Ottawa-Vanier NDP candidate speaks on ending fossil fuel subsidies, mental health stigma, and running with the NDP after being a lifelong liberal
This interview is part of the Fulcrum’s series of articles profiling the Ottawa-Vanier candidates for the upcoming federal election on Sept. 20. Candidates were asked questions based on the issues and concerns of University of Ottawa students. Answers have been edited for length and clarity. The inclusion of opinions expressed by candidates in this series are not endorsements by the Fulcrum.
Lyse-Pascale Inamuco is the NDP’s candidate for Ottawa-Vanier. She is a proud Franco-Ontarian and honours her Burundo-Rwandan origins. The quadrilingual candidate ran in Cumberland ward’s 2020 municipal by-election.
Inamuco is a 2014 graduate of the University of Ottawa’s conflict studies and human rights program. She was accepted to law school in 2015 but decided to focus on her activism. Inamuco was co-chair of Women’s March Ottawa.
The Fulcrum: What compelled you to run, and why did you choose the NDP?
Lyse-Pascale Inamuco (L-PI): I’ve been a liberal ever since I was involved in politics. And, the only reason was, because I was told conservatives hate immigrants, and liberals love immigrants and I did not look at all the policies and I was not aware of how to get involved with the political party. It was my uncle who told me ‘let’s just go help a friend,’ who at the time was Mona Fortier, and I joined her team.
I worked in the constituency office of Nathalie Des Rosiers, the liberal member of provincial parliament. Des Rosiers was the dean of law school at the U of O, and by working in the Ottawa-Vanier constituency office, I saw that there were so many issues that were affecting constituents.
Because I was very involved in the community, community members kept telling me ‘why don’t you run?.’ But, you know, being a woman, and being young, and being a woman of colour, being Black, all of that background? I wasn’t comfortable and thought ‘I don’t have the profile. I’m not a manager of this or an executive director of that. I don’t have 10 years of experience and people will not take me seriously.’
I did not have confidence in myself until a woman in politics told me last year ‘Lyse, I see that in you. Why don’t you run?’ and that’s when I said, ‘Oh my God, if this woman in politics can see that I can do it, then I can do it.’ I needed validation. And that’s how I ran in the municipal by-election last year. I was third out of 10 candidates. And I was very beaten. I was like, ‘oh my god this politics stuff is not for me.’
But then after a year, I joined the NDP because of the message, and because their platform is my story. I joined the NDP and decided to run in Ottawa-Vanier where I grew up and have lived for over a decade because I know the issues because I lived them — I have lived experiences.
I care because of that and I want to take action. I remembered a time when I was living near King Edward. I remember being very, deeply depressed, I was like ‘I want to do something, but I don’t know where to start. I don’t have the resources, I don’t have the power to change my community here.’ And that’s how we started. It’s that anger is that frustration, it’s that depression, it’s seeing everybody surrounding me not living the best life that they deserve, that we deserve.
That got me to activism, and then eventually to politics. Because when you’re in activism, you see that you can raise awareness, but you can’t do much to implement the vision of how you see things could go. And so I learned, working in the constituency office, that when you have good people with good intentions and good motivation in positions of influence, they can impact change, impact laws, and act on it. Because you can have beautiful speeches and text and declarations, but if you don’t have the political will, it won’t be. So that’s why I got involved in politics.
The Fulcrum: Could you tell me a little bit about how students stand to benefit from the NDP platform and your ideas?
LPI: There are a lot of things. First of all, as a student, you worry about the never-ending burden of loans and rising price of tuition fees, right? And you’re like, ‘how can you afford that?’ So we talk about affordability [of education].
We are going to help youths get ahead because getting an education should not leave us further behind. Especially in a world where it’s really hard to find good-paying jobs that will help you to repay your debt. I’ve been on the repayment assistance program since I graduated in 2014. I keep renewing and the interest rates keep rising. So we will stop the federal government from profiting off student debt by eliminating interest. We’re not saying that Justin Trudeau is personally profiting from it. We’re saying that the federal government is profiting from our student loans, and that is not right.
Another point is that international students have to pay three times more than domestic students for no real reason. Because there’s a cap on domestic tuition, and not on international tuition, universities just raise international fees any time they need more money. They put the burden on the international students and that’s not right. Because those international students, their families, some of them are making so many sacrifices to send their kids abroad to get a great education. When you look at the numbers of potential students who decided to stay in Canada and participate in the economy, I think we’re getting something in return. So we should make it accessible and welcoming to them.
We will also create a five-year break on loan repayment for graduates and forgive up to $20,000 in student debt. The idea behind this is that the governments thinks, ‘we’re giving you a loan to get a good education, so that you can have access to competitive jobs and pay us back quickly’, but they don’t understand that there are some people who have systemic barriers and issues where they can’t access those good-paying jobs.
Persons with disabilities, including mental illness, can’t access a good environment that can retain them, if they think they’re given accommodations for the entry test exams, like in my case. There are so many loopholes. The average student owes $28,000 at the end of an undergraduate degree. I owed like $65,000 because I changed programs. I had no idea that I’d have this whole amount of money to pay at the end of the day. And the interest keeps rising. And I’m like, ‘When am I going to be able to pay for a house? Never.’
So all these realities — the daily costs of real life — are important to the NDP.
The Fulcrum: Many students and their parents were recipients of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). What does the future of those programs look like under a NDP government?
LPI: Let me remind you, the Liberal government wanted the CERB and all these programs to help us get through COVID-19 to be $750 a month. And they were okay to go $1,000 a month. The NDP was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Who can survive on this?’ It wouldn’t have covered the price of rent. Even affordable housing isn’t that cheap anymore.
We’re fighting to extend it to not only people who have lost their jobs, but to people who are working part-time, or to people who have lost 50 per cent of their income who were working.
The NDP says, ‘Well, if we were able to do that, to give all those millions of dollars out under the pandemic, it could be seen as an introduction to guaranteed basic income. Why don’t we make it permanent?’ So that’s why we want to increase access to those things.
The Fulcrum: In part due to the pandemic for many recent university grads, it has been difficult to find employment. Can you tell me about the New Democrats’ plan to reduce unemployment for the 20-30 year-old, college-educated demographic?
LPI: The NDP has a plan to create jobs by creating 500,000 affordable housing units that will create jobs. We also have a plan to create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs by investing in clean energy, energy-efficient affordable homes. We want quality affordable homes, and electric transit, zero-emissions vehicles, and virtually free buildings across the country. That will not only create jobs but quick, green, good-paying jobs.
Also, removing barriers for persons living with disabilities when it comes to employment is very important. How do you remove barriers for people living with disabilities so they can access good jobs? It’s incentives for retention rates. The problem is not getting jobs for people with disabilities like me, it’s more the retention to stay there when the environment is not good.
We have a plan to raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour because the cost of living is rising and our income is not. The problem is, people say ‘oh, but when you do that, everything else will also go up’ but it’s already up right now. I think it’s what we deserve.
The Fulcrum: In January 2020, the City of Ottawa declared a ‘housing emergency.’ Rideau-Vanier is arguably the riding that has been hit the hardest by the lack of affordable housing in the city. How do you plan on working with local politicians to create more affordable housing in the riding?
LPI: For almost 90 years, Ottawa-Vanier has elected Liberal MPs, and those are 90 years that have been given for them to address inadequate and unaffordable housing. What’s the legacy in Ottawa-Vanier? Pre-COVID-19, percentages of inadequate and unaffordable housing show five of the Ottawa-Vanier neighbourhoods were some of the highest numbers of inadequate or unaffordable housing in Ottawa. Ottawa’s median is 23 per cent. But in Vanier-South, you have 45.4 per cent, in Sandy Hill 42 per cent, Lowertown 35.9 per cent, Vanier-North, 34.9 per cent and Overbrook 31.9 per cent. It’s over the Ottawa median, right?
So that represents seniors who have to make a choice between paying the rent and buying groceries. That’s parents having to work two, three jobs to make ends meet to put food on the table for their children. That’s students taking on crushing levels of debt. And that’s the city of Ottawa having to rent motels in poor condition and other inadequate housing for its citizens.
I’ll give you a local example. So the current Liberal representative is saying that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has provided a $161.4 million loan for the construction of a multi-tower department that will have 489 new units.
I’ll say, well, less than a quarter of those units must be at or below 30 per cent of the median household income. Because who can afford that? Are we creating affordable housing or are we adding to the problem and destroying what was there to build something that’s only affordable for the wealthy? With the increasing gentrification in Ottawa-Vanier, like the displacement of our citizens in Heron Gate, low-income residents have learned that they cannot count on the Liberals to help protect their interests.
The Fulcrum: How does the NDP plan to prioritize and address reconciliation with Indigenous peoples?
LPI: We’re not going to fight them in court, of course. They have been failed time and time again, and just get pretty speeches. So what we’ll do under our plan is will make sure that they have safe housing, clean drinking water now, and respectful safe access to health care, justice, and put an end to the underfunding of Indigenous children’s services.
We know that Indigenous students can have trouble having access to education. People think that it’s free to them. But that’s not the case, we know that. So it’s to really have a true nation-to-nation relationship. The reconciliation of Indigenous rights and equal funding is important.
They were promised to have clean drinking water by March 2021 by the Liberals. But now it won’t happen until 2026. And even then we don’t know if they’re gonna be pushed back again, and that’s not what we want to do. Because of the talks and progress of that reconciliation and the promises to respect indigenous rights, but instead spent millions of dollars fighting First Nations cases in court, you know, that’s not our policy at all.
We have to make sure we have equal partnerships with communities that know what is best for them. We need to understand that they have the solutions and we need to listen. We also want to uphold and implement the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s] 94 calls to action.
The Fulcrum: What is the NDP party’s plan to move to greener energies and divest from fossil fuels?
LPI: Apart from abolishing fossil fuel subsidies, we are going to make big polluters pay their fair share, and carbon pricing is just one tool to help us do that. We want to get to net zero. We recently passed bill C-12 which put into law our current commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
We want to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions by at least 50 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. And that means that we have to take action now in this next parliament. We will work with partners to establish multi-year national effectual carbon budgets as a key guiding framework for developing Canada’s path to 2030.
We will work with the provinces and territories to make Canada an innovative leader in method reduction. Real-time monitoring and leakage detection are ensuring that the provincial regulations are generally equivalent with the federal regulations, and increasing the ambition of those targets in the 2025-2030 period.
We can be a trailblazer in energy by creating good jobs with energy-efficient, affordable homes, good energy, you know, and getting clarity. So we want to become a leader, a trailblazer in energy efficiency in technologies and renewable energy. We want to lead by example.
We want to put in place legislation to ban any future oil gas pipeline subsidies. We will fulfill Canada’s G20 commitment to eliminate the fossil fuel subsidies and redirect these funds to low carbon initiatives. We will also make sure that any future governments that come in place cannot reverse these by putting in place. So how do we make sure that any government will not come in and reverse this? By putting in place legislation to ban any future oil gas pipeline subsidies.
The Fulcrum: Why do you believe Jagmeet Singh is the best choice for Canadians when it comes to prime minister?
LPI: 50 per cent of Indigenous candidates are in the NDP, which speaks a lot to the party’s commitment to reconciliation. We also have candidates with visible and invisible disabilities, like me, who are given a chance.
Jagmeet Singh is a leader that is not only about words, he’s about action. He showcases that even before he takes power. He’s real, like you can see here, you know, in the policies, but in the people who are involved in those policies. They’re not just there to have a great photo-op. But they’re there because of their lived experiences. They can contribute to the policies and contribute in implementing those policies, because they know how they’re affected, and know what Canadians who look like them go through and what they’re going through.
The NDP is supporting candidates like me who are chosen because we’re community advocates, because we are on the ground at the grassroots level. We are running because we are fed up with the establishment, the Liberal establishment lying to us and giving us empty promises over and over again.
Like I told you, I was Liberal, but I saw in Singh something different… I saw something different, you know, a leader who can reach out to candidates which other parties will probably not want to take because you have to run a campaign and run it every day. So imagine taking on a candidate who is disabled. Sometimes I take breaks. And that means the target of the party of ‘we have to win this, we have to get these numbers!’ It’s not really done that way for us. So when we talk about removing barriers for persons living with disabilities, we’re not waiting to be empowered to show it. We’re doing right now by putting trust in people and not trusting the stigma.
Personally, I was very touched to see that I was given the opportunity to represent Ottawa-Vanier because I come from the hood. I was always told that I’m not made to be a politician, that I’ll never be an MP. That I’ll never represent my community because of my mental health and that stigma, because of my background, maybe, the way I talk the way I am, I’m too honest, I’m not a politician. To see the NDP giving me a chance to represent and fight for my community, because we need fighters, we don’t need talkers. That really proved to me that the NDP, that Jagmeet Singh is different. Because when I was with the Liberals they always wanted to put me behind, never put me in front.
The Fulcrum: Why do you think constituents in Ottawa-Vanier should vote for you?
LPI: We are learning not to vote against a party. Don’t vote for liberals because they are the only ones who can win. We are changing our mentality to vote for a party, for what they stand for, and how they do things differently, right? The policies and the will to really impact change.
So why should people vote for me? One, because I am the platform. When I talk about these things, it’s because the policies come out of the lived experience that many constituents go through in Ottawa-Vanier, I’ve lived that. I can understand, I can be compassionate and care. We need a representative who listens and who cares so they can take action.
All I want is to fight for what we deserve. All I want is for people to be cared for. Because I know that it’s there. But how come we’re not getting it? I’m a fighter, because I’m willing to fight until we turn Ottawa-Vanier orange, because Ottawa-Vanier should be orange when you look at the demographic.
Many people there need the plan of the NDP there. They need someone who doesn’t overlook the poor, who doesn’t overlook the people in the ghetto or the homeless. We should have one of us representing us so that we can be seen.
That’s why people should vote for me: because I’m willing to fight for them. Because I have the lived experience. Because I care. And because I’m a hard worker, when I put something in my head, even though people tell me I can’t do it, I find a way to get it done. So that’s what I’m bringing to Ottawa-Vanier, I am bringing my passion, I bring my heart, my commitment, and I hope that they will be able to see and receive it.