Photo: Ryan Reimorz/La Presse Canadienne

What Can We Expect From Quebec's New Right-Wing Government?

François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec has four years of majority government ahead of it.

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Oct 2 2018, 3:18pm

Photo: Ryan Reimorz/La Presse Canadienne

This article originally appeared on VICE Quebec.

François Legault will be Quebec's next premier. The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) won 74 seats in Monday's election, far more than the 63 required for a majority in the National Assembly. For the CAQ, the result amounts to a gain of more than 50 seats compared to 2014 and the opportunity to form a government for the first time since the party was founded in 2011.

The left-wing Québec Solidaire (QS) was Monday's other big winner. Not only did the party elect MPs in Quebec City, the Eastern Townships and the Abitibi region—its first batch of seats off the Island of Montreal—the party went from 7% to 16% of the popular vote, and will now have 10 members in the National Assembly.

Legault's victory ends the almost continuous reign of the Liberal Party of Quebec since 2003. With its 32 seats, the Liberal caucus headed back to the National Assembly is the smallest it's been since 1976, the year René Lévesque was elected premier. Their 25% share of the popular vote is the smallest in party history.

The Parti Québécois, meanwhile, may never recover from Monday's results. Support for the PQ has cratered: with nine MPs and 17% of the popular vote, the PQ will no longer enjoy official party status, depriving it of financial resources and speaking time in the National Assembly. PQ leader Jean-François Lisée didn't even manage to win his riding of Rosemont, which flipped to Québec Solidaire.

The humiliation of the PQ is one thing, but we shouldn't minimize the extent of voters' dissatisfaction with the Liberal Party. Even in 2012, when it was narrowly defeated by the Parti Quebecois at the height of the student crisis and the Charbonneau Commission's corruption investigations, the PLQ still nearly won the popular vote, losing by less than a percentage point. The CAQ beat them by 13 points Monday night.

With his victory on Monday, François Legault nonetheless finds himself facing a big question: apart from "not being governed by the Liberals" what do Quebeckers actually want? And will they be as patient with the CAQ as they have been with the PLQ?

When it was elected in 2012, the PQ government of Pauline Marois tried to fill this void with fear and demagoguery—and was quickly sent back to the opposition benches after 20 chaotic months in power. Legault's campaign suggests he's not above mining the same territory as his predecessor. His key promise throughout the campaign was to reduce immigration rates by 20% and impose French-language and "values" tests on newcomers. If Legault proved incapable of explaining exactly how he would go about putting those promises into place, his indifference to their consequences was obvious. "We are not talking about expelling citizens: they are people who would not have obtained citizenship. "

Unlike the PQ, however, Legault and his party aren't particularly ideological. The number of former Liberals and Péquistes in the CAQ is a testament to this, as is the number of former Caquistes in the other parties. It is probably in the nature of a party that champions neither federalism nor sovereignty not to be too dogmatic about much of anything at all.

The other advantage Legault might have is the premature wear of Justin Trudeau's government in Ottawa, especially with the announcement on Monday of the renewal of the North American Free Trade Agreement (sorry, the United States Agreement-Mexico-Canada). Much to the displeasure of Quebec's dairy producers , the new version of the treaty will allow US producers to export milk to Canada. During the campaign, the renegotiation of the agreement had prompted the four main parties to stand together and become spokespersons for the local dairy industry. Evidently, no one in Ottawa paid much attention, but Philippe Couillard would have had much more trouble than Legault to explain how little sway the province had over the final version of the treaty. And if Quebeckers are still pissed the deal a year from now, they will have the opportunity to say so in the 2019 federal election. Legault only has to cheer from the sidelines.

The most interesting issue facing a Caquiste government may be its commitment to reforming Quebec's electoral system. The CAQ, the PQ and Québec Solidaire have all committed to adopting a mixed proportional system, which would ensure each party's representation in the National Assembly better reflects their share of the vote. This would prevent, for example, a party taking 60% of the seats with 40% of the vote ... as the CAQ did Monday night. To believe such a reform is imminent, you now have to believe Legault would risk a second majority to make it happen, which seems unlikely.

More pressing for the Legault government is just what it plans to do when weed becomes legal in a few weeks. The CAQ campaigned on imposing two new restrictions on the province's weed smokers: the first would raise the legal age of consumption to 21 and the second would ban smoking in all public places. It's almost enough to make us nostalgic for the absurdities contained in the existing law.

Finally, if this is indeed the end of a long Liberal reign, we should at least acknowledge that in spite of the moral panic around immigration and refugees, Philippe Couillard chose to campaign on increasing the number of immigrants to Quebec. Those people who are paid to advise him no doubt begged Couillard to do otherwise, but the outgoing premier opted defend his vision of an open and welcoming Quebec, and thus prevented an anti-immigration consensus from taking hold inside a majority of Quebec's political parties. It's just too bad he didn't do the same when it came to letting the province's Muslim women board a bus.