• Steven Guilbeault discusses climate change, issues specific to Quebec, and why Canadian youth should vote for the Liberal Party in this upcoming election.
  • Guilbeault says that the Liberals' views are in line with those of young voters, and that they will fight to have their voices heard.

This is MTL Blog’s Election Interview Series.

Leading up to the federal election on October 21, we’re speaking to candidates from Canada’s major federal political parties, including the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party, and the People’s Party of Canada.

This week, we sat down with Steven Guilbeault, candidate for the Liberals in Montreal's Laurier-Sainte-Marie riding. Guilbeault had an illustrious career as an environmentalist before joining the Liberal campaign 2019. 

He's a founding member of Équiterre and was the director of Greenpeace Quebec for 10 years. Guilbeault is known around the province as an activist and vocal supporter of environmental action, which is why his candidacy for the federal Liberal Party raised more than a few eyebrows in Quebec. 

I caught up with him at his campaign office on rue St-Denis to find out more about his reasons for joining the Liberals and his goals for the upcoming election.


All questions and responses have been edited for clarity.

"Why did I decide to go with the Liberals? Because I think that they've done a lot. And I know when people will read this, they'll go 'really? They've done a lot?' But, I think people should take the time to go in and look at the record," says Guilbeault. 

Trudeau's sincerity on environmental policy has been constantly called into question this election. In an interview with Hassan Minhaj, Trudeau was put to task on his policy of investing in green energy initiatives with money from the Trans-Mountain Pipeline.

Some people claim that Trudeau's promise to meet the goals of the Paris Accord by 2030 won't actually happen based on projections. 

"From the carbon tax to rebuilding the impact assessment system, I think that the government has done a lot, and I'm the first one to say there's so much more that needs to be done. I would agree with everybody who says that. That's why I decided to go with the Liberals," Guilbeault states. 

If the Liberal party should win this election, what, in your opinion, would be the top three priorities?

The environment will be one of the cornerstones of our platform. I think that if there's one thing that has defined the first four years of the Trudeau government, it has been this drive to try and help the middle class. There's going to be a drive to help people, specifically the middle class and the poorest citizens in this country, to do better. Because the economy is doing well and employment is doing well. So, there's no reason that so many people should be left behind. 

As I said, the economy's doing well. In the last election, the Trudeau government said: "Listen, if we have to run deficits to help people, we will do it." And that's what they've done. And some people say "Oh my God, the deficits are out of control." Well actually, if you look at our ratio, a deficit versus our debt, it's pretty good. And the federal government is, in terms of its public finances, in the top tier of either the G7 or the richest countries in the world. 

The Trudeau government even increased taxes on the richest Canadians to help lower the tax level for the middle class and poor Canadians. I'm not sure I'll live to see the day when Andrew Scheer or Doug Ford do that.

Why should young Canadians vote for the Liberal party?

I think they should vote for the Liberal party because the Liberal party stands for the same things that they stand for. It's a government that is progressive, that is open towards the world, and that is very international in its conception of our role on the world stage. We have a role to play.

We've seen that under Harper, it was totally the opposite. We decided to leave to others that role that we have played on the world stage. I have a 21-year-old and 16-year-old, who are very open towards the world. And, I think the Trudeau government is too.

The Liberals are a government that is very much in sync with where our youth are in terms of their view of the world and their priorities.

Undecided voters in that demographic that might be leaning towards more progressive policies, like those of the NDP and the Green Party — what would you have to say to those undecided young voters?

I would say that these are two very valid choices. I have huge respect for people within these political parties. I have worked with them in the past. Personally, I would argue we're friends. I may be testing the limit of that friendship over the last few weeks! But, I hope our friendship will make it through this election. 

I have been doing this work for a while, but I'm not a political science expert or a polling expert. But, if you look at the polls right now, absolutely no one is predicting that either the Greens or the NDP could form the next government. So the choice is really between the Liberals and the Conservatives. And we know what's going to happen with the Conservatives. I mean, we've seen it happen. This movie is playing before our very eyes in Alberta and Ontario right now.

And yes, the Trudeau government may not be perfect, but governments are never perfect. You can't hope to govern a country and please 100% of the people, 100% of the time. But, it has been a very progressive government on a number of issues. So, I would ask them to think about this before they decide to cast their ballot.

There seems to be some damage control that the Liberal party is trying to do in this election cycle. What should the Liberal party do to mitigate this damage or this negative opinion that is increasingly surrounding the party?

I was door-knocking when the Ethics Commissioner's report came out on SNC-Lavalin. And, it's a bit anecdotal, but no one that evening spoke to me about SNC-Lavalin.

Certainly one issue that I had to think about fairly carefully before joining was the Trans-Mountain pipeline. And despite the fact that I have decided to join the Liberals, I have publicly stated my opposition to the pipeline.

I don't think that the Trudeau government took this decision that they took on the pipeline because they wanted to buy votes in Alberta. I think they did it because they wanted to help people. Oil is still 25% of the economy in Alberta and it's been hammered brutally because of the low price of oil over the last few years. I agree with the diagnostic but I don't agree with the solution that they came to. 

I know some people on the left are very angry with the pipeline, and I understand that. But again, take a step back, and look at everything that has been done. And look at everything that we could do if we win. Because I think that we're just getting started. I think in the second term, we would be able to hit the ground running much faster because we don't have to rebuild all of these things that were lost under the Harper years.

With four years of a Liberal government, what more can the party do to change Canada for the better in the future?

We could work with provinces to see how we can accelerate the deployment of projects. Like, why did it take 20 years to do the extension of the blue line? This is unacceptable. Let's work together and see how we can do them quickly and do them well and not botch anything in terms of public consultation and environmental impact assessment. There's no reason that in 2019 it takes so long for these projects to move forward. 

Now, there is momentum. Even provincial governments that aren't very friendly with the Trudeau government are saying, okay, well we want to work with you at on transit, at least. Doug Ford wants to do an extension of the metro line in Toronto. So, if Doug Ford can do it, everybody can do it. So, I would like to see us go faster as a nation. 

I think we've just started scratching the surface in terms of how the federal government can help with electrifying our transportation system. There's a revolution happening. 

We can transform. Why should we pay more on an energy bill when we can pay less? And, the great thing about this is we'll employ people all around the country. We'd be encouraging the local economy and buying all sorts of building materials, wiring, and installation windows, efficient windows. So, these are the sorts of things I'm hoping that we can get going.

Moving forward, how does the Liberal Party consider Quebec with its unique issues right now, such as language and immigration? 

Certainly, the Trudeau government has been a very open government. I mean we've seen it with the Syrian refugee crisis when we said that we're going to welcome 40,000 Syrian refugees. I like that about us. Canada was built by people who largely didn't come from here. Partly Irish, partly French, and others Polish, Italian, and Ukrainian background. I mean just name it, we've got it.

This idea that somehow, our future would not be about our diversity is a very strange concept for me. I think Quebecers are by and large are very welcoming. 

I think the federal Liberals are very in sync with what Quebecers want. We've seen how Mélanie Joly (Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie), for example, has played a very active role in Ontario with all of the Ford government cutbacks to Francophone minorities. So, I think we have a government that believes in this idea that this nation was built by two nations. And now, more and more, we're recognizing, as we should, the role of First Nations.

What would you say to public servants affected by Bill 21? 

I can't speak on that. I will defer that question to my colleague, the Minister of Justice. 

They are looking at what are the federal government's options for this. It's obviously a provincial law that has been adopted, but as you've seen, a lot of people in Canada are talking about it. And it's certainly something that the federal government is paying close attention to. 

Last question: should you get elected as an MP, what's one thing that you're going to fight for in Parliament for Montrealers?

I will certainly continue being an advocate for positive changes for my community, for our city. 

Beyond specific issues, I think that there's a lot of commonalities between what the Trudeau government is trying to do and what Valérie Plante's administration is trying to do in terms of environment, housing, transit, and active transportation. So, I think the stars are aligned and I would certainly see myself being able to collaborate fairly well with these people.

Missed our other interviews? Check them out here: 

Jagmeet Singh, New Democratic Party
David Tordjman, Conservative Party
Maxime Bernier, People's Party of Canada
Clement Badra, Green Party 
Alexandre Boulerice, New Democratic Party (coming soon!)


The Canadian Federal election is happening on Monday, October 21st, 2019. 

Voting for the first time? Want to know more about how our electoral system works? Check out this handy guide from our colleagues at Narcity Canada! 

Stay tuned for more from the Liberals and all the other Federal political parties in Canada.

 

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