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How Will Trudeau Help Lift His Papineau Riding Out Of Poverty?

11/13/2015 02:16 EST | Updated 11/13/2016 05:12 EST
NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images
Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on October 20, 2015 after winning the general elections. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau reached out to Canada's traditional allies after winning a landslide election mandate to change tack on global warming and return to the multilateralism sometimes shunned by his predecessor. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

To Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

Congratulations to you and the Liberal Party of Canada on its spectacular victory, and egalitarian new Cabinet. Now that the campaigning is over and the real work starts, I thought I would share a few stories about some of the people in your riding of Papineau.

Observers rank Papineau one of the poorest ridings in Canada. In Park Extension, where Liberal support is overwhelming, the poverty is glaring and painful to see.

Going door to door in Park Ex, and in St Michel, I saw too many basement apartments choking with mold and mildew. Too many families crowded into small apartments. Too many qualified people with no jobs, or working in jobs well below their qualifications. The sharp poverty hit home dramatically one evening.

A panicky mother burst from her basement apartment when we were going up and down the stairs of a three story apartment building on Champagneur. She handed me a tiny baby and said "She isn't breathing -- do something!" The tiny girl was weak and lacking in muscle tone, and in respiratory distress. Shared parenthood kicked in. I flipped the baby over on my knee and gave her a soft pop between the shoulder blades. She spat and gasped for breath.

I suggested that the mum take the baby, now breathing but clearly not thriving, to the clinic as soon as possible. She told me she had no child care for her two other children, and didn't have a doctor to go to anyway, but that she would try.

At the other end of the riding, in what is called "Le Petit Magreb," or Little North Africa, I met an articulate father of three. He's a respiratory technologist or "inhalothérapeute" trained in Algeria. But because of the well known professional obstacles placed in the way of new immigrants, he works as a driver. He told me about how difficult it is for him and his family and was practically in tears as he told his story.

A baby who can't breathe and a respiratory technologist who can't help. That is so much of what the story of Papineau riding is.

Except for one Bloc'ist, there has been a cascade of Liberals in Papineau. Decade after decade voters return Liberals: Guy Favreau, André Ouellet, Pierre Pettigrew, now you, the MP for Papineau and newly elected Prime Minister of Canada. But many of the people of the riding remain poor, their living conditions below standard, their children's health blighted.

The Liberal electoral platform promises to lift 315,000 children out of poverty. I hope one of them is the vulnerable tiny baby of a young frightened mother in a mold infested basement in Park Ex.

Your glamorous background is difficult to square with the 50 per cent illiteracy rate in Villeray, the average annual income of $26,000 in St Michel, the food banks struggling to meet the growing needs of the residents of the riding.

During the campaign it became clear that you are loved in the riding, and that the LPC has a formidable electoral machine. I know from the book you wrote that you worked hard to be elected in 2008, going into grocery store parking lots, parks and neighbourhoods. You go on to say that when you talk to friends who share your privileged upbringing about problems of wealth and income inequality you sometimes feel like taking them to your riding of Papineau.

That is a good idea.

Mr. Trudeau, I think it is fair to say that you are a member of Canada's one per cent, but many of the people you represent are some of the poorest people in the country. Now is the time for the Liberal Party of Canada to do what it does best, and throw some serious money at the problems of the riding. Hopefully not all of it will go to friends of the Party.

Hopefully some of it will go to long neglected social housing, improved access to health care, improved infrastructure, to some semblance of a more just society in Papineau.

Anne Lagacé Dowson is a journalist and former candidate for the New Democratic Party in Papineau.

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