French, factories and fragrance: St. Boniface byelection candidates tackle the big issues

Candidates shared their ideas on how they would promote the French language, develop industrial land, and improve services for Manitobans. We also asked them what they would do about the smell.

Q&A with the 4 candidates vying to fill the vacant seat in the heart of Manitoba's francophone community

The St. Boniface byelection has been set for July 17. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

In just over two weeks, St. Boniface voters will choose a candidate to fill the provincial seat left vacant when former Premier Greg Selinger resigned.

The NDP hope educator and activist Blandine Tona can hold on to the longtime stronghold, while Manitoba Liberals hope their leader, Dougald Lamont, can secure a seat for himself in the legislature.

Université de Saint-Boniface adjunct Prof. Mamadou Ka is taking his second run at the seat for the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives, having lost to Selinger in the 2016 election that brought an end to 17 years of NDP government.

The Manitoba Green Party selected community activist Françoise Therrien Vrignon to carry its banner in the byelection on July 17.

To help voters make make their choice, CBC News asked each of the candidates to respond to a set of questions about some key issues in the heart of Manitoba's francophone community. Candidates shared their ideas on how they would promote the French language, develop industrial land, and improve services for Manitobans. We also asked them what they would do about the smell.

Here are their emailed responses, edited for length and clarity.


Françoise Therrien Vrignon — Green Party

Green Party of Manitoba candidate Françoise Therrien Vrignon. (Submitted)

CBC News: What is the biggest issue facing St. Boniface voters and how would you address it?​

The single biggest issue of my generation is climate change ... At the end of the day, if St. Boniface residents want to have some say in their own future, we need to implement proportional representation ... I will present a private member's bill addressing electoral reform in my first year.

How can the province help develop the remaining industrial area in St. Boniface?

We should plan together to transform the Mission Industrial park into a Green Economy Hub.

Furthermore, the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine has expressed a long-standing need for a francophone or bilingual trade school. Greening up Mission Industrial creates a perfect fit for that opportunity.

How would you advocate for francophone issues?

I am the product of an irreducible, organised, francophone community. I have studied, lived, worked across many sectors, and volunteered in French ... I have a thorough understanding of our past, and have a history of supporting recommendations, consultations, and reports brought from the community to the hands of Government with a strong voice advocating for a better future.

Name two ways you would concretely improve access to services in French.

Push for electoral reform, to prevent governments from recreating a cycle of inefficiency that serves no-one.

Create Daycare spaces in Seniors' homes. There are 800 francophone children on a wait list ... This not only serves families directly, but creates the capacity to share culture, language and knowledge between generations, while breaking elderly isolation.

What actions would you take to improve air quality in the neighbourhood?

It's not just about the air quality. It's about land, water, and air pollution, industry running amok, as it has for a few decades.

I would work with other MLAs to bring forward bills to ensure departments have the authority and resources they need to ensure public safety and enforce environmental laws and hold private enterprises accountable to their environmental licences, including fining those who break the law.


Blandine Tona — NDP

Manitoba NDP candidate Blandine Tona. (Submitted)

CBC News: What is the biggest issue facing St. Boniface voters and how would you address it?

By far, the biggest issue I hear on the doorstep is healthcare. St.Boniface families are watching the Pallister government make deep cuts to ERs, physiotherapy, and long term care.

I am the only candidate who can stand up to the Pallister government and their cuts. That's why I'm advocating for a new Emergency Room at St. Boniface Hospital and more training spots for nurses.

How can the province help develop the remaining industrial area in St. Boniface?​

We must balance further development with strong environmental protections. The Pallister government should work to bring in clean industries, like aerospace, that have strong environmental policies.

How would you advocate for francophone issues?

The Pallister government closed the St.Boniface QuickCare Clinic, cutting the only French primary care services in our community. They cut the [assistant deputy minister] for the [Bureau de l'éducation française], putting the delivery of French education at risk. I would advocate for a renewal of the French language education system, reverse the cut to the BEF, and support the work done by the Partners for French Education and call on the Government to implement the recommendations in the report.

Name two ways you would concretely improve access to services in French.

I would advocate for all Government bodies and agencies to finally develop, approve and publish their French Language Service Plans this year so that francophones can access the services they need - from health care to education - in the language of their choice.

I would restore the Assistant Deputy Minister to the Bureau de L'education francaise so that French language education — for educators and for students — can be properly supported and properly heard by the decision makers in Government...

What actions would you take to improve air quality in the neighbourhood?

I would call for the appoint an independent monitor to provide impartial advice and to conduct testing of the air quality so the community can be assured the health and safety of residents is the first priority.


Mamadou Ka — Progressive Conservative

Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba candidate Mamadou Ka. (Submitted)

CBC News: What is the biggest issue facing St. Boniface voters and how would you address it?

The biggest issue facing St. Boniface voters is repairing the damage done under 17 years of NDP government ... Our government has committed to lowering the tax burden on Manitobans, including a reversal of the NDP's PST hike before the end of our first term.

How can the province help develop the remaining industrial area in St. Boniface?​

As MLA, I will work constructively with my counterparts in other levels of government to ensure that we are balancing economic and social needs in the best interests of St. Boniface residents.

How would you advocate for francophone issues?

I have acted as an outspoken advocate for the local francophone community in numerous capacities, most notably as president and vice of the Societe Franco-manitobaine (SFM) for nearly five years. Having also served in major francophone organizations such as the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba, my knowledge of and passion for francophone issues is unparalleled.

Name two ways you would concretely improve access to services in French.

​The first way is to ensure the Francophone Community Enhancement and Support Act (Bill 5) is effectively enacted. The principle of this act is that French language services be readily available and of comparable quality to English language services.

The second way in which I would improve access to services in French would be through my position as a member of the government. The new PC government has shown a commitment to the francophone community by both enacting Bill 5 and fostering cooperation between Quebec and Franco-Manitoban school networks.

What actions would you take to improve air quality in the neighbourhood?​

I would advocate for air monitors to be installed near the St. Boniface industrial area, to act as both a safeguard for residents...as well as to record trends in the quality of air over time to help target troubled areas. Another measure I would take would be to collaborate with the Federal government to ensure that heavy industries are compliant with provincial licensing, with the threat of losing their licenses if shown to be non-compliant.


​Dougald Lamont - Liberal

Manitoba Liberal Party Leader Dougald Lamont. (Submitted)

CBC News: What is the biggest issue facing St. Boniface voters and how would you address it?

The biggest problem is the Pallister government itself — cutting and gutting programs that St. Boniface voters care about, while doing nothing to reinvest in the things that really matter, like infrastructure and education...As the leader of a party, we can provide a strong new voice in the legislature to challenge Pallister on a daily basis, and focus on solutions that will work.

How can the province help develop the remaining industrial area in St. Boniface?​

Too often, the province has been a bottleneck for getting things done.

Instead of fighting with the feds and city and refusing to meet with them, we want the province to be playing a role in bringing everyone together, especially at the grassroots level, to make it work for everyone. We also want to restore funding to study rail rationalization, which the Pallister government cancelled, which would be really transformative.

How would you advocate for francophone issues?

I would work with the francophone community across Manitoba, and especially in St. Boniface, to advocate for restoring the Bureau de l'éducation française (BEF). That means defending and promoting French language rights in the House, committees and in legislation.

Name two ways you would concretely improve access to services in French?

First, let's recognize that there are real benefits to French. It is something unique that can make us stand out, because it can attract students, tourists, investors and business to Manitoba who might not consider us otherwise. So investing in French education, culture and arts — for teachers, students, as well as people providing services — are all positives.

The other is that, while we have French in government and education, we don't have it as much in business. So we have proposed a Manitoba Business Development Bank, which would provide investments to help Manitoba businesses grow and create jobs.

What actions would you take to improve air quality in the neighbourhood?​

In the short-term, we need better testing and monitoring, and enforcement of regulations.

As a policy, we will call incentives to help industries curb their emissions...In the long-term, we need to look at incentives for re-development and relocation so that there is a major buffer zone between industrial and residential use.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Cameron MacLean