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23rd of October 2018

Canada



Quebec election update: $1 million donated and leaders united in Gatineau

Jean-François Lisée and Philippe Couillard walked shoulder to shoulder through a debris-strewn neighbourhood before returning to campaigning.

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard (right) and Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée (left) survey the damage caused by a tornado, in Gatineau, Que., Saturday, September 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS

GATINEAU — Hours after a tornado ripped through Gatineau, two rivals put political differences aside to visit the disaster zone Saturday morning.

Jean-François Lisée and Philippe Couillard walked shoulder to shoulder through a neighbourhood covered in debris.

Roofing, broken glass and bricks lay scattered across the street, the storm ripped balconies from apartment buildings and forced hundreds from their homes.

“Today our presence here is about showing our solidarity,” said Lisée, the leader of the Parti Québécois. “People saw their roofs blown away, they saw their walls crumble, they feared for their lives.

“We can campaign tomorrow but today we’re here for them, we’re here to say all of Quebec is here with you.”

Couillard, the incumbent Liberal premier, announced a $1 million donation from the government to the Red Cross to make sure people displaced by the tornado have somewhere to stay over the weekend.

There were about 1,600 people forced from their homes overnight, according to Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin. As of Saturday morning, over 600 people were still in emergency shelters or staying with family.

Couillard said it was a miracle that, given the scale of storm, no one sustained life-threatening injuries or died.

“It is affecting to see that, many of the people forced from their homes, they’re not exactly at the top of the economic ladder,” he said. “It’s like they’ve been hit twice: They’re less fortunate than others and now they’ve been hit by this storm.”

Stéphane Tremblay was cleaning out his mother’s apartment Friday when the wind gusts started to roll through. He says he looked out the window and saw roof shingles begin to fly before deciding to take cover behind a wall.

“A stick flew right through the window and everything shattered,” said Tremblay. “There was glass everywhere.”

Tremblay’s mother recently passed away but his aunt, who lives in the same building, is staying with a relative until she’s allowed back into her home.

After massive flooding in May 2017 and torrential rain last spring and fall, this is the fourth major weather event to hit Gatineau in the past 16 months.

Lisée and Couillard said this highlights the need for political parties to fight climate change.

Meanwhile, Coalition Avenir Québec’s François Legault cancelled his scheduled activities Saturday to meet those affected by the storm. A representative for Québec solidaire said co-spokesperson Manon Massé would also be heading to the Ottawa-Gatineau area.

Hydro-Québec technicians and first responders are still on the scene, working to clear the wreckage and restore power to the tens of thousands still in the dark.

Asked if the presence of politicians and dozens of journalists might actually harm these efforts, Mayor Pedneaud-Jobin said he was heartened by their presence.

“You can’t underestimate what it means — in the middle of an electoral campaign — to see the leaders on the ground,” said Pedneaud-Jobin. “It sends a great message of solidarity.

“There’s also a direct communication with (the premier and MNAs) that helps. There’s a difference between directing a crisis from an office and being here on the ground.”

As the leaders left the disaster zone, one resident shouted epithets at them, telling them to “get the f—k out of here!” Some voiced frustration at the unfolding crisis given that many are still recovering from last year’s flood.

Lisée acknowledged there’s work to be done in the government’s long-term response but insisted that the immediate response to the tornado has been “excellent.”

“It’s been lightning-quick,” he said. “There’s a solidarity among Quebecers — of all political stripes — that’s incredible to see in times like these.”

After visiting a local high school and emergency command centre, Lisée hopped back on his bus and headed to Montreal to resume his campaign.

Jacob Serebrin and Canadian Press contributed to this story, which will be updated.

ccurtis@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/titocurtis

Related  Quebec election: Climate change becomes focus of party rivals in Gatineau Quebec election: Lisée admits he gave 'free ride' to Québec solidaire Read More




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