Learning community engagement
The Personal Story Behind The Political Career, Part 2
[Continued from part 1: Origins] Aside from growing much of their own food, running a high workload business, and raising a family, my parents were constantly involved in the community throughout my growing up, and remain so to this day.
As one of many examples, my mother successfully spearheaded the movement to bring the first recycling program to Sainte-Agathe through an organisation called RARE - Recycle And Renew the Environment. It was fairly basic; their work resulted in a system where residents could go and sort their recycling into the different sections of the single bin parked behind City Hall. Long before door to door collection of recycling bins, it became a regular pilgrimage for us to visit this compartmentalised dumpster and keep what we could out of landfill.
In 1987, the federal government updated the National Transportation Act, which significantly reformed the railway industry in a way that had the effect of making it easier to discontinue service on railroad branch lines, and by 1989 the major operators had abandoned vast swaths of rural Canada’s branchlines, including the Canadian Pacific line through the Laurentians up to Mont-Laurier on which our region had been colonised. The tracks were formally called the CP Sainte-Agathe Subdivision, but were better known as le p’tit train du nord, the little train of the North.
My father led an effort to save the CP line’s right of way as a bicycle path and rescue and preserve the historic train stations along the route. While many in the community wanted to reclaim little bits of the right of way into their adjacent properties, it had always been the intention of those working to preserve the line to keep the right of way intact so that rail service could one day be brought back. They succeeded in saving the right of way, and it ultimately became the Le P’tit Train du Nord Linear Park, one of the busiest and most popular recreational trails in all of Quebec, hosting over a million visitors per year — becoming both too successful to restore rail service along the line and a major contributing factor to the eventual need to do so to handle the vast numbers of tourists visiting the region.
My parents always worked together and in strong support of each other. On one occasion, after succeeding in a major project, my father was invited to speak at the inaugural event at the public library, where he thanked everyone and everything who had ever helped make it happen. At the end, my mother, being selflessly omitted, shouted “what am I, chopped liver?” to everyone’s amusement and more than a few attendees’ long-term memories.
In my family, community activism was the norm. It was all I knew growing up. They worked long hours in their office six-and-a-bit days a week, and my brother and I often let ourselves into the house, or walked across town from school to the office, at the end of the school day. They specialised in selling recreational property — cottages — and so weekends were their busiest time of the week, and summers the busiest time of the year. Through these years, my mother would make bread by hand every Tuesday, their only day off, as much to knead out the week’s tension as to ensure our by now somewhat more reasonably-numbered chickens’ eggs could be eaten on toast each morning.
When there was a community need, my parents rose to the challenge. With the huge divisions in Quebec culture in the mid-1990s that Quebec politicians continue, to this day, to try to stoke for political advantage, my parents did not wait around for others to do something, and in the summer of 1995 they organised Canada Day festivities at Place Lagny, the major community park on the shore of Lac-des-Sables in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts.
Thousands of people came out for the party, and my parents did something almost unheard of at the end, without fanfare: they returned an unopened case of hot dogs to the sponsoring grocery store, and the leftover funds to Heritage Canada at the end of the event. When they organised it again for the next four years, government grants and hotdogs were easy to come by.
By 2000, my parents had enough of the logistics and work involved in ensuring Canada Day festivities in Sainte-Agathe and stated that they wanted the community to take over organising it. Nobody believed they wouldn’t do it, and that year, there was no Canada Day celebration in the city. The municipality, realising that they were serious about moving on, took over in 2001 and have had a major Canada Day celebration at Place Lagny every year since, one of very few Canada Day events anywhere in the Laurentians.
Though rarely engaged in partisan politics, the example I had growing up was that if you want something done in your community, you have to just go ahead and do it.
You are the community you want.