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Rejecting sovereigntist-federalist divide, Quebec political parties merge

Coalition Avenir Quebec co-founder Francois Legault speaks during a news conference in Quebec City last month announcing the formation of the new political party.


It is a political marriage made out of necessity where the waning Action Démocratique du Québec party found salvation by throwing itself into the arms of the newly formed Coalition-Avenir-Québec.

Rejecting the sovereigntist-federalist divide was the binding force behind Tuesday's merger between the two parties. The leader of the soon-to-be-disbanded ADQ, Gérard Deltell, was unequivocal: The CAQ will be the party of renewal and seek greater provincial autonomy within a united Canada.

"I'm announcing today that the coalition embraces the idea of autonomy promoted by the ADQ for the last 10 years and we will continue to do so. And that means assuming our destiny as a nation within the Canadian federation. With us there will be no referendum," Mr. Deltell said.

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It wasn't a difficult position for CAQ Leader François Legault to accept. The former Parti Québécois minister launched his coalition by promising to abandon the quarrels that have divided federalists and sovereigntists for nearly half a century, and set in motion a new era of change. In the process, the fledgling party quickly jumped to the lead in public-opinion polls.

"There comes a time in the history of a nation where you need to have all your best players on the same team," Mr. Legault said. "We are embarking on a new era … and I am proud to be a part of it."

Several factors converged to allow for the merger.

The ADQ was a moribund party destined to languish in opposition with no chances of getting elected. By merging with Mr. Legault's party, they suddenly found themselves on the threshold of power.

The CAQ also embraced a conservative political ideology that comforted the ADQ, which wanted to promote more right-wing ideals such as privatization of health-care services or redirecting government funds to individual families rather than public daycare.

Some ADQ opponents to the merger feared they were signing a pact with the devil, recalling how Mr. Legault once described himself as part of the "efficient left wing" when he was an influential member of the PQ.

However, the vast majority of ADQ members appeared willing to discard their differences with the CAQ. They are well aware that the Liberals have continued to plummet in the polls under the weight of numerous allegations of corruption and collusion in the awarding of government contracts in the construction industry. At the same time, the infighting and dissent in the Parti Québécois over Pauline Marois's leadership left a political vacuum among Quebec nationalists that Mr. Legault was poised to fill.

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The demise of the Bloc Québécois during the New Democratic Party sweep of Quebec in last May's federal election gave credibility to Mr. Legault's argument that voters wanted the type of change that the old parties could no longer offer. He said that doesn't mean the debate over Quebec's future within Canada won't resurface a decade from now. But until it does, the CAQ wants to be at peace with Ottawa and is inviting both federalists and sovereigntists to turn their attention to governing the province.

"I think it would be good for both options," Mr. Legault said. "Right now there is an urgency to get back to action in Quebec. We have major problems in health care and education.… it is urgent that we get Quebec in shape. And then after that if people want to restart the constitutional debate they will have the choice. My fear is that if we don't change, we won't have a choice."

In the coming weeks, members of the ADQ will be asked to ratify the merger, which Mr. Deltell and others believe will be a formality. Then comes the difficult task of choosing candidates from the more than 700 people who have asked to run for the party. Mr. Legault said an election was imminent and that the CAQ will have no time to waste in preparing for its maiden campaign expected this spring.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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