Provincial candidates offer their vision for Ungava after the October 1 election

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The Nation interviewed provincial election candidates in the Ungava riding to discuss their platforms regarding for the varied Indigenous population of the region. As is to be expected of a riding with the lowest voter turnout rate in Quebec, some of the candidates were very eager to explain what they would do for the Indigenous communities. However, candidates for the Parti Québécois and Conservatives could not be reached for comment; perhaps an indication that they aren’t banking on Cree votes to win them the seat this time.

Cristina Roos, Parti vert du Québec (PVQ)

The Parti vert du Québec (PVQ) focuses on environmental issues. It advocates for a relationship of empathy with nature and seeks to reduce its wanton exploitation for profit. How does this translate into practical policies? One proposal aims to forbid logging operations above the 49th parallel, and another wants the government to adopt a new definition of profitability that factors in the environmental and societal cost of resource-extraction projects, like mines and dams.

In recent years, the Greens have transformed themselves to incorporate social justice issues too: they are one of the few parties (alongside Québec solidaire) that explicitly respects First Nation sovereignty and aims to have Indigenous councils represented directly in the National Assembly.

Cristina Roos’ decision to run for the PVQ stems from the challenges she saw Northerners faced during her 10-year career in the education sector, and her campaign is focused around making local schooling systems flexible to provide the youth with the tools to determine and preserve their own cultures. “It’s important that people recognize colonization is still evident in subtle ways in the north,” said Roos.

Vocational schools should also teach the practical skills needed to thrive on the land, to empower Northerners where they feel at home. Rethinking education could increase voter turnout in the future, she argued.

“Lasting change comes from the individual communities themselves, not from outside mandates.”

Jean Boucher, Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ)

Except for the 19-month minority PQ government of Pauline Marois, the Liberals have been in power in Quebec for more than 15 years. Still, Jean Boucher’s win of the northern riding last election marked the first time the Liberals had won the Ungava district since it was created in 1981.

Boucher is running for re-election to do “everything possible to continue the work we have started,” he told the Nation.

He was quick to acknowledge that he was speaking from Cree territory, and says the Crees should have final say on all projects in their area. When asked how that translates into tangible results, he elaborated upon the moratorium on uranium mining across the province, as an example, where he felt the consultations with the Grand Council were given final say.

Building on his experience of moving to Kuujjuaq in 2007 to develop social housing programs for First Nations, he feels he knows best how to represent Northerners in Quebec City.

For instance, he wants to run feasibility studies in cooperation with local councils to potentially extend Route 167 to reach the Trans Taiga Road and the northern trapping lines.

“After meeting with various representatives of the Cree and James Bay communities, I want to make it one of my top priorities to focus on infrastructure,” he said. “I am concerned that some people here have to travel 100 kilometres on gravel roads, which is simply unacceptable.”

This would also increase productivity in the region, but he highlighted that it must be on the terms of the Crees. He sees himself as the “oil on the chain that connects Quebec City and the Grand Council, within the context of Nation-to-Nation agreement.”

He also wants to create a wildlife reserve network, which would be maintained by the Indigenous people.

Denis Lamothe, Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)

The CAQ is a nationalist party with three main goals: to reduce immigration to Quebec by 20%, redesign school boards to promote the French language, and to balance the budget by cutting what they consider unnecessary spending and bureaucracy.

They also want to accelerate natural resource extraction in the province.

CAQ candidate Denis Lamothe worked for Sûreté du Québec for 30 years before going into politics. Off the bat, he told the Nation that the party would implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which still hasn’t happened under the PLQ.

Lamothe believes the Liberals aren’t addressing the most important issues for Northerners, such as Bill 64, the Firearms Regulation Act, which Boucher supported. Lamothe believes it reflects a “coast-to-coast mentality” that disregards the needs of hunters in the North to score political points with the party and city dwellers.

He is adamant that Quebec needs to rethink its economy and shift away from its $12 billion dependency on federal equalization payments. When the Nation asked him how that would be achieved, he talked about how Quebec’s untapped natural resources in the North could be the answer.

“Ungava is number one for natural resources, yet it takes two to five years to get a mining contract,” he said. “Markets shift drastically in that time, so it can quickly become unprofitable.”

Thus, he pledges to disentangle the complicated skill card system that has many residents travelling outside their communities to obtain their accreditations.

While the inherent conflict of interest between increasing resource extraction by removing rulings often designed to protect Cree land is evident. But Lamothe promises that locals would be consulted on proposed projects.

Parti Québécois (PQ), Québec solidaire (QS) and the Parti conservateur du Québec (PCQ)

For many, the separatist PQ and QS have fallen out of favour since the referendum question is off the table for now. The PQ has little concrete policies to offer for Indigenous populations, who overwhelmingly prefer staying in Canada than being transferred to a sovereign Quebec. The fact that PQ candidate Jonathan Mattson, the former director of the SAQ in Chibougamau, couldn’t be reached for comment underlined this.

Also failing to return messages was Alexandre Croteau, the candidate for the PCQ.

However, the leftist QS party is focusing its campaign around social justice issues and the redistribution of wealth. While they make an effort to explicitly address First Nations, they make a chaotic impression: only weeks before the election they have yet to nominate a candidate for Ungava.

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