Caroline Desbiens: difficult start, then the “bite”!
MP Caroline Desbiens in the House of Commons
Share November 14, 2020 3:00 am Updated at 6:04 am Share Caroline Desbiens: difficult start, then the “bite”!
Olivier Bossé Le Soleil POLICY IN QUESTIONS / Among the 32 Bloc Québécois MPs elected in Ottawa last year, Caroline Desbiens makes her voice heard for the vast constituency of Beauport — Côte-de-Beaupré — Île d'Orléans — Charlevoix. The singer and hotelier from L'Isle-aux-Coudres opens up on the ups and downs of her first year in the Communes.
Q Are you bored of your island?
A I was having my virtual AGM (Annual General Meeting) on Tuesday, and many were asking me this question. I responded with a song I wrote called I live on an island, where I say you can take the girl out of the island, but the island stays in the girl. It smells of the sun all the way to Ottawa!
I put my color there, I put my real life as an entrepreneur. I took over my parents' business, the Hôtel du Capitaine, over 15, 20 years ago. I am in two sectors deeply affected by the health crisis, tourism and culture. I have both feet in it to below the arms.
Q Do you still manage the hotel?
A If I made the decision to go into politics, it is because the hotel was “on its own”. It is well established. I could afford to go elsewhere, especially for a seasonal business. It is sure that COVID has complicated things, the owner remaining responsible for health measures. I took a two week vacation to put the measures in place and see that they were being applied [in the hotel]. It was very important to be a leader in this area in my riding, in my region, on my island.
I keep my eyes on what's going on. Especially in the summer when you are not in Ottawa. In addition, there was prorogation of parliament [in August and September].
Unlike Quebec City, we had quite a lot of traffic in high season, but we mortgaged a lot in May, June, September and October, which were catastrophic. Enough to get his head out of the water, but barely.
Q What is your assessment of your first year as an MP?
A I have always been very interested in politics. But being in the action is something else. There was a first month when I learned the workings of parliament. It's a big machine, very heavy, very slow. You have to adapt.
For example, when I am missing a photocopier in L'Isle-aux-Coudres, I take the 8am boat, I go to Quebec to buy a photocopier, I go back down, I take the 11:30 am boat and at noon, the photocopier is installed ! While in the federal world, buying a photocopier is a problem of at least four to six weeks …
I had to take a deep breath! It was more difficult to keep pace with the parliamentarian.
But once that was done, I fell into the action. There were the railroad blockades, CUSMA and I quickly realized how useful the Bloc is. I was already convinced of it, but when you see from day to day closely all that we manage to do to move the government, there, I caught the bug! It reconciled me with the first month that shook me.
Then on March 13, we went virtual, me who is a person in the field, in human relations. To find myself behind a computer screen was a terrible fate! But once again, we get used to it and we realize that we are able to intervene in parliament, to make 31 [article of declarations by deputies], to table motions, to make speeches, to work in committees.
And in hybrid mode, we adapt. I will be in the Commons for the next four weeks, among other things to debate Bill C-10 [aimed at subjecting the web giants to the Broadcasting Act. She is responsible for arts and culture files at the Bloc].
Q Let's see if you've ever taken the wrong steps of a career politician. Can you say one positive thing about each of the other parties in the Commons?
A I will not go over the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats or Independents. But it is in the interest of people to think carefully about whether or not to vote.
Then make the choice for whom they will vote. There are good people in all parties. It is also the role of each citizen to make informed choices and to learn about the people who run for politics. To go and see who they are and the values they defend. And get to trust them. At the limit whatever the party, even if it is not always in his line of thought [of the voter].
Look more in the human qualities of people than in the broad lines of parties.
Q How much has the pandemic limited your work as an MP?
A What I was not able to give to the people of my riding was my presence.
However, there were five of us answering emails, seven days a week. I personally answered messages at 11:00 in the evening and sometimes the calls started at 6:15 in the morning.
I replied to a gentleman at 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday. He did not believe that it was the member who answered him! I sent her a photo to prove it was me, I was in a jacket!
Maybe we wouldn't have done these kinds of things without the virtual and pandemic context. We lost our presence, but we made other gains in service to citizens.
Q With a minority government, are you already preparing for the next elections?
A Yeah! We are ready! But the Bloc Québécois is not trying to hold elections in order to hold elections. We are there to collaborate, to advance the interests of Quebec. This is the mandate that the people gave us, until Quebec perhaps achieves independence.
Q What do you want to do differently in this second election campaign in a short time?
A All I want is to be able to be in the field. A good eye-to-eye chat with three or four people on the corner of the credit union or in the grocery store is well worth large-page and on-screen ads!
In fact, both are important. During the campaign [of 2019], I set myself the goal of spending a lot to encourage newspapers, radio and TV in my region. I am thinking of doing it again and with more resources. For the media, an election campaign is like peak tourist season for a hotelier. It is important to participate in it.