• Hannah Sabourin

Candidates spar at debate ahead of Oct. 3 vote

CAQ Gatineau candidate Robert Bussière said Caryl Green is misleading voters about the Wakefield Memorial Hospital’s impending closure.

“The PLQ scared all of you with false information,” said Bussière during the Gatineau candidates debate on Sept. 20 in Chelsea. “The Wakefield Hospital will not close. It is here to stay.”

Green, the PLQ candidate for Gatineau, was steadfast in her argument, saying a Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government “will close the Wakefield Hospital, and turn it into a long-term care centre.”

Because of declining occupancy rates, Centre intégré de santé et des services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO), recommended closing some short and long-term beds at the Wakefield Hospital. Outlined in their 2021 Clinical Plan, this government branch also recommended opening 35 geriatric care beds. In addition to declining Wakefield Hospital beds, CISSSO explained that its proximity to the Gatineau Hospital does not justify more developments at the Wakefield hospital.

Green said this 2021 Clinical Plan gives her “no reassurances.”

“In the clinical plan, it is clear that the Wakefield Hospital will become a long-term care centre,” said former Chelsea mayor Green to the approximately 70 people in the crowd. “[Once] the 600-bed hospital is built, what will be the future of the hospital in Wakefield?”

Bussière fired back at Green’s comment, arguing it would take up to ten years to complete the new 600-bed hospital in Gatineau, adding that his party would hold public consultations about the Wakefield Memorial Hospital’s future.

“[But] until then, nothing will change,” added Bussière.

Currently, Wakefield Hospital has 16 short-term beds and 10 long-term beds.

A few days following the debate, on Sept. 26, Caryl Green made a Facebook post to emphasize her commitment to keeping the Wakefield Memorial Hospital open. “Wakefield Hospital’s future is threatened – I will never accept that our hospital [will] be transformed into a simple medical clinic,” wrote Green.

On the same day, Robert Bussière’s spouse, Isabelle Yver, accused Green of spreading false information online. In response to Green’s post, she wrote: “That’s false. [You’ll] do whatever you need to get votes. Liar!”

In a second comment, Yver wrote: “The PLQ does not deserve to be the first opposition, [the party is campaigning] on lies and [is] scaring people, you are deceptive Ms. Green.”

Bill 96 dominates question period

Five candidates attended the debate: Joëlle Jammal from the Parti conservateur du Québec (CPQ), Caryl Green from the Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ), Laura Avalos from the Québec Solidaire (QS), Robert Bussière from Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), and Raphaël Déry from the Parti Québecois (PQ). Danilo Vasquez, the Gatineau representative for the Canadian Party of Quebec (CPQ), was absent from the debate.

Equité Outaouais, an organization that campaigns for school and healthcare funding, hosted the all-French debate. The debate format did not allow for a back-and-forth between the candidates. The debate was not streamed virtually.

Over two and a half hours, moderator Pierre Ricard-Desjardins asked 10 questions, ranging from healthcare, the housing crisis, and the Canada-Quebec relationship. Further, an additional 21 questions came from residents from the Gatineau riding.

Chelsea high school student Lucia Dyer, 16, asked Bussière: “How will you protect the rights of anglophone students already affected by Bill 101?”

Bill 101 is the 1977 law that defined French as Quebec’s official language, requiring that all non-historic anglophones attend elementary and high school in French. The bill was beefed up over the past four years and expanded into Bill 96 and comes with enrollment caps at English CEGEPS and additional requirements for English students.

In response, Bussière said: “Our language [French] is on the decline, and we need to protect it. [...] Presently, we guarantee English services to all anglophones – there are no changes to services, [and] all anglophones will be able to continue to send their kids to English schools.”

According to Stats Canada, those who say English is their first official language in the Outaouais saw a two per cent increase from 2016 to 2021. While French continues to be the dominant language spoken in the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais, it saw a two per cent decline in that same time period.

Bussière said Bill 96 helps immigrants integrate into Quebec society.

On the same topic, both Green and Conservative candidate Joëlle Jammal said their parties hope to repeal Bill 96. “This bill makes life harder for anglophones without really protecting French. To protect French, we need to learn it in school,” said Jammal.

QS candidate Laura Avalos said her party would revise elements of the bill to recognize Indigenous languages. Otherwise, the QS platform supports Bill 96.

PQ candidate Raphaël Déry would like to push beyond Bill 96 by making French CEGEP mandatory for all Quebec residents.

Quebecers will head to the polls on Oct. 3.