The North Star


Interview on organizing a local election debate​​​​​​​

Watered-down discussions and uninterested politicians​​​​​​​

Read Time:3 Minute

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On Monday, October 3, provincial elections were held in Quebec, leaving the national assembly relatively unchanged. In the weeks leading up to the vote, many local debates were taking place, and North Star spoke with André-Philippe Doré, organizer in Ligue 33, an organization in Montreal's east end, about the debate he helped organize and his experience.

"At Ligue 33, we try to help the neighborhood understand different political issues, and to organize themselves to improve their lives. So we end up having to deal with politicians, especially municipal ones. There are a lot of issues in the neighborhood where city hall says 'it's not us, it's the province.'" The decision to hold a debate came naturally. The questions were all proposed by residents of the neighborhood.

"Honestly, it was hard to organize that debate." Ligue 33 told North Star that only three candidates showed up, despite serious efforts on their part. This came as a  surprise to the organizer, who thought he was offering a platform for politicians to speak directly to citizens. "The CAQ, the party in power, asked their candidates not to participate in any debates. There were no media outings, but everywhere they withdrew from the debates at the last minute."

For Doré, politicians don't "choose their debates based on the platform it gives them to talk directly with citizens, but more on the PR [public relations] potential. Local and provincial politics is quite consanguineous: if you know the brother of so-and-so, you'll be able to get a job in such-and-such a matter, etc. All the politicians were asking us why we were doing this. All the politicians were asking us why we weren't with the other debate they are used to."

Ligue 33 is a bit of a UFO in the community and political landscape of East Montreal. "We have practices that are quite different from others - that is, before deciding things, we constantly consult the people. So we're not a fixture in the neighborhood for politicians, unlike for the residents, for whom we are more and more."

"I have the impression that there are communication corridors between the community and provincial politics that comes from the fact that MPs fund organizations individually and try to buy them. Our goal was to ask the people's questions, not to be friends with candidates. That must have hurt our ability to attract them."

During the debate, "it was easy to manage the crowd of candidates to keep it from getting out of hand, because they were all so in agreement on the same things that they didn't yell at each other. But it was difficult in the sense that it was so watered down. My role in the debate was to ask questions to try to see what their 'real' point of view was on certain issues, but it was so abstract that it was almost unfeasible." 

The lackluster nature of the debate and the minor differences that separated the candidates didn't surprise Ligue 33 and the neighborhood folks who attended. "We know there's a democracy problem. We know it because people tell us: 'we don't care about the different parties, they're all the same' or 'I won't vote, they're all crooks.' Sometimes, things like 'Quebec Solidaire, that's all well and good! But what will QS change? We'll just add more bikes? What's the big deal?'"

"Ordinary people don't really have a say in the end in elections, and after the elections, even less," Doré said. "We say the people should be able to decide and manage their own affairs, that their candidates should be accountable to them. Strangely enough, this is the debate where politicians don't want to go because they know that maybe we will criticize their ideas and that would look bad."

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