• We sat down with Alexandre Boulerice, NDP MP for Montreal's Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie riding, to discuss his party's plans for the future.
  • Boulerice shared his thoughts on environmental policy, Bill 21, public transit, and why young people should vote NDP.

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 Partythe Green Party, the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party, and the People’s Party of Canada.


This week, we sat down with Alexandre Boulerice, deputy leader of the NDP and MP of the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie riding. Boulerice has held the riding since 2011, decisively defeating the Bloc Québécois for the first time since 1993. He is also the party's Ethics leader and is the NDP's Quebec lieutenant. 

After studying sociology at UdeM and political science at McGill, Boulerice worked as a journalist for TVA and LCN and was the Communications Consultant for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

Boulerice has been an active member of the NDP since the 90s and first ran a federal campaign in 2008. 

He was once considered to be a front-runner for the leadership of the NDP after Thomas Mulcair was defeated in a confidence vote, but decided not to run.

We caught up with Boulerice at Parc Molson, in the heart of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie.


All questions and responses have been edited for clarity.

Should the NDP win the election, what would be the party's main priorities and how will the NDP change Canada for the better?

I would say that two things that we will do immediately are to end all subsidies for oil companies and begin to work with the provinces to increase the offer of health care in this country and to create public pharmacare. It's a promise that we made and that we will deliver in the first year of the mandate. It's quite ambitious. If we want to do that, we have to start the day after the election.

But you know, we have 36,000 priorities! The main two aspects that we will hammer in for this election are climate change and social justice. How we will create a better Canada and a better Quebec? How can Canada take real action on the climate change crisis? Right now, we are heading in the wrong direction.

Year after year, the Environment Commissioner and the Environment Ministry are telling us that we are further and further from the Paris Accord targets. So we want to switch that completely and be able to have a plan that is focused on the IPCC report, the science and the goals.

The second thing, we are more and more an unequal society where millionaires and billionaires don't pay their fair share of taxes. They put their money in tax havens while the disparity between the average worker and those big CEOs increases every year. On the afternoon of January 1, the big CEOs of the country have earned already the average income of a Canadian. And every year, it's earlier in the day.

Why should young Canadians vote for the NDP? 

I could give you hundreds of examples, but we will make sure that we reduce the debt of students and we will protect pension plans for employees. This is maybe not really interesting for young voters, but eventually, it will be. 

If you want a party that's really serious about climate change, that's not only talking and making speeches like the Liberals are doing, the NDP is the clear option for you.

And if you believe that we need a Green New Deal, something like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is presenting in the United States, the Green Party is not enough because the Green New Deal has two notions: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to tackle inequalities with the redistribution of wealth. But because of more climate catastrophes and natural disasters, the poor pay more and will be more impacted.

Canada needs an environmental policy, but we also need a little bit of socialism too. 

In the 2015 election, the NDP drastically lost support in Quebec and across the country. Considering that, how does the party plan to stay relevant in 2019 with all these other federal parties talking about the same issues? 

It's always been a struggle for the NDP. We've been there for more than 60 years. It's been 60 years that journalists and commentators are saying to us, "You're going to die." Still, we're here. To put things in perspective, the last election with 44 MPs was the second-best performance of the party in our history. So maybe for people who just saw the Orange Wave in Quebec and after that, you know, it was a little bit more difficult.

I'm older than you so for me, it's not the end of the world. We always have to work harder than others. We don't have big media corporations backing us, newspapers or television. So it's really activists, militants, people on the ground canvassing, knocking door to door.

For the Federal election, when we look at the voters, we will have two targets: young people who care about the environment and minorities. You know, we have the first leader of a Federal party who is a visible minority. It can be an obstacle for some voters. It's also an opportunity — a historic opportunity for others.

I'm sure you know, but in Quebec, Bill 21 and the CAQ's immigration policies have generated a lot of discussion. How does the NDP, the party with a leader who is a member of a visible minority group and who wears a visible religious symbol, convince Quebecers who might have a negative view on these issues? 

People who strongly support Bill 21...I don't think it's going to be possible to recruit them and make them vote NDP. That's not going to happen. But you still have 30% to 40% of the population who is against Bill 21. If you look at our polls right now, it would be a huge increase if we can reach that number. So we have a pool of voters that will be not reluctant to vote for a guy who's a minority with a big beard and a turban. 

We had a focus group at the beginning of this year with people from the Montreal area regarding Jagmeet Singh's leadership. People were skeptical at the beginning but when they learnt that he completely defends the program of the NDP, he's left-wing, he's at every Pride parade in Toronto and Montreal, and he supports women's rights — it was like the door was unlocked. 

It was, "Oh, okay, he's not a big-time religious guy." He's NDP, he's a progressive, he's a feminist, he's a left-wing guy. And after that, they were open to listening. This is the barrier we have to break with those voters. Some are using very harsh and insulting words to talk about him. I don't want to make nice with those people. We don't need them. 

Let's say one of those undecided Quebec voters looks past the religious symbol, looks past his nationality, how can you convince them to look past the fact that he's not from Quebec?

You know, when I hear Jagmeet saying, "I want to make sure that every kid in this country has a real hope to achieve his dreams and I'm an example of that, that even if you're a son of an Indian and you're Sikh wearing a turban, you can run to become the next Prime Minister of Canada." It's inspiring. I think it will resonate with a lot of people even though you're not in the categories of people of colour or discriminated against. This is something that will show fraternity and solidarity and not fear and division like the Conservatives would do. 

I think it's the notion that if you're progressive and if you care about the environment, you need to work together. We need to be able to move forward and bring everybody on board to move in a good direction.

We have good elements in our platform protecting the French language in Quebec. Like Bill 101, for example. With an NDP government, it will be applied to companies that are under Federal jurisdiction which is not the case right now. So this is something that a lot of people say, "really, the NDP wants to do that?" Yes, indeed, because the protection of the French language is really important.

Also, the story of Jagmeet learning French is quite interesting because his family is from a part of India where they are a minority and their language is also a minority language and they've been discriminated against for that. Coming here, he learnt when he was young that there was a minority in Canada speaking French somewhere and he decided by himself to learn the French language.

Some very important issues for Montrealers are public transport and infrastructure. We've seen the Liberals investing in the blue line extension, for example. What can the NDP do to help the city improve? 

I came to Montreal in '92 to start my studies at Université de Montreal and at that time they had posters in the metro with blue dots because the prolongation of the blue line was expected then! Now, after a couple of years of Liberals and Conservatives in power, finally, it looks like it's going to be done. So I cannot say I'm not happy, but it took way too long.

Public transit is so important for Montrealers and we want to increase the quality of public transit and we want to electrify all the buses too. We have in our climate change platform the opportunity for municipalities to deal with the NDP government for free public transit. So if a city asked, we'll go to the table and we make a deal to be sure that it's going to be available for everybody. 

Social housing is another important issue for us because we have thousands, if not tens of thousands of Montrealers who are paying more than 40% even 50% of their income on housing. This is something that has been stagnant for the last 10 or 15 years, with almost no new construction of social housing, affordable housing. This is the thing that can change a person's life. When you talk about money and the revenue for a family, this is the biggest impact you can have.

We are disappointed with the Liberals about housing because the huge investments will be after the next federal election. So it's quite easy to spend $10 billion dollars when you don't spend really in the first four years because you don't know if you're going to be in power after that.

Missed our other interviews? Check them out here: 

Jagmeet Singh, New Democratic Party
Steven Guilbeault, Liberal Party
David Tordjman, Conservative Party
Clement Badra, Green Party 
Maxime Bernier, People's Party of Canada


The Canadian Federal election is on Monday, October 21, 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 and our own guide on how to vote in Montreal

 

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