Bloc MP’s Nunavik travels still make waves
“Wherever I go, people ask me if I know where I am”
Nunavik’s member of Parliament, Yvon Lévesque of the Bloc Québécois, said he has a much better idea of the huge Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou riding than when he was first elected in June of 2004.
That’s good, because Nunavimmiut won’t forget how, on his first solo trip to the region, their new MP mistakenly arrived in Kangiqsualujjuaq rather than at his planned destination of Kangiqsujuaq.
Lévesque laughs over the mix-up, and the subsequent story that continues to make the rounds in Nunavik.
“Wherever I go, people ask me if I know where I am. But they are very warm and friendly, so I take their kidding as a sign of friendship,” said the good-natured Lévesque.
Lévesque, who lives in Val d’Or, said he tried to meet all of his constituents during his one-year mandate. He chartered a plane when he toured Nunavik earlier this year.
“I was so happy to meet people and be welcomed by them. It was like being a member of a family,” Lévesque said.
But the trip’s $68,000 price tag, which was reported by Radio-Canada, has come under fire from some quarters.
Lévesque said he has asked for more money to visit northern Quebec.
But that’s when he said he learned that the former MP, Guy St-Julien of the Liberals, hadn’t used his entire travel budget. Lévesque said he doesn’t accept free trips, so he can’t see how anyone would otherwise be able to travel often to Nunavik or the James Bay communities on the normal parliamentary allowance of approximately $30,000.
“You have to be present in the region,” Lévesque said, although he won’t be traveling to Nunavik during the election. “The campaign isn’t the 60 days before an election. It’s time we’re in office – that’s the election campaign for me.”
If re-elected, Lévesque said he plans to lobby for a longer airstrip for Puvirnituq.
And he’ll fight for tax rebates on snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, similar to those given to farmers in the South.
“That’s a big priority for northern municipalities,” Lévesque said.
Lévesque also wants to see improvements to water quality and continuing efforts made to clean-up old mining sites around Nunavik.
When first elected, Lévesque said he would promote more wind energy development in his riding, but he said Quebec has had trouble accessing money for these kinds of projects, because federal funds are earmarked for jurisdictions using less than 10 per cent of clean energy.
“This excludes Quebec,” Lévesque said.
Finding more housing for Nunavik will continue to be a concern, Lévesque said.
Nunavik’s deal to build 250 houses over five years was renewed in 2005, but Lévesque said he would have liked to see “250 a year” for the next five years.
Although the BQ is well-known for advocating sovereignty for Québec, Lévesque said he wants voters to know that he doesn’t see this election as a referendum vote, but as a chance for people to judge the Liberal government of Prime Minister Paul Martin.
“Is it still credible enough to recommend them [the Liberals] to lead?” Lévesque said.
The BQ received a boost in Nunavik from its leader, Gilles Duceppe, who attended the screening of Echo of the Last Howl in Kuujjuaq last January and promised to ask the House of Commons committee on native affairs to call a public inquiry into the killing of Inuit dogs in the 1950s and 1960s.
“There will be an inquiry to know what exactly happened and why it happened and who decided for [that] to happen,” Duceppe told the audience gathered for the film’s première. “We have to cast light on that horrible situation. I’m just telling you to keep on the fight. I’m telling you that we’ll always be beside you, supporting your fight.”
Lévesque isn’t worried about competition from the Liberal Party candidate, Armand Caouette, because, in his opinion, Caouette has less credibility and recognition than St-Julien in the riding.
St-Julien now works for Makivik Corp. as a consultant in Ottawa; however, Lévesque said he prefers to work directly with the region’s elected officials.
Lévesque won the 2004 election against St-Julien by less than 500 votes, due to a strong show of support for the BQ in the southern, more populated portion of the riding.