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Interview with David Touchette of Quebec Solidaire

A conversation about Bill 96 and the importance of combating climate change

David Touchette has immersed himself within the politics of social change throughout his 10 year career as a member of Quebec Solidaire (QS). An outspoken environmentalist and vocal dissident of Bill 96, Touchette is a running candidate for QS in the riding of Westmount-Saint-Louis.

The McGill Daily spoke with Touchette in a conversation concerning topics spanning from QS’s support of Bill 96, to the importance of far-reaching climate change policies, and the young voter turnout.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. It is not an endorsement on behalf of the Daily.

The McGill Daily (MD): How would you introduce yourself to people who may not be familiar with you?

David Touchette (DT): I was born in Haiti and was adopted by a French Canadian couple at the age of eight months. Growing up, I lived in Drummondville, which makes it so that I have a good impression about what it is to be a stranger in a white city, but it was a very good expense. I have lived in Montreal since 2000. 

When I came to Montreal, I decided to work in the fashion industry mostly as a reporter and video producer. During my time in fashion and all my life I was always interested in social politics. When I was younger I was involved with the Institut du Nouveau Monde. I was also involved with the Chambre de Commerce LGBT du Québec where I was on the administration board for three years and a member for ten years.

In 2018, I was a candidate with QS for the riding of Lafontaine (consisting of the neighbourhood of Rivière-des-Prairies). After that, and for the last four years, I was the spokesperson for the Montreal area within QS’s coordination committee.

MD: You have lived in Westmount-Saint-Louis since 2012. What made you want to represent this riding?

DT: Sometimes I think I’m too transparent, that’s just my personality. Westmount-Saint-Louis, it was not my first choice. I was thinking of running for another riding outside of Lafontaine because I had finished a contract with the Corporation de développement Communautaire de Rivière-des-Prairies (CDC RDP). If I were to be a candidate again in the Lafontaine riding, it would have been a conflict of interest because my main job was to work with all the community organization and stuff from the government. So I took a little step back and just said, you know what? Let’s see what place sounds comfortable in Montreal. Westmount-Saint-Louis was the place where I lived, so I said, okay, why not? I live here and I think I have the potential. 

My hesitation is just because a lot of people ask me the question: “why are you running in Westmount-Saint-Louis?” because for QS, it’s not a winning place. I think the reason why I accepted to run here is because I live here and I think we have a possibility to change our voice and benefit the community and make a difference. I have seen a lot of stuff within this riding, because I have lived here for a long time, that I would like to change if the population is ready to vote for our party. But me, I’m here just to propose what we can do for Westmount-Saint-Louis.

MD: A lot of students live in Westmount-Saint-Louis and many of them, whether they come internationally or from the rest of Canada, may not be from Quebec. Do you think there are certain types of needs that a diverse riding like this requires?

DT: I’m very excited about that. We have the world in one place; from students, to permanent residents, to immigrants. For me, the reason why I thought, okay, why not go and run to represent this population is because I think that we have to be an example not only for Quebec, but also for the world. The fact that we have such a rich diversity in Westmount-Saint-Louis for me is the big reason to avoid saying: “Are you for sovereignty or not? Are you French or English?” No. Rather, it’s: “What can we do together with all the people from other places around the world?” What can we do to Montreal to make this place an example for what we have always wanted for all other places around the world? Some people who live in Westmount-Saint-Louis have lived in countries where they don’t have a chance to have the perfect democracy that we have. There are also people who  have lived in countries where climate change has affected their country more here in Canada and Quebec.

Montreal for me is the perfect place to have this diversity because we are a young society and we have a chance to learn from people who come from around the world. I’m so tired of the political discourse that says that the French language is in danger because we have more immigrants. I’m done with all that. It’s just wonderful to have a lot of people from around the world who come here to study, to know about us, to recognize that we have a very special way in which we communicate together — French. So I think we have to do as much as we can to welcome them and to help them to learn French and to make Montreal more open to integration. 

MD: Some non-francophone Montrealers have said that Bill 96 presents obstacles for them to integrate into Quebec society. Some members of QS have supported this bill. You have stated that Bill 96 “will harm the party’s efforts to break into ridings where many Anglophones and Allophones live.” Could you expand upon that?

DT: I was not happy when I received this news because for me, QS possesses a better way to promote French. When we supported Bill 96, we didn’t take the time to improve upon it by adding methods to support French without limiting the Anglophone community. The thing for me is that it’s very important that we are able to speak French. But when Legault put this bill on the table, it was automatically intended for confrontation and in that way this bill is not acceptable. The fact newcomers have six months to learn French and, on top of that, the policies that overshadow Indigenous languages, I was just pissed off about that. However, I’ve talked to Christine Labrie and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and gave them my opinion and they respect it. The amendment made to Bill 96 has also made me more comfortable with the law. 

With the Anglophone community, I know we have a lot of support from the left. I was just sad. Sometimes I fear that they will feel like we didn’t think about them, or that if we do think about them, it’s in opposition. For me, there are a lot of Anglophones and immigrants who vote for QS and we have to try to represent them too. But, I understand that the members of QS who did vote in favour of Bill 96 did what they felt would be better for French. I know that they didn’t do this as an action against Anglophones, as Legault wanted to do. 

Bill 96 is a chance for us to show Quebecois(e) what we can do better. We didn’t have to support Bill 96, but what’s done is done. What I want to do is to advocate for what we should do, which is to promote French without being against English.

MD: What is the difference between voting for Bill 96 with the intent to be against Anglophones, which you have stated the CAQ has done, and voting for Bill 96 solely for the intent to promote French, as you have stated QS has done? Are the actions done by the members of these two parties the same?

DT: When I worked with QS, I didn’t feel like they intended to place pressure against Anglophones. However, I also really feel like QS had a case of tunnel vision; they were very focused on French and they didn’t see the impact that Bill 96 could have had on the Anglophone community. 

But another important thing I wanted to say involves Legault. I think how he talks — for example how he said how French in Quebec will become like French in Louisiana  — shows how he doesn’t know what English in Quebec is. Even if you want to say that English is not good, English is everywhere. What we need to focus on is what we do with French. But I’m comfortable with the decision of QS because I know inside the members did what they thought was the best for French in Montreal while also wanting the Anglophone community to feel good within Quebec.

MD: The leading representatives of QS, Manon Masse and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, voted in favour of Bill 96. Do you believe that this may ultimately affect how non-francophones may view the party, despite people like you disagreeing with their position?

DT: Well, yes of course. When I started in this election, it was very difficult for me on the street. I received very bad comments because people thought that I was a traitor. And that’s what I told my team: the vision that QS had was going to have an impact. But I think we should not focus on this too much because QS has proven many times that they are very inclusive. They fight for the inclusion of everyone including Anglophone people and immigrants. Of course, perception is very important. But in the end, I didn’t feel like I was part of a party that wanted to go against English; if that was the case I would have left. 

But like I said, I had a long conversation with Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois about Bill 96 and I really feel like these guys are sensitive about what will happen to this community. He told me that he didn’t expect the reaction of people and sometimes I think in the heat of Parliament you can vote for some stuff of which you would not expect the result. But for people to have a bad perception about QS now because we supported Bill 96, I think, is not a good reason because we didn’t change. We are the same. We are environmentalists and feminists and our actions are intended to serve everyone. 

MD: What do you believe within the  QS platform is the most important policy for combating climate change?

DT:  For me, the reduction of greenhouse gases by 55 per cent is most important. And I have to say it’s about time. I love QS because they are going far with the climate change policies. For example, another important thing about the platform for climate change is the electrification of public transport. A very high percentage of greenhouse gases are derived from public transportation and I think we have to fight for this now. 

The nationalization of the transport is also very important for Montreal, but also for Quebec. My parents live in Drummondville. Especially during the pandemic, when many transportation companies reduced their hours of operation, it was not easy for me to take the bus there. So I had to rent a car, which is  more expensive for me and it’s more harmful for the climate. If the government promised to create intercity public bus lines, I would have been able to go anywhere. 

MD: A lot of young people can be very cynical of voting, especially with policies that aim to combat climate change that have taken a long time to actualize. What would you say to people who think like this? 

DT: I think that the fact that things are going bad now does not mean that things could not go well in the future. It’s not a reason to stop fighting or to stop expressing oneself. It’s not going to be easy to make people understand the change we need to make, but it’s not a reason to stop. We are the next generation. Look at it this way: we struggle now to make people understand our opinion about climate change so that the next two years will be easier. The next five years will be even more easier. But we have to look to the future, and not always at the moment, because in the moment now it’s always going to be difficult. All of us, we have to continue to talk and to fight climate change. This is why I really resonate with QS’s policies because while we have a common goal, all voices are important to be included.