By Scott Stirrett ‘22
Our first study tour was to Les Iles-de-la-Madeleine (Magdalen Islands), which are part of Quebec, but located between Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. The islands have a population of approximately 13,000 people and are overwhelmingly Francophone, although there is a small Anglophone minority. Over the tour we met with local leaders, such as Mayor Jonathan Lapierre, and learned about the opportunities and challenges facing the islands. While we discussed a variety of issues, there were three principal themes: the housing crisis, rural economic development, and bilingualism.
Fellows also learn from each other through informal moments that take place throughout the program. On this first study tour, I learned from my peers about everything from how municipalities approach inter-governmental relations to how faith-based communities support with refugee resettlement.
Take a look at the pictures from the first study tour. This was Action Canada’s first visit to Les Iles.
The housing crisis:
Much of the national media attention on the Canadian housing crisis focuses on Canada’s largest cities. But outside of urban epicentres, many rural communities are struggling to provide sufficient affordable housing to their residents.
After shrinking for many decades, the population of Les Iles began to grow again in 2016. This is driven by a variety of factors, including the relatively affordable cost of living relative to other places in Quebec, a booming local economy that has strong foundations in fisheries and tourism, and successful recruitment campaigns by the local government.
Like elsewhere in Canada, in recent years the cost of housing surged on the islands. The growing population compounded by a limited housing supply means that the real estate prices in the islands have increased much more rapidly than other rural regions of Quebec.
In addition to the population growth, there are many other reasons why the housing supply is insufficient. Because the islands are relatively isolated, it is expensive to build homes, making it difficult to increase the housing supply. Furthermore, many houses were converted into Airbnbs, which took away housing from permanent residents.
The local government is taking many measures to increase the housing supply, including limiting Airbnbs to secondary suites within a primary residence, and building affordable apartments in a new community that is called the “eco-quartier.”
One of my takeaways from the discussions is the important role that local and municipal governments play in addressing the housing crisis. Each community is different and as one the speakers in the study tour said, “one size fits no one.” The causes of the housing crisis are different in each community, meaning that municipalities need to tailor their approaches to local conditions.
“One size fits no one” – Speaker during the first study tour
Rural Economic Development:
On our second day of the study tour, we visited the Centre de recherche sur les milieux insulaires et maritimes (CERMIM), which is a non-profit based on the islands that develops projects related to the circular economy. For instance, one of their initiatives is to convert seashells into concrete. Their goal is to reduce waste and ensure that as many by-products as possible are re-used for other productive purposes.
The garbage from the islands is shipped to mainland Quebec, so there is a particularly strong imperative to foster a local circular economy. The work of CERMIM demonstrates how rural areas can be extremely innovative, finding new ways to do things better.
Bilingualism is a tremendous advantage for Canada. Approximately three in ten Canadians have knowledge of French and in Quebec 87% of the population speak French at home. Our country’s bilingual identity makes Canada more inclusive, diverse, and vibrant.
As an Acadian, I grew up with my grandparents regularly speaking French, and have many Francophone relatives. While my schooling was in English, later in life I embraced learning French and for the past 18 months I’ve worked regularly with a French tutor. The opportunity to improve my French helped me to reconnect with my Acadian identity and to further appreciate the culture of la Francophonie.
During the reflections at the end of the study tour, many of the Anglophone Fellows expressed the desire to improve their French. Canada is a bilingual country, meaning that being able to meaningfully converse in both official languages is a tremendous asset.
As a result of the trip, I gained an enhanced appreciation for the importance of protecting the French language in Canada, and I’m even more dedicated to improving my ability to work in French. My Acadian ancestors went through immense struggles for our language, culture, and identity to survive and I want to contribute to the bolstering of Canadian francophone identity.
The 2022-2023 Action Canada Fellows ended the first study tour with their hearts full of learnings and new friendships.
A key take-away from the trip was that policy making is a complex process and that as a policy maker it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Life is full of difficult decisions, all of which come with opportunity costs.
We can’t wait for the second study tour in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories!
Action Canada thanks the partners that made the trip possible: Government of Canada, Secrétariat aux relations canadiennes du Québec, PowerCorp of Canada, la Municipalité des Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Centre de recherche sur les milieux insulaires et maritimes (CERMIM).