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Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault launches his new party at a Quebec City news conference on Nov. 14, 2011. (Jacques Boissinot/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault launches his new party at a Quebec City news conference on Nov. 14, 2011. (Jacques Boissinot/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

POLITICS

Promising 'new era,' Legault lifts curtain on long-awaited Quebec party Add to ...

Already leading in the polls for months, François Legault has officially launched his Coalition-Avenir-Québec political party, calling it the beginning of “a new era” of politics in the province.

Mr. Legault’s political rivals immediately dismissed the new party Monday, saying it espouses outdated ideas and is led by an old-style politician.

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But Mr. Legault, a former Parti Québécois minister who turned his back on sovereignty, is winning popular support as the vehicle of change many Quebeckers may be searching for in the next provincial election. He was holding a commanding lead in public-opinion polls long before launching the new party Monday.

“The key word here is ‘new.’ We want something new, we want change. But first and foremost, we want to take concrete actions,” Mr. Legault said at the launch. He said the time has come to break the sovereigntist-federalist divide that has placed the province in a political straightjacket for too long.

“For more than 40 years the context has forced us to define ourselves first and foremost as either sovereigntist or federalist,” he said. “After 40 years, the time has come to undertake a new era, an era where Quebec can move forward.”

With an eye on a potential spring election, Mr. Legault has started to recruit candidates and generate funds for the campaign. He said he will immediately undertake talks with the Action démocratique du Québec party to examine a possible merger. The new party also hopes to take full advantage of a unique political climate in which the Liberals have been crippled with allegations of corruption in the awarding of government construction contracts while the PQ has been unable to overcome repeated challenges within the party to Pauline Marois’s leadership.

Mr. Legault focused on corruption at the launch, but declined to offer his polices on other issues. When he was asked about his position on the environment, Mr. Legault said it was not yet defined, adding “we’ll see.” About the expected merger with the ADQ, he answered “we’ll see.” He also said “we’ll see” when asked about more private health-care services.

“He had a whole year to reflect on what his plan will be and the only thing he had to say today is, ‘We’ll see,’ ” Premier Jean Charest said. “I think we have more to fear with a hidden agenda.”

Mr. Charest has portrayed Mr. Legault as a separatist in disguise, seeking to lure Quebeckers into confrontations not only with Ottawa, but also by promoting conservative policies that will create clashes with labour unions and other groups.

Mr. Legault’s proposal to abolish school boards and pay teachers based on an evaluation process has triggered a backlash in the education community. The anglophone community was angered by his proposal to strictly enforce Quebec’s language laws.

And Mr. Legault’s decision to abandon political independence as a viable option in the near future has prompted harsh criticism from the pro-sovereignty forces.

Ms. Marois accused him of lacking conviction and courage, especially after being so adamantly in favour of Quebec sovereignty.

“Here was someone who once pushed [former PQ leader]Bernard Landry to take a stronger position on the issue and who even presented what would have been the budget of an independent Quebec and who insisted that Quebec was ungovernable as a province. … It is quite stunning for him to turn his back on all of that,” Ms. Marois said.

On Monday, Mr. Legault said the elimination of corruption is one of his top priorities. The coalition’s co-founder, Montreal entrepreneur and former Liberal supporter Charles Sirois, promised a major shake-up in the management of government contracts should Coalition form the next government.

“Our public life is sick. It is a slow disease that weakens us and that spread due to poor government management and the refusal for so long to create a commission of inquiry,” Mr. Sirois said. “The commission will help reduce the fever but won’t cure the disease.”

The Coalition proposes to create a Commissioner of Integrity in Public Life, who would be appointed by the National Assembly with wide-ranging powers to tackle collusion and corruption in the awarding of government contracts.

“We have to put an end to the schemes that waste our tax dollars,” Mr. Legault said.

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