Quebeckers are hungry for a fresh choice on their ballots, other than the governing Liberals and the Parti Québécois. That much was obvious last year when the Coalition Avenir Québec vaulted to the top of the polls following its creation.
But to play a valuable long-term role, the new party – headed by François Legault, a former PQ minister – has to be more than just an outlet for voters to vent frustration with their traditional options; it needs to develop a clear vision and identity. Early indications, as the province heads into an election campaign, suggest more work is needed on that front.
The CAQ’s position on Quebec’s tuition battle is a case in point. Seemingly out of the blue this week, Mr. Legault announced he would raise fees by $200 each of the next five years. That’s meant to be a compromise between Premier Jean Charest’s push to raise them by more and PQ Leader Pauline Marois’ opposition to that. Without providing fiscal or other rationale, beyond moving on from the recent unpleasantness, it feels like a cop-out by a party that has at other times sought to portray itself as right-of-centre.
Mr. Legault is also trying to be cute on the sovereignty question by promising a 10-year moratorium on referenda. While that position may help bring federalists and moderate nationalists under the same tent, it is not too much to ask for a clear sense of whether the CAQ sees Quebec’s long-term future inside or outside Canada.
His apparent glibness on those issues makes it difficult to assess his broader policy agenda, which revolves largely around shrinking bureaucracies. Are proposals to eliminate school boards or overhaul health-care administration as well-considered as they are bold?
A cautionary tale is offered by the Action démocratique du Québec, which only five years ago won Official Opposition status, then struggled to hold on to official party status before meekly folding into the CAQ. Mr. Legault’s party appears more polished, with stronger ties to Quebec’s business community, but risks conveying the same sense of opportunism that largely proved the ADQ’s undoing.
The most recent polls show the CAQ running third. Despite a degree of fatigue with the Liberals and unease with the PQ, Quebeckers are right to hedge their bets until they get a better sense of what Mr. Legault and his new party are made of.