Saturday was the last general council of the Quebec Liberal Party before the October election.
For $100, you got to enjoy a buffet, you were given the privilege of buying a local beer for $7.75 at the President's Cocktail and you got the chance to meet interesting people... if you were a member of the LPQ (another $5). Here is a personal take on my encounters.
François Blais, Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity: We meet so regularly in these kinds of events that it is he who comes to greet me as soon as he sees me. Give it a few more years and he'll remember my name.
I told him off the bat that I was not very happy (rather angry even) about what he did with the Basic Income in his Bill 173.
—It's not an authentic basic income at all, Mr. Blais.
—It's a first step, Mr... Madden," he says, reading my name tag.
—You enshrine the distinction between the deserving poor whom you cap at the poverty line and the undeserving poor whom you crush at half that level.
—We do not make this distinction at all. On the contrary, it is a basic income, or to be more precise, a universal categorial allowance. Moreover, it is individual, regardless of household composition, a first in Canada.
—Not true! You maintain the notion of marital life.
—I should know, Mr. Madden, this is my bill! And I had to fight hard in Cabinet to win that point.
—I did see the calculations of reduced benefits for couples in the ministerial intentions accompanying Bill 173. However, if there is something I missed, I would be more than happy to make amends, since recognition of universality would be a world-class victory. Can you ask Pier-Luc [his deputy] to send me the reference?
[Update July 5: Having verified, the information that I published in my original post on Bill 173 is accurate. The "basic income" is not individual, according to sources in the minister's office.]
Gilles Gagnon, President of the Charlebourg Liberal Association:
—And who is your deputy in the National Assembly, I ask him?
—Oh! He's not a very charismatic politician, even in person, is he?
—He's a professor. He's comfortable in front of a class, explaining.
—Indeed, he is more affable in public than in private.
Carlos J. Laetão, Minister of Finance:
Minister, are you giving your colleague François Blais a hard time in his Basic Income project?
It doesn't matter what he said because my question was dumb enough. I didn't want to miss my chance to talk to him only because I lacked an intelligent question to ask.
When our eyes met, instead of just looking stupid, I confirmed it by speaking.
Gaétan Barette, Minister of Health:
No way to meet the handsome Gaétan, as he was constantly called in the running gag of the day. He's always talking to someone. I approach the conversation (getting in just a little too close) and I nod approvingly as I drink in the minister's every word. As soon as he includes me in the exchange, I'm ready to pounce.
At least I had a real question for the handsome Gaétan. What did he think of poverty as a major determinant of health? Dr. Gary Bloch in Ontario defends a radical position in medicine. When his patients are poor, he prescribes money as a remedy, signing severe restraint certificates to use.
I don't think Dr. Barrette understood that I was asking him an ethical and political question as a doctor. His colleagues in general are rather cautious although their Corporation supports this public health measure.
Philippe Couillard, Premier, leader of the PLQ and MNA for Roberval:
—Aren't you a little disappointed, Mr. Couillard, that the beautiful Basic Income dream of two years ago has not realized its full potential?
—It will still lift 100,000 people out of poverty.
—Giving everyone a Basic Income would be far too expensive.
—What if I can show you that this is not true, Mr. Couillard?
—Then we'll sit down together, to look at the numbers!
Just this, was worth the price of my admission...
Dominique Anglade, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Economy, Science and Innovation and Minister responsible for the Digital Agenda:
In one of her allocations during the day, she quotes a Creole proverb: 'lajan ki dòmi nan pòch pa fè ti'. That is, money that sleeps is unproductive. I immediately thought of the Generations Fund. So I asked her if she did not find this non-investment policy somewhat inconsistent. "I was talking about private investors," she replied, before they dragged her off for another series of photos and selfies.
You couldn't swing a dead cat on Saturday without hitting a minister, a member of the National Assembly or a future candidate in the October election.
Jean Rousselle, MNA for Vimont, spoke at length to me about his experiences with living conditions in Haiti. At lunch, my table companions were David Birnbaum, MNA for D'Arcy-McGee and the President of his riding association. I met with Germain Chevarie, MNA for Îles-de-la-Madeleine (where he was born) and briefed him on Dr. Yv Bonnier Viger's plan to launch a pilot project on basic income in the Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine region. It is a major ten-year project that would affect 290,000 people and would focus on the impact of a basic income on public health, demographics and social services, major issues for Quebec and Canada in the 21st century.
Finally, I give you the scoop on someone who will be the star of the QLP in the coming years: Marwah Zygqy. This young lawyer and tax expert overwhelmed the audience with the power of her message and the passion with which she delivered it. She should win her seat easily in Saint-Laurent and I can't imagine her not being tapped for a cabinet post. Now if she became a friend of Basic Income...