Legault’s dominance in Quebec is more of a compromise than a crisis

Some business people say they’d rather be lucky than good at what they do.

In the case of newly re-elected Quebec Premier François Legault, it can sometimes be difficult to separate his strategy from his good fortune.

Recognizing, as Legault did when he founded the Coalition Avenir a decade ago, that this province’s myopic nationalist political class was on a collision course with modernity required a healthy dose of foresight. , wisdom and patience in the face of critics who predicted that his generically titled giant tent would be an uninspiring flop.

That no caquiste has well conceptualized the so-called “autonomist” model of Quebec-Canada relations, that the Legault government is deliberately overzealous in its cultural policies (laws on language and secularism 96 and 21) and that the Prime Minister reneging on a signed deal The pledge to implement his own Democracy Minister’s welcomed electoral reforms in 2019 appears to be of secondary concern to voters in times of crisis.

Legault has masterfully positioned himself as an intergenerational guardian, a father figure (as former pundit and new CAQ MP Bernard Drainville put it on election night) for nationalists as the movement has been portrayed as one that enters a phase of gerontologizationsystematizing preparations for the end of life (at least the predominant ethnocentric variety that dominated much of the Quebec political establishment in the wake of the Quiet Revolution).

As political parties around the world polarize, the CAQ offered Quebeckers a pragmatic but, for federalists, somewhat problematic constitutional compromise: withdrawing from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on issues related to culture and the predominance of the French language. This quiet compromise between federalism and sovereignism seems to suit federal liberals, content to signal virtue over minority rights, leaving those affected by late-stage improvised nationalist policies to fend for themselves in court or descaleto leave unceremoniously to pursue opportunities in more liberal jurisdictions.

Collapse of the opposition

As controversial as he is, Legault is arguably the most successful Canadian prime minister of the current era. His domination of Quebec politics, however, is due to the confluence of a few factors, some of which are beyond his control.

Today’s CAQ is the second iteration, the first being a broader and more centrist coalition of federalists, soft nationalists without commitment and a few disgruntled sovereignists; it was trying to be too much and didn’t work, ending in two consecutive third-place finishes for Legault. The Liberals remained the uncontested option for the Federalists, and the CAQ struggled to find its footing until 2015, when it turned to the nationalist centre-right of the political spectrum in a successful attempt to siphon off Parti Québécois voters instead.

Legault’s re-engagement with the ethnocentric policies he had previously abandoned with the PQ has alienated a minority of federalist-leaning CAQs, including the party’s founding president and current Liberal opposition leader Dominique Anglade, who resigned in 2018. citing concerns about Legault’s increasingly “radical” discourse on Identity and Immigration. Yet she didn’t share much about previously expressed concerns about the CAQ’s ethnocentric pivot. Being vague about liberal values ​​was a strategic mistake and part of a failed attempt by liberals to appeal to an overserved nationalist demographic.

In the months leading up to the election, Anglade went so far as to side with Prime Minister Legault and the sovereignist Bloc Québécois in demanding the federal government reverses the decision of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, allowing Quebec to retain a disproportionate number of seats in Parliament. Equally eager to appease the nationalists, regardless of the corrosive effect on democracy, the federal Liberals joined their provincial counterparts in agreeing to this and other illiberal compromises.

Anglade and his strategists have succumbed to a popular nationalist media narrative that positions Quebecers as clear supporters of ethnocentric policies when even the most favorable polls on these issues do not convincingly support the thesis.

Despite the nudge from flattering nationalist pundits, Legault also went virtually unchallenged by the second and third opposition leaders, both sovereignists whose policies are simply too radical for mainstream voters.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a prominent figure in the province’s historic student protests in 2012 and now co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire, has pledged to spend more than half a billion dollars exploring sovereignty, even though a majority of his own polled supporters rejected the idea.

Even more inexplicable praise went to another struggling sovereigntist revolutionary, PQ leader Paul St. Pierre Plamondon, who finished fourth; this included a victory in his own constituency, made possible when his QS opponent withdrew, filmed removing PQ flyers from the mailbox of an east Montreal resident.

Media praise including Nadeau-Dubois and Saint-Pierre Plamondon, the idealistic, youthful and well-marked sovereignists of the next generation, continues to be out of step with the opinions of Quebec voters who granted them eleven and three seats respectively; only about 1.2 million Quebecers can bear to vote for a sovereignist party.

Experts have described them as the most motivated candidates, but for progressive, cosmopolitan and anti-racist Quebecers, it must be increasingly difficult to generate enthusiasm for sovereignist ideologues who, for example, casually utter the word N on television during an official election debate.

This period of reflection and realignment of Quebec politics will raise important questions about the merits of ethnocentric nationalism, including: Are we this different from other Canadians, as Vallières and his descendants suggest? The continued unpopularity of sovereigntist parties despite the amplification of nationalist media suggests that the issue is almost settled.

Democratic détente or crisis?

Although Legault’s lopsided victory was made all the easier due to the incompetence of the opposition, the fact of the result – 90 seats for the CAQ against 35 for the opposition parties – led to numerous calls from all political backgrounds to implement a Mixed Member Proportional model in time for the next election.

A Radio-Canada simulation based on the latest electoral reform proposal crafted by the Quebec government during the CAQ’s first term shows that Legault would still have won a majority, albeit less convincingly.

“François Legault received three times more votes than his nearest rival and it is a scandal that he governs by majority”, observed the nationalist pundit Mario Dumont, himself a victim of the Westminster model as a former leader of a defunct startup party. After nearly two decades, the Action Démocratique (ADQ) was absorbed by the CAQ; it peaked as official opposition in 2007, and Dumont turned to punditry soon after. “I dare to imagine how those speaking out have managed to get a good night’s sleep since Erin O’Toole was thrown back into opposition with one percent more votes than Justin Trudeau!”

The only leader who could claim a semi-legitimate Democratic grievance could ironically be populist Éric Duhaime, leader of the Conservative Party of Quebec, who received around 100,000 votes less than QS but could not win a single seat.

There is something to be said about the threshold of legitimacy imposed on political parties by the system, however obsolete it may be. A former radio talk show host and strategist for the defunct ADQ, Duhaime’s irresponsible courting of the skeptical vaccine vote and fearmongering over pandemic restrictions lifted months ago are markers of the kind of populist movement potentially subversive as the most ardent supporters of the system would say, for the sake of national stability, must be kept out of government.

What is the problem?

Legault is a pragmatist and negotiator who co-founded Air Transat from the ashes of a former regional carrier – it’s safe to assume that much about his successful middle ground has yet to be revealed.

The CAQ has benefited from an agreement, verbal or not, with Ottawa on the rights of minorities in Quebec.

Given that it is led by a liberal named Trudeau, the lack of formal resistance to the CAQ’s separatist agenda by the federal government has come as a surprise to say the least to disillusioned Quebec liberals and a plethora of minority groups. How long will the federal government tolerate violations of minority rights?

Quebec’s shifting demographics—mostly left-leaning millennials and younger cohorts overwhelmingly rejecting ethnocentric nationalism—make this province one of the most progressive, tolerant, and, as Legault fears, “awakened” societies in North America. . In the meantime, uncomfortable compromises are being made to ease a transition away from baby boomer identity politics.

There is something about the current era of Quebec-Canada relations that seems inevitably designed – by pollsters, pundits and consultants – to foment apathy among federalists and sovereignists, to avoid difficult conversations about the of Quebecers and Canadians on human rights, and how these shared values ​​should be expressed in the Constitution.

Once their time in politics is over, perhaps Legault and Trudeau will argue that the compromise was a necessary transitional period for Quebec; others would counter that the demographic shift away from nationalism is already irreversible and that these leaders lack the courage to recognize a new reality.

What seems indisputable is that Legault’s compromise is what Quebecers find acceptable at the moment, given the choices available to them. His victory was not aided by voter suppression techniques, there is no evidence of widespread corruption in government, and his four opponents received significant, if not disproportionate, media attention.

It was as fair a fight as the system allows under the circumstances, and as traditional political movements struggle to find relevance in increasingly polarized environments, the challenge for opposition forces in Quebec will be to look beyond beyond this transitional time to engage new voters with bold and pragmatic strategies. ideas. They will have to, as Legault says with a phrase that resonated, look away from the old bafflesthe old constitutional disputes that neither contemporary nationalist nor federalist leaders have the ability to resolve.

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