What's it like being an MNA during COVID-19? We asked 3 of them.

·4 min read

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed how MNAs do their work.

The National Assembly was shut down for a few weeks in the spring and politicians had to work from home like so many other Quebecers.

Joëlle Boutin, Coalition Avenir Québec member for Jean-Talon, hadn't had much time in office before the pandemic took hold of Quebec.

After winning a byelection in 2019, she was sworn in in December and made her first appearance in the Blue Room when the legislative session resumed Feb. 4, 2020.

The mother of two never thought her new job could change so quickly.

"It was totally different from what I expected," she said. "Instead of going to different events, visiting elders, we needed to respond to emergency situations: citizens calling, panicking sometimes, people losing their jobs."

Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada
Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada

She said working remotely came with its own challenges.

"We needed to work from home most of the time. It was not very easy since I'm a mom too. I needed to take care of my kids while having, like, 10 hours of meetings a day."

One of Boutin's biggest challenges was trying to keep in touch with her constituents while her offices were closed.

"It was tough to reach people and to know if they needed some help or not," she told CBC. So Boutin and her team started reaching out to community groups and organizations in her riding.

Université Laval and two CEGEPS are located within Jean-Talon. Boutin said she was particularly worried about the impact the pandemic restrictions were having on students.

"Imagine spending months in your room studying in front of your computer: you don't see your friends, you don't party. It's pretty tough for them. So we needed to contact them and just have a chat."

Boutin said she's really looking forward to the day when she can meet more people face-to-face.

"I went into politics for that," she said.

Communication problems

Québec solidaire MNA Sol Zanetti told CBC that this year, he felt the very nature of his job had changed.

"A big part of an MNA's job is to feel what people are feeling, to be sensitive to what's happening, to really be there to listen. So the fact that we couldn't meet people in person, that was a big difference," he said.

He said the alternative means of communicating with people weren't as "satisfying" and didn't always convey additional layers of meaning.

Communication in general proved a challenge, with Zanetti being bombarded with requests for information that he wasn't always able to supply.

"A lot of people were asking so many questions. They wanted clarification about the government's message and often we didn't even have the information to give them. So we would turn back to the CIUSSS (regional health and social services authority), for example."

Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada
Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada

Zanetti gave the example of a martial arts studio — was it considered a gym? Did it have to close? The regional health authority referred its questions to the Health Ministry, which couldn't answer either.

"A lot of people have really concrete problems, really good questions. And we were trying to get answers for them, but it was not easy because the government didn't think everything through when it decided to do a partial lockdown," he said.

Zanetti, who represents the riding of Jean-Lesage, also became a father in October.

"It's a weird year, 2020. It's of course a terrible year for the planet, a terrible year for a lot of people. But I have this kid who is born and she doesn't know about the pandemic yet. She will understand later. It's just a bundle of joy and it's wonderful."

Unique challenges

Jennifer Maccarone, Liberal MNA for Westmount–Saint-Louis, said her work has been affected by the impact COVID-19 has had on the downtown core of Montreal.

This means businesses, urban dwellers and the homeless population have been facing unique challenges this year.

"Downtown Montreal has definitely become a ghost town," she said. "I can say having walked the riding recently, from one end to the other, there's almost no people."

CBC
CBC

She said meeting with business owners and hearing their stories has really personalized the challenges they are facing.

"It's heartbreaking to know there's very little that I can do to support them, other than other bring their voice to the National Assembly," she said.

Personally, she said things have been tough, not only taking care of her constituents but also spending time with her son who has autism.

"As a mom, it's tough to see your kid struggle," she said. "COVID is extra difficult for people who have special needs. It has been particularly trying for my son who has absolutely had some dark moments …the only social network that you often have, when you have special needs, is school."

Despite all the trials, Maccarone said she remains optimistic about the future.

"I'm an infinitely hopeful person, so I'm waiting for the after-COVID because I'm hoping for some normalcy, to be able to start seeing people again and support my kids in the way that they need to be supported."