Michelle Paquette says she wants to ban unpaid internships and make post-secondary education free
This interview is part of our series of articles profiling the Ottawa-Vanier candidates in the upcoming federal election on Oct. 21. Each candidate was asked the same set of questions. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Michelle Paquette is a library worker and youth organizer who has a background in art history, during which time she researched how women’s labour and Indigenous women are represented in Quebecois visual culture. Paquette is now heavily involved with Ottawa’s Young Communist League. Her own career in Ottawa has led her to be concerned with the availability of stable full-time jobs in the city’s job market, a topic she is currently researching in her pursuit of a graduate degree in labour relations at Algonquin College.
The Fulcrum: What is something you want your voters to know about you?
Michelle Paquette: I’m a public library worker and for the past 10 years I was trained as an art historian in Montreal. After doing four years of my PhD, I got crushed by debt and lack of funding and I had to quit that, which has brought me back to Ottawa, because this is where I’m from.
F: How do our background and past experiences make you qualified to be an MP?
MP: While I was in university, I was very extensively involved in the women’s movement and the students’ movement. Through this activism, I gained a very good understanding of what women and young women go through, what students go through and especially the youth, being pushed into precarious work. That includes part-time service and retail jobs and contract work. This precarious work that women, youth, racialized people, and immigrants are pushed into is a really terrible thing and it is on the rise. This means people are either unemployed or pushed into horrible part-time jobs. Usually, they have to work more than one job to try and make ends meet. Usually these jobs will have really bad pay, they’ll have no benefits, employees probably cannot unionize which makes it really difficult to pay for food, for your rent, for your bills. And me, being a public library worker, I deal with precarious work on a daily basis so I understand these challenges. I’m there to represent the voice and the struggles of working-class people and that’s what I want to bring to the federal level.
F: Why did you decide to run under your party?
MP: I joined the Communist Party of Canada in the past year. I joined because I was sick of the hustle, the daily struggle of dealing with precarious work. I was ready to join the struggle to fight against capitalist exploitation. Our strategic goal is socialism. So that was why I joined the Communist Party, because I want to tax the rich and large corporations. I want to cut military funding by 75 per cent. With all this money, I want to reinvest it so that we can create good jobs for people. We can also have free education, expand social programs, and free childcare. We can have all of these things that all the other parties say are impossible, but the money is there. It’s just that right now, the other parties’ priorities are not for the working class. We’re not putting that money towards the working class. We’re putting that money into the hands of very few people.
F: What are your plans for improving this riding specifically by use of federal powers?
MP: So to me in Ottawa-Vanier, the most urgent and pressing problem is dealing with poverty. There’s been a report that came out recently that was explaining that Ottawa-Vanier has some of the highest rates in Canada in terms of child and family poverty. And there was another report that came out that was saying that Ottawa-Vanier was the riding in the province with the highest rates of food bank usage. So we know that people, they cannot afford to pay their rent, they’re struggling to pay for food, they’re struggling to pay their bills. So my goals are to help circumvent that, to fight that. So that would mean creating better jobs. Good, stable, permanent jobs. It means creating a federal housing policy. So for us, that includes building one million units of social housing over the next four years. It also means reducing rents and expanding social programs. That is definitely helpful for the working-class people. So again, like Canada wide childcare programs. That’s fundamental. So is extending Medicare so that it includes pharma, dental, eye and mental health care.
F: How will your plans affect issues that affect young people and students?
MP: Speaking directly right now to the U of O students who are facing major cuts from the provincial level, we believe that post-secondary education should be free. We have the money for that, it’s just that right now it’s being spent on military, just for one example. We want to cancel student debts. Obviously, I know what it’s like to live with a horrible amount of debt, and it’s destroying lives. We also want to ban unpaid internships. This is just another form of exploitation. I know that for a lot of young people that are being pushed into precarious work, which is the dominant situation right now, that creates a lot of serious problems, including mental health issues. So again, if we could have Medicare that includes all the medication that people need including mental health care, eye care, dental care, these are all things that the students and youth need.
F: Any final statements?
MP: If you are a working-class person, the only strategic vote is to vote for a party that will actually represent your interests. You cannot trust the Liberals. They have proven that. You cannot trust the Tories. These big parties, these are the parties that have the interests of big business at heart and not of the working class. Definitely do not vote for the PPC. They have horrible anti-immigrant, anti-working class, anti-labour positions. Vote for the ideas that truly reflect your interests and the interests of the advancement of the working class.
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The Fulcrum will be publishing Q&A’s from other candidates in the Ottawa-Vanier federal election. The Fulcrum reached out to the Conservative Party of Canada candidate, Joel Bernard, and the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada candidate, Christian Legeais, but neither responded to requests for an interview.