Quebec Election 2022 | In Gaspésie, “the car is queen and mistress”

Whether they’re thinking of the bus or the train, southern Gaspé Peninsula residents in Bonaventure maintain they “are pitiful” when it comes to transportation.

In Maria, where more than 2,700 residents live, there are many cars on route 132, which runs along the sea. Along the way, Nathalie Deslauriers chats with customers interested in her garage sale under a strong summer sun. “We’re sorry, we don’t have much [en matière de transport] “, she says to Have to.

Since 2013, the passenger train that ran from Matapédia to Gaspé along the peninsula’s south coast no longer runs. Only freight transport by rail is possible between Matapédia and Caplan, a distance of approximately 125 km. No train can run further to Gaspé, which is still 200 km away, due to the condition of the tracks, according to the Quebec Ministry of Transport (MTQ).

The bus, on the other hand, runs one departure a day from Gaspésie to larger centers via the northern part of the peninsula and another via the southern route.

To be treated in hospitals in Quebec or Montreal, which offer certain services not available in Gaspésie, “it takes us means of transport”, continues M.me Deslauriers. “We have nothing left. You have to be able to drive, otherwise it won’t work.”

Drive for treatment

Raymond Kerr, who lives in Chandler, east of the Bonaventure riding, knows something about it. He has to go to Rimouski or Montreal several times a year. The 71-year-old man has been fighting colon cancer for four years. Sometimes he has to take exams in the city. Not to mention the visits he pays to his daughters, both residents of Laval.

By bus, the trip from Chandler to Montreal “still takes 14 hours,” almost 4 hours longer than by car, Mr. Kerr. “But we accept and we drive”, he adds with good humour. A regular ticket, with the bus company that offers the trip, Keolis, costs about 130 dollars. He also sometimes takes his car when the road conditions are good.

In terms of the election campaign, Raymond Kerr hails the investments of the François Legault government, especially in the region, during his last mandate. His vote will therefore go to the CAQ.

A close battle between the Parti Québécois (PQ) and the CAQ formation is announced in his riding, Bonaventure. The outgoing independent deputy Sylvain Roy is not seeking a new mandate. The latter represented the citizens of the region since 2012 without interruption. First elected as the PQ, he had slammed the door on the PQ in 2021 because he no longer trusted the leader, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon.

But for Mr. Kerr PQ “no longer exists”. “There is a total lack of leadership, we go from one candidate to another approximately every two years. For him, the founder of the party, René Lévesque, was “a god”. “He was never replaced either. »

The return of the train

According to PQ candidate Alexis Deschênes, transport – like the train and the bus – are essential services for a remote region like the Gaspé Peninsula. In addition, “the train, for goods and to free up space on route 132, there are companies that need it. »

While the commissioning of the approximately 70 km long section between Caplan and Port-Daniel-Gascons is expected in 2024, no date is currently planned for the section up to Gaspé.

François Legault’s government has been “dragging its feet”, according to Mr Deschênes. If elected, the Parti Québécois (PQ) commits to restoring a work plan on the section between Port-Daniel-Gascons and Gaspé to allow the return of the passenger and freight train within four years.

CAQ candidate in Bonaventure, Catherine Blouin, defends the outgoing government. The new deadlines should be known in 2023, she says. “It is not that there are no more deadlines, it is that we want to make sure that we have all the elements of the analyzes in hand so as not to get any other unpleasant surprises. “Some structures that needed to be renovated have to be completely rebuilt,” says Ms.me Blouin. She wants the train to resume “as soon as possible on the Gaspé side”.

For the candidate of Quebec solidaire (QS), Catherine Cyr Wright, the return of the train is essential to promote the ecological transition. “In our plan to deal with the climate crisis, obviously with regard to transport for the region, it is important to offer alternative forms of transport. »

If the Solidarity formation is brought to power, it wants to “revolutionize intercity transportation” by creating Quebec-Rail, which would include five train lines to connect the largest cities in Quebec. Elsewhere, Québec-Bus would complete the network with 11 lines over more than 4,000 km of road.

During this election campaign, transportation is “as important an issue as housing in the Gaspé,” said Pierre-Luc Arsenault, councilor for the Pabos sector in the city of Chandler. And not just over long distances. Residents often borrow their car to drive one or two kilometers between home and work, emphasizes the 42-year-old man sitting at the cozy Mich Café.

“The solo car is still queen and mistress of our roads here,” laments Mr Arsenault. The latter uses his bicycle to go to the grocery store and take his children to day care. “But we can count them on the fingers of one hand who do.”

The lack of safe places to walk and cycle is to blame, says Pierre-Luc Arsenault, his voice drowned out by the sound of coffee machines running at full speed. The speed at which cars spin on Route 132 is a problem, he claims. “There are more and more cars, and they are getting bigger and bigger. »

“Finally, active transport is not manna,” says the municipal council member. It’s “buy yourself a tank or stay home”. »

The lack of transport in Gaspésie is making people “zombies” and dependent on the car and its costs, Mr Arsenault claims.

As for knowing which political party could promote active transport in Gaspésie and respond to local problems, Pierre-Luc Arsenault has no bias. For him, the ideal would be a formation which would have a vision for the region and which would be able to “execute it”. But it will take more than a four-year period, he concludes.

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