Annick Papillon – four years in office for the NDP in Quebec

Annick Papillon – four years in office for the NDP in Quebec

Main pic: Annick Papillon, MP for Québec. Photo taken in Québec 31 March 2011 during the presentation to the press of the New Democratic Party candidates in the region of Québec for the federal general election of 2 May 2011. Photo credit: Asclepias. 

Interview by Ruby Pratka

When Annick Papillon decided to run for Parliament for the New Democratic Party, not everyone in her family was pleased.

“In my family, I have people from all political parties,” she says. “I have uncles that cried when the Bloc lost [after the 2011 federal election], my father worked for the Liberals and my grandfather is a big, big fan of Stephen Harper. At first, they found it cute that the littlest girl in the family was running for office, but once I did win, I had a cousin who didn’t speak to me for three weeks.”

“We’re all on speaking terms now, but that doesn’t mean we all agree,” she says.

Papillon holds a master’s degree in journalism and international affairs from Université Laval. In 2011, she was freelancing and working as a pollster in a Quebec City call centre.

“How many young adults go to school and then can’t get a job in their field that will pay their expenses?” she says. “You can be a great student and have no clue how to pay off your debts, So what are your options then? Get a credit card and go further in debt or work multiple jobs…In an average month, once I had paid my student loan payment and my rent, I could maybe save $10.”

“If I hadn’t been elected to Parliament, my plan was to work two full-time jobs indefinitely.”

Papillon says a colleague at the call centre saw something special in her. “He was an NDP organizer, and he thought I was a very convincing public speaker. He said, ‘You have everything it takes to be a good politician.’”

She hesitated for nearly a year.

“You know, when you hesitate too much, that means a big part of you wants to go for it…on the spur of the moment, I signed the paper.”

“I thought, I’m going to run, I’m going to live the experience and maybe next time I’ll win,” she recalls.

Bloc Québécois MP Christiane Gagnon had held the riding since 1993, and no NDP politician had ever held it. The NDP was fourth in initial polls.

“We knew we [the NDP] had good people who had a chance of winning, but… no one was expecting what happened. It was more than a wave, it was a tsunami.” The ‘orange wave’ swept Papillon and dozens of other young, first-time politicians to Ottawa.

“It was quite a learning curve, although there’s a lot of support on Parliament Hill for new MPs, whether you’re with a party or an independent,” she says.

Papillon is the party’s deputy critic for small business, tourism and consumer protection, putting her communication skills to regular use. “I have a nice loud voice and sometimes I can wake up the Conservatives across the aisle,” she says with a smile. “A few times, the Conservatives have even applauded me, because of the way the questions were formed. You can get weird moments like that in Parliament.”

Some speculated that the ‘orange wave’ was a wave of sympathy for Jack Layton, the popular NDP leader who was

Annick Papillon, federal MP for the riding of Québec, in here riding office June 2015. Photo credit: Ruby Pratka.

Annick Papillon, federal MP for the riding of Québec, in her riding office, June 2015. Photo credit: Ruby Pratka.

fighting cancer at the time and later died, rather than a mass left turn in federal politics. Papillon says the idea of working with Layton drew her into the party, but the strength of the party didn’t vanish with his death.

“You can’t deny the Jack effect,” Papillon says. “He was an extraordinary person. But Thomas Mulcair has his own brand of charisma [and] 35 years of public service. He’s a bridge-builder. He gives a lot of his time to the community. I joined the NDP because I liked that way of working.”

Papillon has stayed visible in her own community, whether meeting citizens at a neighbourhood festival, joining a march against climate change with fellow NDP MPs, explaining the role of an MP and the ins and outs of immigration paperwork to newly arrived immigrants or holding public information sessions about affordable housing.

“There have been so many cuts to immigration and to Service Canada that people are finding out that the most efficient place to get government services is at your MP’s office,” she says. “If you have a question about immigration, pensions, taxes, housing, call us and we’ll see what we can do, whether or not you’re a Canadian citizen.”

“Housing costs have gone up by 40 per cent in ten years in my riding,” she adds. “It’s hard to find a cheap, accessible and clean living space if you’re earning minimum wage. If you’re spending 30 per cent of your income on housing— and some people spend 70 per cent— there’s not much left for utilities, for a phone, for food. The federal [government] needs to help provinces and municipalities plan for affordable housing. When people no longer have the stress of paying for housing hanging over their heads, they are healthier, they can work, they’re not as fragile in their moments of distress. I know it because I’ve lived it.”

“I might be an MP now, but I’ll never forget that. I thought, ‘I’ll never have a house. I’ll never have a kid because I won’t have the money.’ It’s hard to think of the future when you’re going through that. If I can do anything to reduce people’s daily expenses, bank fees, housing, transit… that’s just good sense.”

Papillon has decided to seek re-election. “I think I’ve worked hard for four years, and in that sense I’ve already won, but I have other ideas. I want to take it further.”

According to some polls, she could find herself in the running for a ministerial position. “I wouldn’t have said a few months ago…that the NDP could form the government,” she says, “But since the huge victory in Alberta, anything is possible. We can surprise everyone again on October 19.”

Categories: Politics

About Author

Ruby Pratka

Ruby Pratka grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, studied in Ottawa and took the roundabout way to Quebec City via Russia, Slovenia, France, Switzerland, Belgium and East Africa. In addition to writing for and Life in Québec Magazine, she also contributes to other media outlets in English and French. She enjoys keeping a close eye on international affairs, listening to good music and singing in large groups.

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