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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Democracy in danger

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Jun 21, 2022

Only 43.5% of eligible voters showed up at polls during the recent provincial election in Ontario, making it the province’s lowest electoral turnout in history. That’s what often happens when parties don’t campaign for innovative social projects.

One of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s big electoral promises was to mine the Ring of Fire, a region in northern Ontario believed to be rich in minerals. To be frank, after two years of a debilitating pandemic, I don’t think most Ontarians care about mining wetlands in northern Ontario, and I don’t think it’s a project that is appealing enough to get youth to vote, especially in an environmental crisis. Boring platforms feed on cynicism.

Unfortunately, I think we’re headed towards something similar in Quebec with elections just around the corner. After freestyling their pandemic response, you’d think that the Legault government would at least try to rethink the systems that so obviously failed during the past couple years. But no. So far, amid paralyzing inflation, all we got is a $500 cheque and discriminatory language legislation in Bill 96.

Shoving your language down everyone’s throat is not a common political strategy. It’s disgusting to, once again, scapegoat immigrants, Indigenous people and anglophones at a time when most of the population is facing economic and social challenges. Legault no doubt knows that, but he believes it’s good politics. Don’t forget that he won his last election by promising lower immigration levels.

Bill 96 will only make it harder for minorities to navigate and access public services. Once again, we’re a convenient target for governments that are incapable of introspection when it comes to their failures.

Bill 96 will reinforce discriminatory biases in people who work in the public sector and enable bureaucrats to deny services to someone who doesn’t speak French fluently or at all. Even though the bill has legal limitations, not everyone has enough literacy to know how to apply it in the real world. 

We are no strangers to this in Eeyou Istchee. We all know how hard it is for community members who don’t speak French to negotiate public services outside of Cree entities – especially in regions like Abitibi-Témiscamingue or Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean.

I’m tired of populist spins, especially when they’re aimed at marginalized communities. They’re damaging to social cohesion. They’re also fallacious. If social systems are failing in Quebec, it’s not because of immigrants or people on welfare who receive a measly $500 per month that is supposed to cover their needs. 

During the campaign, I hope we will get a better quality of debate that will reflect the urgency to address problems like the housing crisis, the shortage of personnel in healthcare and schools, the state of our social safety net and our climate response.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.