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Canada Legault Year One: How the CAQ has transformed Quebec so far

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Quebec has its first right-wing government since the Union Nationale in 1970, with the reins of power held by a political party that didn’t exist until seven years ago. With François Legault in office as premier, the Coalition Avenir Québec promises to radically alter the province’s course on immigration, the economy, education and more.

Quebec’s new political reality will be closely watched ahead of this fall′s federal election, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau runs for re-election with his provincial Liberal counterparts in a greatly weakened state, and the federal Conservatives hoping for a potential ally in Mr. Legault.

Check back here in the coming weeks and months for The Globe and Mail’s full coverage of what’s going on.

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Who’s who

Mr. Legault is a millionaire airline executive who entered the National Assembly as a member of the Parti Québecois, serving in cabinet posts under premiers Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry. In 2011, after a brief retirement from politics, he co-founded the CAQ, uniting former separatists and nationalists under one conservative banner.

Mr. Legault was sworn in by Lieutenant-Governor J. Michel Doyon on Oct. 18 last year, where he announced his cabinet, made up of 13 men and 13 women, many of them political neophytes. Key ministers include:

  • Geneviève Guilbault, public security and deputy premier
  • Éric Girard, finance
  • Simon Jolin-Barrette, immigration, diversity and inclusion
  • Jean-Francois Roberge, education
  • Sonia LeBel, justice and intergovernmental affairs

Religious symbols

“Reasonable accommodation,” “Quebec values,” “religious neutrality”: The terms have changed over the years, but every Quebec governing party has at some point tried to legally enforce its own version of secularism, each time raising thorny questions about civil rights, systemic racism and Islamophobia. The Parti Québécois’s Charter of Quebec Values, which prohibited public servants from wearing religious symbols such as niqabs or turbans, foundered in 2014 when the Marois government was voted out of office. The Liberals, in turn, passed Bill 62 in 2017, which barred Quebeckers from wearing face coverings when using public services. That law was stalled in court before the province issued new guidelines shortly before the election.

Now it’s the CAQ’s turn, with Legault’s government passing a divisive bill that bans the wearing of religious symbols by newly hired teachers, judges and other officials in courts and prisons. Current officials in those jobs will be allowed to keep their religious symbols, and the Liberals’ face-covering restrictions for public servants have been maintained. Bill 21 invokes the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to protect it from challenges under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as Quebec’s bill of rights, whose religious-freedom provisions have been reduced. Ottawa has taken no steps to challenge the law, but the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are fighting it in court.

One of the most contentious areas for Bill 21 is in Quebec’s schools, where teachers’ unions and school boards are divided about whether and how to implement a ban that many education advocates say is discriminatory. The education debate became especially acute in July when Jean-François Roberge, the Education Minister, tweeted a picture of himself at a summit in France with Malala Yousafzai, an Afghan Nobel Peace Prize winner who was nearly killed by the Taliban for her activism championing education for girls. Asked on Twitter whether Ms. Yousafzai could teach in Quebec while wearing her head scarf, Mr. Roberge said she’d have to take it off – an assessment later backed up by Mr. Legault.

MORE READING ON RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS

Editorial: Quebec passes a terrible law, and for the worst reasons

Emily Laxer: Quebec’s ban on religious symbols will only embolden the far right

Derek Ross and Kristopher Kinsinger: Religious expression is under attack in Canada – and not just in Quebec

Sheema Khan: Quebec’s religious-symbols ban is stranger than fiction – but the pushback from society must be real

Immigration

During the campaign, Mr. Legault promised to cut Quebec’s annual immigration quota by 10,000 people a year, and proposed tests of “Quebec values” and French-language proficiency for immigrants seeking to live in Quebec. Mr. Legault admitted some uncertainty about how those tests would work and whether immigrants could be expelled from Quebec for failing them. Bill 9, the immigration law passed in June, does nothing to address the promised tests, though it does give the province new powers to “accompany and verify” immigrants to assess their French-language skills and adherence to “democratic values” like equality and human rights. In reorganizing its criteria, the government also decided to cancel 18,000 immigrants’ applications, and told people whose applications were already in process to apply again under the new system. An association of Quebec immigration lawyers is seeking an injunction to halt that policy for now.

Since Bill 9 introduces new restrictions on how permanent residency is granted, it’s created a jurisdictional tussle with the federal government, which has final say over rules for permanent residency. Other immigration issues have also heightened tensions between the CAQ and federal Liberals. One is temporary foreign workers: Quebec wants Ottawa to loosen the rules so more workers can be brought in to fill job shortages. Another is asylum seekers: In recent years, the Trump administration’s immigration crackdowns in the United States has made Quebec and Manitoba major destinations for asylum seekers crossing irregularly from American soil, and Quebec wants $300-million in federal compensation for that. In January, Ottawa did announce $114-million in funding for asylum seekers, but didn’t clarify how much money each province gets.

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Cannabis

If you think Montreal is a laissez-faire haven of hedonism, you may think again once you try to smoke cannabis there. The province tabled legislation in December to have Canada’s highest legal minimum age for buying cannabis: 21, up from 18 as his predecessor decided. The CAQ originally wanted to bar Quebeckers from smoking cannabis in all public places, though amendments to the proposed legislation, Bill 2, would give municipalities some discretion to allow it in public parks. Add all that to Quebec’s pre-existing ban on growing cannabis at home, and you have some of the most restrictive drug policies in the country.

Brick and mortar (crown corp.)

Brick and mortar (private)

Online (crown corp.)

Online (private)

Grow your own

Sold through liquor stores

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

Que.

PEI

Nfld.

Alta.

Sask.

Man.

Ont.*

N.B.

N.S.

B.C.

*THERE WON’T BE ANY BRICK AND MORTAR STORES IN ONTARIO UNTIL 2019.

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Brick and mortar (crown corp.)

Online (crown corp.)

Brick and mortar (private)

Online (private)

Grow your own

Sold through liquor stores

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

Que.

PEI

Nfld.

B.C.

Alta.

Sask.

Man.

Ont.*

N.B.

N.S.

*THERE WON’T BE ANY BRICK AND MORTAR STORES IN ONTARIO UNTIL 2019.

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Online

Sold through liquor store

Crown corporation

Brick and mortar

Grow your own

Private sector

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

Que.

PEI

Nfld.

B.C.

Alta.

Sask.

Man.

Ont.*

N.B.

N.S.

*THERE WON’T BE ANY BRICK AND MORTAR STORES IN ONTARIO UNTIL 2019.

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

MORE READING ON CANNABIS

Robert Everett-Green: Cannabis is inducing a panic in Quebec’s CAQ government

Quebec government’s cannabis plan could leave opening for organized crime, Trudeau says

Climate

As leader of a province with an emissions cap-and-trade regime, Mr. Legault makes for an unlikely ally with premiers like Ontario’s Doug Ford and Alberta’s Jason Kenney, who have gutted environmental regulations and want to scrap any consumer carbon taxation. And yet, Mr. Legault is siding with Saskatchewan’s court battle against the Trudeau government’s carbon-pricing plan. In joining Saskatchewan’s case, which is headed for the Supreme Court in December, Quebec government hopes to prove that Ottawa doesn’t have the power to set standards for provincial carbon pricing plans. In the meantime, Quebec is still exempt from the federal tax, but it has so far been imposed on five provinces without their own own taxes or cap-and-trade systems: Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick.

Economy

Like his Ontario counterpart, Mr. Ford, Mr. Legault ran for office on his business credentials, promising Quebeckers a leaner and more fiscally conservative government. The economy he inherited was a fairly stable one, thanks in part to balanced budgets and highly unpopular social-service cuts by his Liberal predecessor. The CAQ promised to boost the finances even further by exporting more Hydro-Québec power, giving the province’s investment arm more power to attract foreign capital and matching Ontario’s cuts to corporate tax rates. The CAQ’s first budget, introduced on March 21, was the fifth straight balanced budget for Quebec, with additional spending on health and education and a return of $889-million to taxpayers through property-tax reductions and other measures.

SNC-Lavalin

Ever since the threat of separatism led to a corporate exodus in the 1970s, Quebeckers have been anxious about keeping their big companies chez nous. One such company is SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., one of the world’s biggest engineering firms, which employs about 3,400 people in Quebec and tens of thousands around the world. It is accused by federal prosecutors of bribery and fraud to win favour with the now-deposed Gadhafi regime in Libya, and if convicted, it would be barred from federal contracts for 10 years. That left the government with a dilemma, and the way the Prime Minister allegedly handled it last fall has entangled him and his aides in controversy – and Mr. Legault has been anxiously watching the drama in Ottawa from Quebec City.

The former federal justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, alleges that the Prime Minister’s Office pressed her often and inappropriately to settle SNC’s case out of court, which she didn’t want to do. They told her there was a danger SNC would move its headquarters out of the country, and the Liberals’ political future in Quebec would be in jeopardy. The actual risk is hard to quantify – the company’s CEO, for his part, denies that SNC warned Ottawa about job losses to bolster it’s case for a deferred prosecution – but the prospect has made Quebec’s business elite anxious as Meanwhile, SNC’s profit has tumbled and talk of a hostile takeover has escalated. Mr. Legault doesn’t want that: He’s deemed SNC one of the province’s strategically important companies, a group that had $1-billion set aside for them in the CAQ’s March budget to discourage leaving Quebec.

SNC-Lavalin’s employees by area

Britain:

10,000

Quebec: 3,400

Ontario: 3,000

B.C.: 1,000

Rest of

Canada:

1,600

Canada

Britain

Rest of world

Rest of

world:

33,435

Note: SNC has provided estimates of its Canadian work

force. The rest of world figure comes from a subtraction

of the Canadian and British numbers from an overall

figure in the company’s 2018 annual report.

MATT LUNDY, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: SNC-LAVALIN

SNC-Lavalin’s employees by area

Britain:

10,000

Quebec: 3,400

Ontario: 3,000

B.C.: 1,000

Rest of Canada:

1,600

Canada

Rest of

world:

33,435

Britain

Rest of world

Note: SNC has provided estimates of its Canadian work force. The rest

of world figure comes from a subtraction of the Canadian and British

numbers from an overall figure in the company’s 2018 annual report.

MATT LUNDY, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: SNC-LAVALIN

SNC-Lavalin’s employees by area

Britain:

10,000

Quebec: 3,400

Ontario: 3,000

British Columbia: 1,000

Rest of Canada:

1,600

Rest of world:

33,435

Canada

Britain

Rest of world

Note: SNC has provided estimates of its Canadian work force. The rest of world figure comes from a

subtraction of the Canadian and British numbers from an overall figure in the company’s 2018 annual report.

MATT LUNDY, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: SNC-LAVALIN

Trade

The night before Mr. Legault’s election, Canada struck a new proposed trade deal with the Trump administration, ending 14 months of haggling over how to replace the North American free-trade agreement. In the United States-Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), the Trudeau government made a big concession: Opening 3.59 per cent of Canada’s protected dairy market to U.S. producers. That’s alarmed farmers in Quebec, the largest dairy-producing province, who fear competition with cheaper American products will hurt their revenue and system of production quotas. Mr. Legault has promised to fight for farmers’ interests, and Mr. Trudeau plans at some point to compensate the farmers for their losses.

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Opposition parties

Until 2018, the Liberals and Parti Québécois ruled Quebec for almost 50 years, staking out both sides of the sovereignty debate without fear of serious challenges from smaller parties. Now, after an election where Quebec independence wasn’t an issue, the parties are shadows of their former selves: Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberals fell from 70 seats to 32, while the PQ lost official party status and its leader lost his seat. The far-left Québec solidaire is now the biggest sovereigntist bloc in the National Assembly, with 10 seats to the PQ’s nine. For now, the Liberals are being led by former cabinet minister Pierre Arcand until they choose a permanent replacement for Mr. Couillard, who has retired from politics.

QUEBEC GENERAL ELECTION, 2014 VS. 2018

RESULTS 2014

Party

Seats

Number of votes candidate won by

CAQ

22

CAQ

LIB

QS

PQ

Less than 5,000

LIB

70

5,000 to 10,000

QS

3

Over 10,000

PQ

30

Montreal

RESULTS 2018

Party

Seats

Number of votes candidate won by

CAQ

74

CAQ

LIB

QS

PQ

LIB

32

Less than 5,000

5,000 to 10,000

QS

10

Over 10,000

PQ

9

VOTER TURNOUT 2014

Per cent

Less than 50

50 - 60

60 - 70

Over 70

VOTER TURNOUT 2018

Per cent

Less than 50

50 - 60

60 - 70

Over 70

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: ELECTIONS QUEBEC

QUEBEC GENERAL ELECTION, 2014 VS. 2018

RESULTS 2014

Party

Seats

Number of votes candidate won by

CAQ

22

CAQ

LIB

QS

PQ

Less than 5,000

LIB

70

5,000 to 10,000

QS

3

Over 10,000

PQ

30

Montreal

RESULTS 2018

Party

Seats

Number of votes candidate won by

CAQ

74

CAQ

LIB

QS

PQ

Less than 5,000

LIB

32

5,000 to 10,000

QS

10

Over 10,000

PQ

9

VOTER TURNOUT 2014

Per cent

Less than 50

50 - 60

60 - 70

Over 70

VOTER TURNOUT 2018

Per cent

Less than 50

50 - 60

60 - 70

Over 70

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: ELECTIONS QUEBEC

QUEBEC GENERAL ELECTION, 2014 VS. 2018

2014

2018

RESULTS

Seats

Seats

Number of votes

candidate won by

22

CAQ

74

CAQ

LIB

QS

PQ

70

LIB

32

Less than 5,000

3

QS

10

5,000 to 10,000

Over 10,000

30

PQ

9

Montreal

VOTER

TURNOUT

2014

2018

Per cent

Less than 50

50 - 60

60 - 70

Over 70

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: ELECTIONS QUEBEC

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