François Legault is the New Canadian Electoral Giant
By: Luke Montalbano
Francois Legault has dominated the electoral map of Quebec according to every single poll released since 2018. This momentum has continued as the official campaign period for the 2022 General Election has begun. Photo Credit: CTV News Montreal.
The Quebec general election has officially been called for the third of October, and all predictions point to a Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) victory under Francois Legault. This outcome will be of no surprise for political pundits and pollsters across Canada. The CAQ has built an indomitable political machine since the party’s victory in 2018, and has consistently flirted with over 40% predicted support in the polls. The reasoning for the monopolisation of the Quebec electorate by the CAQ, a party founded only 11 years ago, has a multitude of factors, including a fundamental shift in the issues Quebec voters now care about.
Prior to the 2018 Quebec general election, the Parti Quebecois and the Parti Liberal du Quebec were the primary competitive coalitions in the province. These two parties were not totally divided along economic and social lines, but rather on how they viewed Quebec’s relationship with Canada. The former was predicated upon a belief in gradual independence for Quebec (they even managed to hold two elections, of which one was decided by one percent); the latter was a coalition of federalists, those across the political spectrum who believed that Quebec should remain within Canada. This difference defined Quebec politics from 1973 until, as mentioned earlier, 2018.
The election of 2018 caused the destruction of the aforementioned political status quo in the province with the election of Francois Legault and the CAQ to a majority government in the National Assembly. Unlike the Parti Quebecois or the Parti Liberal du Quebec, the CAQ generally avoided campaigning on the issues of sovereignty or federalism. Although the same strategy was employed in 2012 and 2014 by the CAQ to highly limited success, it appears that fatigue of the traditional Quebecois parties had settled into the minds of much of the Quebec electorate. This fatigue culminated in the CAQ jumping from third party to governing with a majority government and jumping up in the popular vote by over 14% from 2014. From here, the CAQ was able to entrench themselves as the new “natural governing party,” as the Liberal Party of Canada did during the 1960s and 1970s.
Instead of appealing to outright sovereignty or federalism, Legault instead promised a form of soft nationalism that intended to devolve federal powers without causing the political destabilisation that was definitive of the 1970s through to the 1990s. Legault’s overarching strategy is to rally the Quebec populace around specific pieces of legislation that appear to further strengthen the defence of Quebec culture and language. These moves are further supported by contraventions of federal and judicial oversight through the use of constitutional loopholes. I do not mean to imply that these contraventions are necessarily negative, but that they serve as a means to rally Quebecers around the provincial government rather than the federal government.
The two primary pieces of legislation that have come to define the nationalist approach of Legault were Bill 21 and Bill 96, both of which were controversial across Canada at-large but widely popular within the province of Quebec. The former stressed the importance of secularism within Quebec society, much like secularism laws in France. In fact, the policies implemented in Bill 21 are nearly mirror images of those proposed within the last two decades in the French National Assembly. The latter, on the other hand, was far more sweeping in that it aimed to protect the French language in industry, education, and social services through regulation and mandated French language programs, including for new immigrants.
Both have widespread support, but division over the bills is most prevalent between Francophones and Anglophones instead of any other demographic category. Bill 21, for example, is supported by nearly 60% of Francophone Quebecers, while only 30% of Anglophone Quebecers support the enactment. This results in 55% support for Bill 21 across Quebec, according to Leger. However, despite the division, Legault seems as if he is cruising for a landslide victory in the coming election. All polls put him at above 40% of the popular vote, usually closer to 50%, and his party is expected to win a super majority in the National Assembly.
With the Liberal Party of Quebec in shambles, the Parti Quebecois nearly non-existent, and Quebec Solidaire as a non-contender, the CAQ only needs to worry about vote splitting with the Conservative Party of Quebec. Nevertheless, in the regions in which the Conservatives are strong, the CAq have already run up the margins by such a large extent that only a minor few seats are becoming competitive. Added to this, never once has Legault dropped below first place in polling since his election in 2018. The Premier of Quebec has built a strong coalition of moderates and conservative nationalists, seeking to break away from the traditional federalist-sovereignist axis. Clearly, a large plurality of Quebecers share a similar mindset. Legault has truly built the next Canadian electoral machine.
Written by Luke Montalbano