As an astute and cunning politician, François Legault has finally figured out Québec politics. The English and French media are scratching their heads with half of them jumping to label his party as right-wing and the other half pointing to some of his more left-leaning policies. Legault begins his platform with an appeal to “real change”, telling Québec voters that the CAQ will not be tied down by the ideological battles of left and right in their policies.
The CAQ’s value system is sufficiently vague to appeal to Québec voters who are long tired of the corruption scandals of the PLQ, the pipe-dream of secession promised by the PQ, and the outlandish and dysfunctional maxims of QS. However, Legault does have the strangest way of going about devolving power in populist fashion, while at the same time, using the strong arm of the state to achieve his ends.
The asymmetries are rampant. He wants to create a Natural Resources Fund for the Plan Nord, but shies away from shale gas exploitation at a time when experts are saying it could blunt the effects of carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time that CAQ is proposing a major downloading of powers to the municipal level, he plans to intervene in reducing the number of city councillors in the metropolitan of Montréal and place the city’s transit planning management under provincial jurisdiction. While barring foreign takeovers of Québec companies, CAQ would like to see the federal government promote Québec products on foreign markets. Legault wants to crack down on immigration numbers, but in the same breath, he promotes “openness to the world” and wants to integrate skilled immigrants into the labour market.
Legault is not a fiscal conservative when it comes to health and education, though he may be firmly against corruption and the bloated size of government (similar to another party’s platform for change in a nearby province). Legault’s tuition hike is notably lower than the figures proposed by PLQ. He wants to artificially increase college and university graduation rates. He aims to reduce the number of 60 French school boards to 30 regional service centres, while extending the number of hours for children attending high schools to combat juvenile delinquency. I expect that the statistic of 3 to 5 p.m. the highest rates of youth crime will now jump to 5 to 7 p.m.
His foray into healthcare is equally mixed. Legault promises to try public-private partnerships in healthcare with a pilot project in which doctors could be paid by the private sector after they have worked a sufficient number of hours in a public establishment. One of his pillar health care promises is to provide a doctor for every family in Québec, but good luck trying to make it mandatory for those doctors to work on-call in communities during evenings and weekends to meet the demand. He also seems to have overlooked the eHealth scandal in Ontario because the party is committing to the implementation of a personal electronic health record for each Quebecker.
Furthermore, Legault promises a war on religion. CAQ will eliminate the Ethics and Religious Culture course set up in the primary and secondary schools in Québec following his reform of the school boards. The party also makes a commitment to ushering in a French-styled secularism by putting an end to religious accommodations. Measures include the removal of religious signs on the person of “State” representatives and removal of head coverings for the purposes of identification in the provision of “State” services.
As for the CAQ's separatist underbelly, Legault made the rather confusing statement that "a Coalition Avenir Québec government will not promote Quebec sovereignty and will not promote Canadian unity". The traditional French Canadian passive aggressiveness to federalism finally appears with a whole section of the platform dedicated to reinforcing job-killing language laws. A CAQ government would also try to negotiate a constitutional amendment to bar bridging schools that enable the right to a subsidized English education based on the child’s previous enrolment in a non-subsidized English school. One thing is sure: Anglophones are far from welcome in Legault’s vision of Québec.
Legault’s message is clear: We are not the PLQ, we are not the PQ, and we are not even remotely like the NDP-vetted QS. He’s running almost along the same lines as Obama did: I’m not Bush. Let’s see how that messaging works out.