Politicians flock to Magdalen Islands as residents deal with storm aftermath

Provincial election is just a week away but most residents have storm clean-up on their minds.

The provincial election is just a week away but most residents have storm clean-up on their minds

3 men standing outside in a parking lot and talking
CAQ Leader François Legault, centre, and his candidate for the Magdalen Islands, Jonathan Lapierre, toured the region to assess the damages caused by the storm on Monday. (Véronique Prince/Radio-Canada)

Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) and Parti Québécois (PQ) leaders François and Paul St-Pierre Plamondon headed to the Magdalen Islands Monday, in a race to win over Magdalen Islands residents dealing with the aftermath of post-tropical storm Fiona.

The riding of almost 10,800 voters has historically vacillated between the PQ and the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ). Last election, outgoing MNA Joël Arseneau won his seat by just 15 votes over the Liberal candidate.

But this time, the PQ candidate is facing stiff competition from the CAQ's Jonathan Lapierre. Lapierre is well-known in the community, as mayor of the Magdalen Islands since 2013 and a city councillor since 2005. He has stepped away from his municipal duties during the campaign.

With just one week to go before the provincial election, both party leaders made sure to meet residents affected by the storm.

In a news conference Monday afternoon, Legault, the incumbent premier, announced the government would set up a local office and hold a public meeting on Tuesday to help people apply for financial compensation.

Legault said his decision to visit the islands was not politically motivated and had been planned long ago.

"I think I was able to separate the two roles," he said.

3 men standing in front of another men who has his back to the camera. They are on a beach.
PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, right, and his candidate for the Magdalen Islands Joël Arseneau, left, met with fishermen on Monday. (Sébastien Desrosiers/Radio-Canada)

St-Pierre Plamondon said it was touching to hear the testimony of residents hit hard by the storm.

He said he met some fishermen who told him they had had to secure their boats to phone poles in the middle of the storm because they didn't have access to lifts to take their boats out of the water, an issue he blamed on the federal government.

"That's a consequence … of one government too many and of files that don't move forward," the PQ leader said. "It's the safety of people that's in question."

Like Legault, St-Pierre Plamondon said his visit was not politically motivated. He was there, he said, to help Arseneau make a list of the people and businesses that need financial assistance.

"No matter when an event like this happens, it's important to travel there and to measure what needs to be done," he said. "Our work is to make sure that no one gets forgotten."

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade says she will travel to the Magdalen Islands and the Gaspé peninsula this weekend.

Aid promised to residents

A woman and a man standing near a beach. The man is pointing at something that is not visible in the picture.
Public Security Minister and CAQ candidate Geneviève Guilbault said the government has programs to help people in this situation. (Kate McKenna/CBC News)

During a visit to the islands on Sunday, CAQ candidate and Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbeault said she couldn't confirm when the funding promised by Legault will start rolling in.

But she noted her ministry already has aid programs for this type of situation.

"All people who have had damage to their houses, they can call us, they can go on our website," where they will get help navigating the process, she said.

Nouane Giguère, the owner of a herb shop called L'Anse aux Herbes that was flooded during the storm, said she's hesitant to get too excited until she knows more details.

"This is [an] election, so I'm not really sure about [Legault's promise]," she said. "We expect more than words."

The water has left marks on the walls of Giguère's shop and one of the windows is broken, but she said the damages could have been a lot worse.

"We don't have to change the wall, change the floor. So losing some product is not that bad," she said.

A woman standing in front of wooden shelves with jars on them.
Nouane Giguère is the owner of L'Anse aux Herbes, a herb shop that suffered damage in the storm. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Giguère said she wants an MNA who will stand up for the region and support initiatives and projects that benefit the community.

Ariane Arsenault, who owns a soap shop that was also flooded, is considering applying to the provincial aid program.

She said she first needs to get her building evaluated and check with her insurance company on what damages it covers.

But "if they don't cover everything, of course we're going to hope that the government can help us," she said.

Parties commit to fight climate change

Arseneau said the storm and its damages were an example of "the carelessness of previous governments and a bit of society in general" when it comes to climate change.

"When we say we have to save the planet, well the first parts of the planet that we have to save are regions like the Magdalen Islands," he said.

St-Pierre Plamondon said dealing with the outcomes of climate change costs a lot more than preventing them.

"Not adapting and not changing our economic model has an astronomical impact when we repair the broken pieces," he said.

He said the PQ would allocate a bigger chunk of the provincial budget to the fight climate change. 

A rocky shoreline with cliffs and a beach.
Coastal erosion is a big worry in the Magdalen Islands. Both the PQ and the CAQ say they plan to allocate funding to that issue. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

During the news conference on Monday, Legault promised his party would allocate $100 million to coastal erosion and create a bureau specifically dedicated to it.

"Of all the regions in Quebec, this is the one that needs the most urgent action," he said.

Guilbault also touched on the issue of climate change on Sunday.

She said the CAQ was highly aware of the new challenges municipalities are facing because of climate change, and her party is investing in preventive measures to help them adapt.

She said her party has a $7.6-billion plan to help protect the environment, of which "almost $1 billion is specifically dedicated to this fight against the consequences of climate changes."

With files from Kate McKenna and Radio-Canada