The Yukon’s five federal election hopefuls were present for a French-language all-candidates’ forum on Wednesday evening.
Voters packed the Association franco-yukonnaise-hosted debate at the Centre de la Francophonie to listen to each candidate answer questions in French.
People’s Party of Canada candidate Joseph Zelezny said, in French, that the Oct. 21 election is the most important in Canadian history. Canadians will be deciding if Canada remains Canadian or becomes something else, he said.
Zelezny feels the Canadian identity is important, and without it, there is nothing.
If elected, he said, the People’s Party would correct the current government corruption and make sure there are adequate services in both official languages.
Green Party candidate Lenore Morris spoke English but had her answers translated through an interpreter. She said the Yukon is her home, and she is a citizen of the Earth.
She said the Green Party is not a single-issue entity, as there is more to it.
She believes in providing stable funding for Radio-Canada, the French-language wing of the CBC.
New Democrat Justin Lemphers addressed the crowd in both languages. He said, in French, that the francophone community in the Yukon is open to everyone.
He said it’s important to provide educational opportunities to the French-speaking minority.
Lemphers acknowledged that French-language services need to be available, especially in health care. He regards this as a human right.
Conservative candidate Jonas Smith gave a brief opening statement in French. During the rest of the forum, he spoke English, with his comments being translated by an interpreter.
He told the crowd he believes in bilingualism.
Liberal incumbent Larry Bagnell said, in French, that he works hard for his constituents.
He pointed out that Whitehorse is a welcoming bilingual city. He added that the Liberals plan to launch more digital French programs.
The first two questions were from the association. The first was about modernizing Canada’s language laws and the second centred on French-language services in the health care sphere.
Morris said a Green government would modernize language laws. She herself felt the laws should be revamped.
She explained that health services are public services. She said this is the case even if it is privately provided.
She felt that the services should be available in both official languages, and patients can choose.
She clarified that the the government does not offer the health services; it instead funds them.
Morris said her party supports providing funding to French-speaking doctors, and that other health care professionals can be hired.
Lemphers, through his interpreter, said his party would also modernize the laws.
He said the French-speaking community needs to be consulted before anything is done. He said this is inconvenient, as he believes service in French is a human right.
As for health services, Lemphers believes all Canadians deserve to be served in the official language he or she is the most comfortable speaking.
He said there should not be barriers to this service. If his party forms government, he said, it would form a plan and work with the community.
Smith was not in a position to comment specifically, as the Conservatives’ platform has yet to be released.
That said, he feels the French-speaking community is important and that its support is needed to form government. He added the party has a strong team in Quebec and other French-speaking regions.
“Implementing bilingualism is something all Canadians have to work on,” Smith added.
On health care, Smith said the Conservatives are committed to raising the health care transfer to three per cent. This will mean an extra $2 million for the Yukon, and should help provide a stable as well as predictable budget, he said.
This is important because anyone who is sick or injured needs to be able to communicate in the official language he or she is the most fluent in, Smith added.
Bagnell said the language laws need to reflect reality, and the Liberals are committed to modernizing them. He said the party has done round tables and forums on this subject.
Bagnell said his government has invested money in French-language health care services for francophones living outside of Quebec. This includes increasing access for seniors and promoting child health care.
Zelezny said he supports modernization of the laws, adding that everyone is equal.
He said a People’s Party government would eliminate the laws on multiculturalism and work to integrate immigrants into Canadian society.
On health care, he said it’s important to be served in the official language of your choice.
He said this is a responsibility that would be transferred to the provinces or territories under a PPC regime. He said the transition would be soft but effective.
Zelezny felt this was an improvement that’s necessary.
Jean-Sébastien Blais pointed out that the Yukon has an aging population, which includes the French-speaking community. He wanted to know the candidates’ views on francophone immigration.
Smith said he is for an orderly immigration system. He is not against immigration, saying Canada is a country of immigrants, including his mother. He said Canada needs
immigration to empower the country’s economy.
He wrapped up his answer by encouraging French-speaking immigrants to move to Canada, calling it a priority.
Bagnell said this is a Liberal priority as well. The Liberal government has spent $2.6 million to encourage francophone immigration and integrating them into society, he said.
“I hope this program will resolve this issue,” Bagnell said in French.
Zelezny said this is a complicated question. He said he wants to reform economic immigration. When the country is prosperous, he said, more people can be let in.
Morris said there needs to be a vibrant community in the Yukon to recruit francophone immigrants. She added that services are need to help these immigrants settle here.
She feels other issues play into this, like job creation and affordable housing.
“We need to keep the economy strong,” Morris said in English.
She is convinced that anyone who comes to the territory will stay.
Lemphers said he believes there need to be multiple pathways on this front. He wants to make sure settlement practices are in place in the Yukon.
He also wants to know what the barriers are and where things can be improved.
The New Democrat aims to establish a baseline so the francophone population can grow. He feels everyone needs to work together, and not just assume what’s needed.