Quebec’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs said in an interview he shares Kahnawake’s concerns with the Mercier Bridge and thinks it’s important for the provincial government and Kahnawake to come to an agreement on an overhaul of the span sooner, rather than later, for safety’s sake.
“We have to do something about the Mercier Bridge. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the community about it and a lot of them tell me they send their kids over that bridge every day into Montreal to go to school, so they are in agreement,” he said.
Lafreniere had his first sit-down meeting with new Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Kahswennesawe Sky-Deer recently and the two tackled an ambitious agenda, addressing issues such as the nation-to-nation relationship framework, environmental issues, the land dispute at the end of Old Chateauguay Road and, of course, the Mercier Bridge.
“It was a very good first meeting,” Lafreniere said. “We examined the list of priorities and we have begun working on things to make the lives of people in the community better right away,” he said. “What are the short-term priorities that will improve peoples’ lives right away?”
High on the list was the Mercier Bridge, which has fallen into a state of disrepair and must be upgraded, Lafreniere said. The bridge’s reconstruction was taken off the list of proposed infrastructure projects for Quebec as part of Bill 66 at Kahnawake’s behest, Lafreniere noted.
“There’s a bit of a sense of emergency to do something about the bridge, and we want to be able to work together to come to some sort of an agreement on how that should be done,” he said.
As for the land dispute near the community’s border with Chateauguay, Lafreniere said the province had no plans to step in and help negotiate until after September’s federal election and November’s municipal election. Chateauguay mayor Pierre-Paul Routhier announced last month he wouldn’t seek re-election, and Lafreniere wants to wait until new leadership is in place before negotiations can begin.
“I’ll be extremely careful on that. We have had open discussions with the city, but I think it’s important that we wait,” until new federal and municipal leadership can come to the table, he said.
After a summer in which Lafreniere visited 32 First Nations communities across Quebec – it would have been more but for COVID-19 restrictions in Nunavik – with his daughters, Lafreniere said the testimony in the coroner’s inquest into the death of Joyce Echaquan last year in Joliette has hammered home the necessity of a First Nations ombudsman and facilitator in Quebec hospitals.
“As you know, we didn’t wait for the report to become public to make moves to improve the system for First Nations Peoples,” he said. “The program we started in Joliette last year shows that our intentions are quite clear,” he said, mentioning the program could and will be expanded to health-care facilities across Quebec in the future.
“We’d like that to be in every other hospital,” he said.
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase