The Bloc Québécois’ Robert Bouchard doesn’t have to look far for reasons to make the Saguenay a better place to live: three of his four children have decamped for greener pastures, and the MP for Chicoutimi-Le Fjord says it’s time for the federal government to help stop the exodus. “We should have more of our children living here,” he says. But with the local economy in a tailspin, many young residents are packing up and moving on. According to the latest census data, while the number of seniors in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean grew by 16 per cent between 2001 and 2006, the number of people under 45 shrank by 14 per cent.
Since winning his seat in 2004, Bouchard has shown a near single-minded focus on bringing the Saguenay’s economic problems to Ottawa’s attention, which has helped earn him the recognition of his colleagues this year as the MP who best represents his constituents. “Even when I’m speaking about national subjects,” he says, “I’ll always bring up a citizen, or an organization, or a village, or a sector that’s having trouble. My riding comes before everything else.”
Most recently, Bouchard rallied MPs behind a bill that would see Ottawa offer recent graduates up to $8,000 in tax credits for working in economically depressed areas like the Saguenay. Thanks to the support of all three opposition parties, Bouchard’s proposal made it through the House of Commons last month and is currently before the parliamentary finance committee—a rare feat for a private member’s bill.
Long considered a Bloc stronghold, the Saguenay has been among the most hotly contested regions in Quebec in recent elections. In fact, Bouchard’s riding now shares its borders with those of Tory cabinet ministers Denis Lebel and Jean-Pierre Blackburn. But Bouchard says his relationship with voters is fundamentally different than that of his neighbours. “Lebel and Blackburn come here to explain Ottawa’s decisions,” he says. “I take people’s concerns and bring them to Ottawa.”