Building Bridges for Quebec and Canada

Building Bridges for Quebec and Canada

LiQ_Mag_Dec_2014This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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Article aussi disponible en français

By Michael Bourguignon

A visit to the riding office of Louis-Hébert MP Denis Blanchette immediately reveals an eclectic taste in art. Upon closer inspection, the visitor quickly sees that all the works are by local artists, and that’s just the way M. Blanchette likes it.

Though the New Democratic Party stalwart proudly wears an orange tie to show his political stripes, the colours that adorn his walls represent a proud and non-partisan promotion of the creative talents of his constituents.

From time to time, he hosts a vernissage to further boost the artists’ fortunes. It’s just his way of giving back to the community that elected him to bring their cares and concerns to Ottawa.

Call it building bridges, a topic that comes quickly to the forefront when M. Blanchette is asked about the priorities of the constituency he serves and his prescription for what most ails Québec City and its growing population.

Denis_Blanchette_OttawaWhile Montrealers busy themselves debating the merits of the much-maligned Champlain Bridge, M. Blanchette, like the mayors of Quebec City, Régis Labeaume, and Lévis, Gilles Lehouillier, laments the condition of the Quebec Bridge. He says the federal government and other authorities have neglected the structure for far too long.

Recognized as the longest cantilever bridge in the world and a marvel of engineering, the Québec Bridge should have been polished over the years to become a jewel in the city’s crown, rather than being left to rust into the embarrassment it has become, he suggests.

The mayors are currently putting pressure on bridge owner Canadian National to live up to its long-abandoned plan to paint the structure, despite a court decision absolving the company of any such obligation. For his part, M. Blanchette places at least part of the blame for the sad state of the span at the feet of the feds.

“The Liberals started neglecting the bridge and the Conservatives didn’t do any better. Now we’ve got a national shame, a disgrace,” he said. “What’s perhaps most fascinating is that this is a bridge that goes to the South Shore, which is Conservative, but do the Conservatives talk about it? No.”

M. Blanchette naturally criticizes the ruling Conservatives’ recent policy changes, including broad cuts to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s budget and the phasing out of door-to-door mail delivery.

With recent polls predicting a three-way race in the upcoming federal election, and support for his NDP on the rise or at least holding steady, he has high hopes for change.

He points to the so-called ‘orange wave’ in the last federal election, in which the party made big gains in Québec, as an indication of the momentum that continues to build within and around the NDP.

“In 2011, Thomas Mulcair said the NDP would elect between five and 11 MPs,” M. Blanchette recalled. “People laughed at him, but we knew it was realistic. All we didn’t know at the time was whether it would translate into votes. It did.”

At the time, the orange wave was seen as much as an endorsement of then-leader Jack Layton as a protest against the more traditionally entrenched political parties. M. Blanchette believes that should have no impact on the NDP’s chances of success when Canadians go to the polls next year.

“The leader is always important, and people were very open to M. Layton, but he was not alone,” M. Blanchette says. “We had a political offer for Québec that Québécois embraced. It was an offer of optimism and hope. People were looking for something positive. They wanted a government to work for them, and that was the offer.”

M. Layton’s death from cancer just a short time after the 2011 election, and M. Mulcair’s subsequent rise to leadership of the party that had now become the Official Opposition, changed the face of the NDP but not its principles, M. Blanchette maintains.

“The connection to the party leader is essential, and each leader gives his colour to the leadership, but it’s the policies that make the difference,” he says. “We have a new colour, but it’s still orange.”

When the party elected M. Mulcair to succeed M. Layton, it was with the intention of mounting a credible threat to the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and that’s what M. Blanchette expects to see in October 2015 when Canadians go vote.

“For four years, we’ve worked very hard in and out of Parliament,” he says, noting he and an NDP government would continue to represent the interests of Québec, both the province and the city, in Ottawa.

“Québec is the most visited city, and no other city asks as many questions in Parliament as Québec. I’m proud that our city gets so much exposure for the size of its population.”

He says he would continue to stand up for his constituents, voicing local concerns as well as participating in debates on broader national topics.

Sometimes, the issues are the same, touching the local artist whose painting hangs on his office wall just as much as they affect a retiree half a country away.

He cites the Conservatives’ decision to cut door-to-door mail delivery, now the subject of a court challenge by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, as an example of where he believes the current federal government has been leading the country versus where he thinks the country should be headed instead.

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vous“Workers know and understand that society must evolve. With the Internet, we don’t write letters anymore – but do we really have to return to the 19th century?”

M. Blanchette hopes Canadians vote next year to propel the country forward a century or two.



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About Author

Michael Bourguignon

Michael Bourguignon is a language instructor, writer, editor, translator, narrator, and amateur stage actor. He is available for children's parties.

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