In a widely anticipated move, former Parti Québecois major player, François Legault has announced the creation of a new centre right political grouping: the Coalition for the Future of Quebec. First “soft” launched via You Tube video, ex-PQ Minister Legault, a founder of Air Transat, followed up by holding a press conference, where he shared the podium with another businessman, Charles Sirois of Fido, a noted federalist. Not yet officially a party, Legault’s Coalition has two years until the next Quebec election to get itself ready.
Legault has taken dead aim at both the Quebec Liberal party and the PQ. The governing Liberals are struggling to escape charges of corruption in the construction industry. The opposition PQ will not be able to mount an effective alternative to the government, Legault believes, because the commitment by the PQ to hold a third sovereignty referendum (at a time of its choosing) weakens its appeal too much, for too many people, for the PQ to win an election.
With the Liberals unpopular, and the PQ dominated by a hard-line sovereignist faction that limits its appeal, Legault sees an open road ahead for his group. With no effective government-in-waiting on the provincial scene, Legault expects a new party could replace the governing Liberals, whose leader Jean Charest has discredited himself with some 80 per cent of voters.
Legault looks to Francophone Quebec for his support. His appeal to old stock Quebec Liberal and PQ voters is that he will always remain true to the French language and home culture. More importantly, he expects to be seen as a savior of the economy, sensitizing the population to the “crisis” of the indebted public sector. Legault believes people will agree his business-like approach can save Quebec from the corrupt Liberals, and the adventurers in the PQ.
Legault clearly wants the centre-right of the PQ to be attracted to his strategy of setting aside the national question in order to concentrate on the “economy,” a code word for government retrenchment.
It is unlikely that Pauline Marois will let him get away with using the language of the right-wing Montreal Economic Institute (incubated by the Fraser Institute) to badmouth the achievements of the Quebec state, and Quebec’s distinct economic model, without putting up a fight. In a left versus right dustup, it is the Liberals who will be fighting Legault, to see who can be the champion of the right.
Not taking the Coalition initiative lightly, Premier Charest upstaged Legault’s press conference, by choosing the same day to announce “return to work” legislation, designed to end the well publicized strike by provincial crown prosecutors, and other justice staff. Charest followed up by presenting a wide range of wildly ambitious proposals in his augural speech to the legislature, that included specific measures on education, which was the main subject of the Legault press conference.
Taking a position long associated with the Fraser Institute, Legault wants teachers to be ranked by merit, and paid according to the results obtained by their students in province wide testing. In contrast, Charest called for teachers to be equipped with the latest in tablet computing, and operate in a wired classroom.
The creation of a new centre right political party has been discussed for months. It comes out of a debate that has raged over nearly 10 years between left and right in Quebec. The left, known as the Solidarity group, created its own political party Québec Solidaire (QS). In its second try, the QS elected one member of the National Assembly, Amir Khadar, co-leader of the party (along with well known feminist François David) is a medical doctor who has managed in his first term to make himself the most popular member of the legislature, according to opinion polling. In favour of sovereignty, and socialism, the QS has not yet been successful in attracting PQ voters in large numbers.
The Legault initiative can be linked back to former PQ Premier Lucien Bouchard who was seen as the main figure involved in the Manifesto for a Lucid Quebec, the right wing grouping. Unhappy with the build-up of provincial debt, the Lucid group produced a shopping list of business-friendly measures, supposedly to deal with it.
The Legault Coalition has a lot of work to do just to field candidates and contest an election. There is some suggestion Legault will either absorb (or be invited to take over and lead) the small Action Démocratique (AD) party, a right-wing populist grouping that rose to be the official opposition under the charismatic Mario Dumont, until falling back to third-party status.
Legault is betting that Francophone Quebec is prepared to unite around his leadership. However, it is unlikely that all that is needed for electoral success is the right leader, and not too many people asking pointed questions. Legault has two messages: he wants Quebec to put the sovereignty issue in the closet; and adopt a right wing economic program. On both questions, he can expect lots of opposition.
Duncan Cameron writes weekly on politics and is president of rabble.ca.