Promises made despite the pandemic, a report from the CAQ
François Legault in the election campaign.
In the Balance sheet of the CAQ government, between nationalism and pandemic, four political scientists from UQAM and Université de Laval provide a comprehensive portrait of François Legault's party's four years in power. A book that helps to better understand what makes the strength of François Legault's party, especially among French-speaking voters.
François Legault and the Coalition avenir Québec, are moving calmly towards a more than probable re-election. In the lead with a very large lead in voting intentions, more than twenty points ahead of the Liberals, it seems unlikely that the CAQ will fail on October 3.
So… What is the CAQ's balance sheet? She wants to “continue”, but in which direction? Is the election a foregone conclusion?
Thanks to a high proportion of fulfilled promises, the outgoing government managed to maintain a high popularity rate.
Subway met Lisa Maureen Birch, associate professor at Laval University, member of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CAPP) and professor at Cégep Champlain-Saint-Lawrence. Co-author of the book which will be published on September 7, she has produced the reports of the Couillard (2018) and Trudeau (2019) governments. She gives us keys to better understand the CAQ's record, and its political future prospects. -first-caquiste-government”>What stands out from the four years of the first caquiste government?
What stands out is that this is a government that despite everything, despite a pandemic, is putting a lot of effort into trying to fulfill as many promises as possible. Even if the Prime Minister wanted a score of 100% of promises fulfilled, he does not succeed. The CAQ nevertheless also made political gestures apart from meritorious promises. For example, they took the issues of femicide and domestic violence seriously by creating a special line for legal aid. They ran social marketing ads to raise awareness of the issues and encourage people to seek help. Several areas where the CAQ has acted even without promises.
But some promises that were at the forefront, such as 4-year-old kindergarten, could not be realized because private companies are currently in difficulty. There is a shortage of manpower, especially qualified personnel.
To what extent has the shortage of personnel limited the government?
We often forget that the state provides services to citizens that require highly qualified human resources. We saw it last week with the number of teachers missing. [The shortage] is likely to be an issue in the election campaign. It creates pressure everywhere. The promise to solve the problem with daycare, he could not do it, because he lacks people. You could say that he still tried to go ahead with several promises. What may have helped him was the fact that several ministers remained in office throughout the term. I think I understand his slogan better, because four years is a very short time to make a lot of changes.
François Legault regularly brandishes the pandemic in the face of criticism on his record, is it exaggerated to his part?
During the mandate, [Mr. Legault] realized that you can't always keep a promise that seems very simple and obvious, without having more personnel resources. During the pandemic, the borders were closed or not very porous, it was difficult for him to have labor immigration as a solution. Somehow, it is legitimate to say that he could not fulfill certain promises. Labor is key, because in public services, especially in the areas of health and education, you need qualified personnel. To attract it, you need to have attractive salaries and working conditions. The CAQ had promised to eliminate mandatory overtime (TSO) [for health professionals]. But the system was already under pressure and the pandemic just made things worse.
The CAQ put an end to decades of alternation between Liberals and PQs. How is his way of doing politics different?
What was very striking in the mandate of the CAQ was the foregrounding of nationalism. It’s partly a return to autonomist nationalism, where we aim to have the greatest autonomy within Canada where also, from the jurisdiction of Quebec, we adopt laws like Bill 21 to defend culture, Quebec values and French. For Francophone voters, this aspect of the CAQ's policies is satisfactory, hence its fairly strong support among Francophones. Quebecers are not really interested in returning to a polarization of the debate between federalists and separatists. We see that the two traditional parties are having a lot of difficulties at the start of the campaign.
If she were re-elected, how will relations between Ottawa and Quebec evolve?
I expect the CAQ to solidify its ties with the other provinces and that they form a common front against Ottawa. Provinces seek to obtain powers in immigration and to solve the problems related to manpower, others ask for the increase of the transfers in health. Starting with Bill 96, he incorporated a modification of the Canadian constitution by recognizing Quebec and the French fact. I wonder if in the second mandate, he will not use this to leverage and obtain more powers in terms of culture or immigration.
In this election campaign, what is his position against his opponents?
It's going to be to defend his record and say “even though we had the pandemic and even though we are a new political party, we have demonstrated that our ministers have lived up to the demands”. We can see that he has put a lot of resources into facilitating francization. He will defend his nationalist, but also economic record. His big project is to ensure that the economy of Quebec exceeds that of Ontario. [François Legault] has put resources to encourage young people to continue their studies in key areas such as artificial intelligence or engineering, and he has supported the battery production and electric transport sectors. Except that to reap the benefits of these investments, it takes time. However, if the economy goes into recession, it will be very difficult for him or any party to offer a tax cut.
The CAQ is well ahead of all the polls, where does its overwhelming popularity come from?
They have the support of both his base, older voters and Francophones outside the Montreal area. They also benefit from the weakness of other political parties, which fail to impose themselves. Even on Qc125, the real race in this election is for 2nd place. It’s as if the CAQ went as far as they could on nationalism to encroach on the Parti Québécois. On the economic side, she instilled this entrepreneurial spirit to take the place of the liberals on the economic discourse. We'll see, there will be the leaders' debate – the CAQ must make sure to defend its record well, not to make too many blunders or insults to other parties. It didn’t go so well last Sunday when he failed to name the leader of the Liberal Party [Dominique Anglade], whom he had called “la madame”.
So what are the dangers for the Coalition avenir Québec?
The first is being overconfident. If they become arrogant, it can annoy a lot of voters. I think there may be some potential breakthroughs from the Conservative Party, in Beauce in particular. With particular regional dynamics, if voters see the CAQ guaranteed to win, we can expect them to come out to vote against it. The one who is perhaps the least difficult to define himself is QS. If the popular vote does not want to go to the polls, it’s a risk for them. People tend to support him but won't vote.
If the CAQ won an overwhelming majority, would Quebec democracy be in danger?
In a democracy, we need to have a strong opposition, and there we have a somewhat fragmented opposition. It is difficult to say who could form a government and replace the CAQ. It has already benefited greatly from the weakness of the other parties. During [the pandemic], it was the CAQ in place and the other political parties did not have much coverage in the media. During a mandate, we also evaluate the performance of the other parties, which try to present themselves to the voters as an alternative option. During the next term, the media will have an important role to play in being a bit of the official opposition, since the real opposition is weak.