Last updated: September 3, 2012 4:20 pm
Interview with ex-student leader turned political candidate, Léo Bureau-Blouin
MONTREAL (CUP) – At twenty years and seven months-old, Léo Bureau-Blouin is the youngest candidate running in this campaign to become a member of Quebec’s National Assembly.
Bureau-Blouin became a well-known face in Quebec over the course of his term as president of one of the province’s largest student organizations, the Fédération étudianté collégiale du Québec (FECQ). After completing two presidential terms on June 1, he joined the ranks of sovereigntist provincial party, the Parti Québécois.
The FECQ is one of four student unions officially representing students throughout the now seven-month long general strike against the Liberal government’s scheduled increase of tuition fees. During his two year run as president, Bureau-Blouin represented the interests of cégep students in negotiations with government officials.
Bureau-Blouin says he was approached by the party in late June and decided to take the party up on their proposition to assist and support him in running as a PQ candidate in the riding Laval-des-Rapides, just north off the Island of Montreal.
He was reached by phone days before Quebec’s September 4 election. The interview was conducted primarily in French.*
CUP: There's a stereotype that executives from the student federations, FECQ and FEUQ, often use their roles as student representatives as a launch pad for their political careers. How do you respond to this considering that you are a former FECQ executive who has now joined a major political party?
Bureau-Blouin: First of all, if all I had wanted from the start were to create a place in politics for myself, I would have achieved something completely different because it’s a lot of work and a lot of energy. That is to say it is extremely difficult to interpret someone’s intent for creating a career — we don’t know if it’s because they are passionate. Another thing, I don’t think that nothing but bad things come from politics, in fact I think the contrary. We need to encourage youth to be involved in politics. People who talk of these stereotypes present it as if politics are a bad thing but in many ways [political processes] are very positive.
Concerning the number of youth in politics, ten percent of the electorate is youth but zero percent are present in the National Assembly. So it’s time to take part and, as for me, I wish that more young people would run in the next elections because if we want to youth to get involved in politics, it takes young candidates.
CUP: So you have not attended university — do you feel you would make a statement of sorts if you were to become a member of the National Assembly without a university degree?
BB: Regardless I wish to finish my studies — it’s absolutely necessary to obtain my degree however already in the National Assembly there are several elected members who do not have degrees. It’s not a novelty because in this society it’s only twenty percent of the population who obtained university degrees — so it’s normal in governments to have representatives without degrees. But, me, I see myself getting a degree in the long-term, just not right away.
CUP: As the former president of FECQ, you were a representative for cégep students. Do you feel students support you now as an electoral candidate?
BB: Yes, but students, like society, are not one unit — there are people who feel differently, there are all kinds of people who are students — but, I think, yes. I think that the majority of students are happy with what I’m doing [and] are also happy to continue to defend their ideas even if student [movement] disruptions are over. The objective is to demonstrate that we can continue to build in different ways.
CUP: The PQ stance on tuition in the media has been to increase fees on par with inflation — do you think student will be content with this?
BB: What we said was that we will abolish the increase of tuition fees, we will abolish the Charest government’s special law [Law 12], and we spoke of holding financial and business consultations with universities. One of the propositions that were put on the table was to have tuition fees increase at the same rate as the cost of living.
For me, I defend the students’ cause, that is to say that tuition fees should not increase. But I am pragmatic and the objective is to engage with aim to finding a consensus in this discussion and I think what the students really want is not to have a drastic [tuition] increase like what we saw with the Liberals. I think that’s how we can reach the largest demographic also [in terms of] the questions of accessibility, student housing, bursaries and all related issues that come along with education more broadly.
CUP: You and PQ leader Pauline Marois called for students to halt any strike actions because, according to your statements at the time, the student conflict plays into the Liberal party’s strategy. Why did you feel this way and, considering the actions that occurred earlier this week at the Université de Montréal, do you feel the same now?
BB: First of all, the call we made was to end the strike for the duration of the election campaign because the Charest government profited from the student conflict to mask its track record for the last nine years. And the call worked as cégep students decided to go back to class together with universities, with the exception of two faculties at the Université du Québec à Montréal and several modules at UdeM — so we’re talking less than 2,000 students.
So why did we do it? Because the Charest government’s strategy is so simple: talk about the student conflict and avoid talking about corruption and collusion, avoid bad reports and shale gas, and the least successful events during their governance. And I think it’s important to not let those issues drop.
CUP: And finally concerning statements by Marois that some characterize as racist and xenophobic — notably the institution of French test for candidates running for public office — what is your view on these statements?
BB: There is already a test for immigrants to Quebec so there’s nothing revolutionary there. It’s already there; it’s just not a standardized test. We are just asking people to have command of French because for Canadian immigrants, you must have a good knowledge of French or English. In Great Britain, you cannot work in the country if you do not have a good knowledge of English — that’s how it works in most countries all over the world. How can you integrate someone into society if you cannot communicate with that person?
CUP: Do you see an irony between the two positions you are seen to represent; being against tuition hikes but for a French test that targets certain communities?
BB: I think it’s two separate things; tuition fee hikes because we think education should be affordable for everyone but, on the other side — [and] it’s two separate things — we think that we need to have a common language to be able to talk together. In Ontario and the rest of Canada, people speak English and understand themselves in one language. You can’t call a country a society if people can’t exchange together and can’t understand each other. If the government can’t say something to the people, we have a big problem.
Right now, there’s a problem that is that more and more people don’t speak French at home in Quebec and for us it’s a huge concern ... For the moment there is already a French test to become a citizen of Quebec, but there is no real verification, there’s no real standardized test. What we want is to make sure people have a real understanding of French when they arrive here in Quebec, because for the moment we have a huge problem with integration.
I think it’s a matter of giving the immigrants all the chances they need to be integrated into the society and to emancipate themselves, because I think many people are arriving here in Quebec and they are really frustrated because they have difficulty integrating themselves. But maybe if we were giving people more tools to learn French and if we were saying to them at first, you need to speak French to come here, I think it would be easier for them to become part of the society.