As he ended nearly 50 years of two-party rule between the sovereignist Parti Québécois and the federalist Liberals, François Legault was quick to note the significance of the occasion.
“Today, we have marked history,” Legault, the Coalition Avenir Québec leader, told his jubilant supporters on Monday evening, after his party had thrashed the Quebec Liberals and PQ, clinching a comfortable majority in the National Assembly. "Today, there are a lot of Quebecers who have set aside a debate that has divided us for 50 years. Today, there are a lot of Quebecers who have demonstrated that it's possible to make the adversaries of yesterday work together to build the Quebec of tomorrow."
While he was referring to the end of nearly 50 years of two-party rule between the sovereignist Parti Québécois (PQ) and the federalist Liberals, there was another significant first, too, with Quebecers electing the first openly right-leaning government since the Union Nationale in 1966.
François Legault told reporters that he has three priorities for the early days of his government: the economy, education and healthcare. Here are seven things you need to know about Quebec's next premier.
(In 2003, Quebec elected Jean Charest's Liberals to form a majority government, based on promises to lower taxes for the middle class, while investing in healthcare — policies that were similar to what Charest had promised in campaigns when he was federal Progressive Conservative leader.)
Legault's 2018 breakthrough was quite a feat for a party that had been founded only seven years earlier.
The CAQ – pronounced ‘cack’ – was launched by Legault in 2011 as a coalition between Quebec nationalists and federalists who wanted to focus on the economy instead of debating Quebec's place in the Canadian Constitution. Winning 19 seats in 2012 and 22 seats in 2014, the party was swept to power this time by the Francophone vote in almost all regions of the province, including a breakthrough within the city limits of Montreal.
Here are seven things you need to know about Legault's victory.
What were Monday's results?
The CAQ picked up about 38 per cent of the votes in Monday's election, allowing it to win 74 seats in Quebec's 125-seat legislature. Premier Philippe Couillard's Liberals were reduced to official Opposition status with about 25 per cent of the vote and 32 seats. Liberal support was concentrated in English-speaking ridings of Montreal and the Outaouais, across the river from Ottawa.
Leader Jean-François Lisée's Parti Québécois only earned about 17 per cent of the vote and finished last, among the four major parties, with nine seats, while Québec solidaire, a sovereignist party that went into the campaign with only three sitting members, earned about 16 per cent of the popular vote, which was good enough for 10 seats, after the ballots were counted.
Who is François Legault?
Legault, 61, is a former airline executive who made millions of dollars cashing out his shares of Air Transat, the company he helped found. He has two sons in their 20s who joined him on stage as he delivered his victory speech on Monday, along with his wife, Isabelle Brais.
Born in 1957 on the western tip of the island of Montreal, Francois Legault started his career as a chartered accountant. He co-founded Air Transat in 1986 where he remained CEO until 1997. According to tax documents filed in September, Legault is worth $9.86 million.
Legault is also a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister who was recruited to politics by former premier Lucien Bouchard, soon after Quebec's razor-thin 1995 referendum on sovereignty failed by less than a single percentage point. Legault's recruitment was facilitated, in part by Jean-François Lisée, who at the time was a PQ strategist. (Lisée announced on Monday that he was stepping down as PQ leader after losing his seat and leading the Péquistes to their worst defeat in 50 years, with only 17 per cent of the popular vote and nine seats.
Bouchard recruited Legault in September 1998 to be the unelected minister for industry, trade, science and technology in his cabinet. Two months later, the businessman was elected MNA for Rousseau, a riding about an hour north of Montreal.
Legault rotated high-profile roles in his 11-year career in the PQ, including stints as ministers of health and education.
In one instance, Legault found himself on the defensive as the provincial health minister during a healthcare crisis in the summer of 2002. The crisis forced the National Assembly to hold an extraordinary session to adopt legislation ending pressure tactics by doctors that were threatening services in emergency rooms at hospitals.
Questioned by Mario Dumont, leader of the right-leaning Action démocratique du Québec party, Legault said the government was trying to ensure equality in healthcare services offered in all regions of the province, whether they be in large cities or in rural areas.
"This is equity, this is social democracy, and us, we do believe in social democracy!" he said during a July 25, 2002 debate in the legislature.
Political pundits often considered Legault to be a contender for the PQ leadership, following the party's 2003 electoral defeat, but he declined to run for the job in 2005, citing family reasons.
He was last elected as a Péquiste in 2008, before announcing that he would retire from politics in 2009.
He left the PQ – then the official Opposition Party – in 2009, claiming that he was “uncomfortable in his role as critic … I am a man of action.” He had also become disenchanted with the sovereignist cause.
In 2011, he resurfaced with Quebec billionaire Charles Sirois to announce that they were forming a new political movement that would become the Coalition Avenir Québec. He has represented the off-island suburb of Montreal riding of l’Assomption since 2012. The new party supports having a strong Quebec within the Canadian federation.
What are the CAQ's immediate priorities?
During a news conference the morning after his Oct. 1 victory, Legault told reporters that he has three priorities for the early days of his government: the economy, education and healthcare.
His plans for the economy include a promise to put more money in the wallets of Quebec residents, as well as to change a provincial investment agency's mandate so that it supports more local businesses that are creating high-paying jobs inside the province. He has also promised to invest more in education, including a plan to introduce school services to children as young as four years old, as well as improving services for those with special needs.
The former health minister has also pledged to improve delivery of healthcare services and improve access to medical care.
Does the CAQ plan to expel immigrants?
Much has been made of Legault's proposals to reduce the number of immigrants coming to Quebec, and to introduce values and language tests to determine who can stay and who will be expelled. He has proposed reducing the annual number of immigrants coming to Quebec from 50,000 to 40,000.
He said this would happen starting in 2019, and that “at 40,000 per year, Quebec will continue to proportionally take in more immigrants than the U.S. or France.”
Legault has said that these proposals are the result of Quebec's struggling to integrate new arrivals into society and the economy and he would aim to improve how they are welcomed.
"We want to welcome immigrants," he said. "We want to continue to receive them.... The image of Quebec will depend on the actions we take."
Legault has also made it clear that he doesn't espouse social conservative views held by some American republicans. He has noted for example, that he supports a woman's right to choose. He also denies that some of his more populist proposals make him similar to U.S. President Donald Trump.
"I'm a pragmatic guy. We are a pragmatic party," he said. "I think many things can be done between Quebec and the rest of Canada regarding the economy."
He has also said his government will take a leaf out of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s book and invoke the controversial non-withstanding clause — which allows a provincial legislature to override court decision on laws that are judged to violate rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms —to bar public officials, judges and teachers from wearing religious symbols.
But contrasting Ford's approach to the media, Legault took questions from reporters for more than 30 minutes following his electoral victory, contrasting with the 12-minute news conference delivered by Ford on June 8, one day after Ontario elected the Progressive Conservative to lead a majority government.
What does the CAQ sit on the political spectrum?
Soon after it was founded, Legault's party merged with the ADQ, taking over as the new centre-right party in the Quebec National Assembly.
Last April, when Couillard accused Legault of being “to the extreme right, to the hard right of the political spectrum," Legault denied it, pointing to his party’s commitment to public education.
While there are social elements to the CAQs program — such as commitments to provide pre-school for all four-year-olds in Quebec and cheaper day care rates — the vast majority of the CAQ’s policies and proposals for Quebec swing right of centre.
Legault has styled himself as an “economic premier.” Among the CAQ’s fiscally conservative policies are promises to lower income taxes and fees by $1.8 billion, increase privatization in healthcare, and end the province’s $11 billion a year dependence on equalization payments.
Does François Legault support carbon pricing?
On the environment, Legault has stuck to the same party line throughout his campaign — that the main thing Quebec can do to fight climate change is to export clean energy to other jurisdictions.
He has also indicated his support for Quebec's participation in an international carbon trading market that places a cap on pollution and allows companies to buy or sell allowances to stay within the cap. The system, in partnership with California, effectively requires companies to pay for heat-trapping carbon emissions at a price that is set by the market.
Legault also added that he had already spoken to Ontario Premier Doug Ford about energy and hopes to chat with him further about buying new hydroelectric power from Quebec. “We have clean energy, cheap energy, compared to nuclear and I would like us to make our contribution and work together,” he said.
However, the CAQ has indicated that it will not ban future hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation in the province and it bombed an environmental questionnaire sent to all four major parties by a consortium of environmental groups. One response demonstrated that the party would be “open to an evaluation of oil resources” on the island of Anticosti.
It said that it will cancel a wind project on Quebec’s north shore because it believes that it is not economically viable.
Does the CAQ want young Quebecers to inhale?
On Tuesday, Legault reaffirmed his pledged to raise the legal age of cannabis to 21 — a move that will give Quebec the most restrictive age limit in the country. Questioned by reporters on the timeline for this change, Legault said that his party would “try to make sure there is no vacuum [period]” between legalization on October 17 and raising the legal age for consumption.
This election will be the last election held in Quebec using first-past-the-post system. On Tuesday, Legault guaranteed that his party would table a bill within the first year to swap Quebec’s electoral system to a mixed proportional system in his first year — a move that will be welcomed by the Green Party, Quebec solidiare (QS) and the PQ, who are also in favour of electoral reform.
What’s next for the other parties?
The left-leaning and climate-focused Québec solidaire party also benefitted from Quebecers' rejection of the PQ and Liberals. It tripled its caucus on Monday, from three seats in Montreal to 10 seats across the province. On election night, co-spokespeople Manon Massé and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois both said that they would hold the CAQ to account, particularly on their environmental policies.
The PQ lost its official party status, and Jean-François Lisée, announced his resignation on Monday after losing his seat in the Montreal riding of Rosemont to former La Presse journalist Vincent Marissal.
Outgoing premier Philippe Couillard told supporters in his concession speech in Saint-Félicien in northern Quebec on Monday that he will decide whether to resign as Liberal leader quickly. “In order to avoid any instability that may result from this, my reflection will be short.”
Neither the PQ, nor QS have official party status, since they both failed to get either 20 per cent of the popular vote, or 12 seats. Their fate will be decided, along with the makeup of Legault's new cabinet in the coming weeks.
Established in 2015, National Observer is an independent, online-only newspaper dedicated to investigating stories about climate change, energy and politics. In 2017, National Observer’s managing editor Mike De Souza won a Canadian Association of Journalists award for hisinvestigation exposing a conflict of interest in the federal review of the Energy East pipeline project, which was subsequently terminated.
National Observer has an impact. Join us today and make more reporting possible.