitheatre, now it’s visible, and it’s going to be done on budget and on time’.

‘It’s important for people out there to know that if you’re going to be voting for Team Labeaume, this is where we’re going, and this is how much it’s going to cost. Everything we set out to do has been done or is being done’.

To finish off I change the subject back to immigration. I ask, “why would somebody consider moving to this region?”

The Deputy Mayor beams ‘There’s a lot of opportunity here, the City has partnerships with the likes of Quebec International, and over 60 other organizations on the territory that are specialized in integration of families. We believe in supporting them. They have the expertise, we can’t do everything ourselves and we’re very fortunate that we can partner with them. We support a lot of their activities that are inter-cultural. We’re often called by an employer stating that a (newly arrived) employee has a specific need, we’re in a great position to be able to point them in the direction of the most relevant partner.

Once they get here, we want to make sure that they’re supported, so we have established a collaborative approach. All of those partners are listed on the Ville de Quebec website (www.ville.quebec.qc.ca). So for anyone thinking of moving to Quebec City, all of the information is there.
People often do some research before moving, so the link is already being made.’

And on that positive note, I thank this clearly busy woman for her time and leave, at the same time contemplating what life in Quebec is all about. It’s not too bad here, is it?

About Author

Andrew Greenfield

Andrew Greenfield moved to Quebec in 2009. He is part of the team responsible for the publishing company behind LifeinQuebec.com and Life in Québec Magazine. He has been involved with online and print media since 2001. He is passionate about cricket, is a qualified coach, and his real ambition is to start a cricket team in Quebec City – something he freely admits is probably beyond him. Follow him on Twitter @GreenfieldAndy

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