It has been a rough four years for Quebec’s anglophone community. Not only has it had to endlessly fight off Premier François Legault’s relentless efforts to erode its long-standing rights and institutions, but it has felt abandoned by its traditional political ally in Quebec City.
Under leader Dominique Anglade, the Quebec Liberal Party has sought to beef up its nationalist credentials after the rout it suffered in the 2018 election at the hands of Mr. Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec. This has often meant going along with the spirit, if not the letter, of CAQ laws to strengthen protections for the French language and secularist values at the expense of anglophone and minority rights.
While QLP members of the National Assembly ultimately voted against Bills 21, 40 and 96 – which, respectively, banned some public employees from wearing religious symbols; sought to abolish English- and French-language school boards; and limited access to English-language junior colleges – Ms. Anglade and the QLP supported many aspects of those bills.
Indeed, the QLP has no plans to repeal the laws if it wins the Oct. 3 provincial election. It would tweak Bill 21 to exempt teachers and would no longer shield the law from a constitutional challenge, as the CAQ did by invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But it would preserve the religious-symbols ban for other provincial employees in a position of authority, including Crown prosecutors and police officers.
Similarly, the QLP would keep most of Bill 96′s provisions, including a requirement that students at English-language cégeps take three additional French-language courses to graduate. At best, the QLP promises to “evaluate” the law’s administrative burden on businesses and “dispel any concerns about access to health care and social services” for anglophones and allophones.
Ms. Anglade is clearly in a pickle. A June Léger Marketing poll had the QLP at 10 per cent support among decided francophone voters, compared with 50 per cent support for the CAQ. Ms. Anglade desperately needs to move the needle before Oct. 3 if the QLP has any hope of preserving any of the ridings with francophone pluralities that it now holds, including her own Montreal seat. Fully 13 of the QLP’s sitting MNAs have opted not to run again, leaving many of those seats up for grabs by other parties.
So far, Ms. Anglade has focused on pocketbook issues to woo anglophones and francophones alike. The QLP is promising to cut income taxes for the middle class, eliminate sales taxes on basic food and hygiene necessities and freeze Quebec’s already low electricity rates.
In her efforts to rebuild her party in French Quebec, however, Ms. Anglade has left many anglophone voters feeling forsaken. While Léger had the QLP support among anglophones at 49 per cent in June, that was down 10 percentage points from a February poll. So far, the principal beneficiary of the decline in QLP support has been the Conservative Party of Quebec, which has surged to second-place among non-Francophone voters by championing individual rights. That is likely not enough to enable it to win seats, but could be enough to cost the QLP victory in ridings with mixed linguistic profiles.
To add to Ms. Anglade’s woes, two new English-rights parties are set to run candidates in the Oct. 3 vote. The Canadian Party of Quebec pledges “unconditional, unequivocal” opposition to Bills 21, 40 and 96 and would allow new immigrants to send their children to English schools. The Bloc Montréal, led by former mayoral candidate Balarama Holness, is running on a platform of “reflecting a multicultural, multilingual Montreal in the National Assembly.”
So far, neither of those parties appears to be registering with voters. Each has announced only a handful of candidates. It remains to be seen whether either can harness the anger of Quebec anglophones like the Equality Party did 1989 after then Liberal premier Robert Bourassa invoked the notwithstanding clause in the wake of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling striking down Quebec’s French-only sign law. It won four of 125 National Assembly seats in an election that year.
The difference between then and now is that Ms. Anglade needs anglophone voters more than Mr. Bourassa did in 1989, when the Liberals won a massive majority government. Regaining their trust in the next eight weeks will be a tall order. But it must be a top priority if she is to prevent her party from disappearing altogether.
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