Some New Skin in the Game: Understanding Québec’s New Government

François Legault, Leader of the CAQ and Premier designate of Quebec

François Legault, Leader of the CAQ and Premier designate of Quebec

This article aims to be as neutral as possible, however, any bias or partisanship does not reflect the opinion of the LIA, only that of the author.

On October the 1st, 2018, for the first time in nearly five decades, the Québec people have not chosen the Liberals or the Parti Québecois. To those who are unfamiliar with current politics in the province, this may not sound like “that big of a deal”; however, it marks another step in a country-wide shift in politics. This new party, just 7 years old this November, is known colloquially as CAQ (pronounced "Cahck"), an acronym standing for “Coalition Avenir Québec” - in English, “Coalition for Québec’s Future”. François Legault is standing as the leader for the newly elected party and, after the results of yesterday's election, as incumbent Premier. The CAQ has taken the election with a clear majority government, attaining 74 of the 125 seats. The Liberals and Parti Québécois suffered massive losses, each reaching their lowest point since the 70’s - the PQ even losing their official party status. With this momentous change, comes confusion and, often, fear. So, we will attempt to break down the main points of Legault’s campaign and any projections for the future of Québec, as it now stands.

Beginning with the most divisive issue, especially among outsiders viewing the election; The CAQ has promised to take a hard stance when it comes to immigration in Québec. One of Legault’s most famous lines being he will reduce immigration by 20%, cutting the number of immigrants by around 10,000. Some media sources have compared these policies to those of US President Donald Trump; while their ideals seem to be similarly placed, it is more indicative of a general trend among Western politics than the influence of any one man. From the UK to the Ontario, right-leaning politicians (mainly of the conservative persuasion) have been taking politics by storm. Such a phenomenon is not unusual, the bend of politics shifts constantly, often in noticeable cycles. It seems “the right” are being given their turn in the limelight, whether or not it will last depends on how well they use it.

What ties many of these right-wing politicians together is, most often, immigration. Like Legault, they wish to stop the erosion of their respective culture by immigration and excess refugees; contrasting with the popular left-wing mantra, “diversity is our strength”. However, the CAQ, in particular, came under some fire more recently, just before the vote, due to a few mistakes made on the part of the party leader. Legault incorrectly stated the number of years necessary as a permanent resident to apply for citizenship, later, also bungling the details of the citizenship test; the test is for those applying to be citizens, with Legault stating it was for permanent residency (to his credit, he asserts directly following that “I’ll double check to be certain, I’ll take it under advisement”). A key component to the CAQ’s new immigration plan is the “language and values test” which immigrants to Québec must take; the test assessing their knowledge of Canadian values (as set out in the Charter) and the French language. Many Canadians are worried that this test may be used as a method of illiberally discriminating against and deporting new immigrants.

Unfortunately, the specifics of the test and its exact usage remain a mystery - Québecers may have to wait until François Legault settles into office before they receive any specifics. What we do know, however, is Legault’s stated goal of revoking the immigration certificate and reporting to the federal government any person who cannot pass the test after three years. This test would also shift the burden of screening immigrants away from the federal government, towards the province of Québec. While it may be easy to get up in arms, in support or opposition, about the new test, it is necessary that we, as rational, free-thinking Canadians, reserve judgment until specifics become known.

Beyond immigration, Legault has outlined health care as a primary focus of his government. An important topic locally, Legault promised to give every citizen access to a health care provider (a family doctor or “super nurse”) within 36 hours. This comes after rampant complaints by rural (and poor) Québecers, who claim they are being forgotten and ignored within Québec’s healthcare system; it is much more difficult for those who live in the less populated, rurally dominated, North of the province to get in contact with a doctor. To accomplish this, Legault has taken a monetary approach. He claims the solution lies with the way in which we pay our doctors. A large problem with Québecs current system is, it encourages doctors to hoard appointments, without leaving room for follow-ups. Legault claims “For now, most of the amount we pay them is per volume. We think it must be per patient,” which means the doctors would be more inclined to delegate work to nurses and find more time for the ever-important follow-up. Campaign wise, the CAQ marketed this as a reprisal to “broken Liberal promise[s].” Still, they were criticised, especially by Liberal opposition, of not having a realistic outline of their plan. In fact, Jean-François Lisée, leader of the Parti Québécois, went so far as to say “They’re going to win the lottery when they find a lot of money in waste,” criticizing the massive spending needed to fulfill the promise. When it comes to accusations of political pipe dreams, one must keep in mind François Legault's history as an accountant, though, his political blinders could be keeping him from seeing the truth to his campaign promises. The CAQ is also pushing for a more decentralized healthcare system. This seems to be a more and more popular idea among the Canadian right, with PPC founder Maxime Bernier also vying for a hybrid health care system (which he compared to the British NHS), allowing the individual provinces to decide their healthcare set up.

Education has also been an important point in Legault's campaign, the largest claim being he will get rid of school boards. He says they will be replaced with service centres, which will decentralise the power in education, towards the schools and away from the board. In the recent debates, Legault lauded the boards for being bureaucratic and the election system which exists within them to be a failed attempt at democracy, co-opted by the higher-ups. It seems that this has struck a nerve with the anglophone communities, who have vowed to fight the removal of the school boards all the way up to a constitutional issue. The minority language boards are worried that once their boards are disbanded, they will lose their power to hold schools in their native language, something guaranteed by the boards. Legault has, however, assured them that this will not be the case, to seemingly no avail at present. The CAQ’s education plan also extends down to daycare and kindergarten. One important claim made by Legault is his promise to have every newborn tested for learning disabilities and developmental problems before they start kindergarten. Larger than that, though, the CAQ wishes to expand kindergarten to all four-year-olds in Québec; which Legault claims will help Québec children catch up with their Ontarian counterparts, who already start schooling at the age of four.

To finish, a few notes on other impacts and policies. Even though Legault claimed in his victory speech that the economy is one of the three most important parts of his government, it does not seem as though that is any more than your average economic promise; the economy being a relatively small issue this election, due to Québecs more recent economic prosperity. It also looks like Legault’s government will be clashing with that of Montréal; with the mayor, Valérie Plante, aiming for the addition of a new subway line, a costly measure Legault expressly wishes to avoid (in favour of above ground measures); Plante also stated, in response to Legault’s immigration policies, “Montréal will always be a welcoming city. We receive 75 per cent of new immigrants, and I’m very proud of that. So we’re going to do everything we can as a city to make people feel welcome.” Though her vision may differ from that of Legault on certain issues, she said she will actively work with the provincial government and has given Legault her full support. It has yet to be seen, though, how Legault reacts to the eco-centric policies of the Montréal mayor, with many of the CAQ’s positions on the environment being vague or last-minute. It seems the CAQ also wishes to institute a “Secular Charter” within the first year of his election; this charter would effectively ban the wearing of religious symbols and garb in the workplace, for those who “wield coercive state power”, such as police officers. Finally, the Legault has pledged to raise the legal age of consumption for marijuana from 18, to 21 years of age - making it three years higher than that of alcohol.

To some, this win ushers in a new, glorious age for Québec; for others, it represents the degradation of Québecois democracy. Whatever your stance, it is important to stay aware and stay informed, even if you live outside of the province. The impact of the CAQ will be far-reaching in Canada and could result in a few national headlines in the near future.

Sigmund ColeComment