Skip to main content

CAQ leader Francois Legault calls on supporters to vote during a news conference held at the Vanier-Les Rivières riding office with local candidates on provincial election day on Oct. 3 in Quebec City.Karoline Boucher/The Canadian Press

Four years ago, François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec made history by shattering a tired, five-decade-old pattern that had seen Quebeckers switch between the Liberals and Parti Québécois as they argued over their province’s future within Canada.

Mr. Legault, a former businessman, promised to not only put a lid on the sovereignty debate, but to get Quebec’s economy in fighting trim by rightsizing the state and boosting its competitiveness. He wanted to wean Quebec off equalization.

Alas, the revolution never happened. Mr. Legault did not undertake the economic reforms many Quebeckers expected or hoped for. Adopting the path of least resistance, he made identity issues the leitmotif of his first term, cutting immigration and adopting legislation to ban religious symbols in the public sector and buttress the French language. His paternalistic style was most evident during the pandemic, as he imposed among the most restrictive public health measures in North America.

As Mr. Legault embarks on his second term, Quebeckers have a much better idea of what to expect than they did four years ago. The CAQ’s election slogan – Continuons, or Let’s Continue – made it clear that Mr. Legault has no intention of changing.

Quebec re-elects François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec to majority government

The slogan helped ensure the CAQ a second majority win. But the CAQ’s platform was short on ambition. The party Mr. Legault founded in 2011 to shake up Quebec politics already looks it has run out of ideas.

The one time Mr. Legault mentioned equalization payments during this campaign was to point out how much they have risen. Quebec will pocket $13.7-billion in equalization this fiscal year, up from $11.7-billion in 2018-19. It will get $14.1-billion next year.

After a scattered campaign, characterized by a series of own-net goals by a verbally clumsy Mr. Legault, the CAQ Leader will need to polish his image. And he may find no better way than by launching a battle with Ottawa.

Before the campaign, Mr. Legault asked Quebeckers for a “strong mandate” to apply pressure on the federal government to cede full authority over immigration, insisting that Quebec’s control over all streams of newcomers to the province was critical “to the survival of the nation.” Quebec has chosen its own economic immigrants for decades; Mr. Legault now also wants the province to select those who come as temporary workers or to reunite with family members already in Quebec.

Critics say Mr. Legault has a weak hand to play, since he has ruled out sovereignty as an option if Ottawa rejects Quebec’s demands. He has, however, suggested he might hold a referendum on the immigration question to buttress his bargaining position.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has previously rebuffed Mr. Legault’s demands, has little incentive to appease him now. Not after the egregious comments Mr. Legault made during the campaign, when he appeared to link immigration to an increase in gun violence in Montreal. He also said it would be “a bit suicidal” for Quebec to accept more than 50,000 permanent residents a year.

How François Legault found the sweet spot of Quebec politics

Lucky for him, Mr. Legault will at least face an even smaller and more splintered opposition in the National Assembly than he did in his first term.

The far-left Québec Solidaire had hoped to displace the Liberals as the Official Opposition, showcasing its charismatic co-spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. Instead, after running on a platform to tax the rich and aggressively tackle climate change, it did not improve its score from 2018.

While the Liberals hung on to the official opposition, the party’s influence in francophone Quebec was reduced to almost nil. The party was reduced to a rump of seats in anglophone and allophone Quebec.

The Conservative Party of Quebec waged an outsider campaign as the party most unlike the others on the ballot, surfing on anti-vaccination dissent and vowing to slash taxes and public service jobs. It drained significant support from the CAQ. But it plateaued early in the campaign, suggesting it may have limited room to grow.

Under Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, the PQ proved it still has pulse. Mr. Plamondon persuaded some disaffected sovereigntists to return to the fold, especially after Mr. Legault said during one debate the Liberals “no longer had a monopoly on being against sovereignty.” It was a calculated move by Mr. Legault to win over federalists still hesitant about the CAQ, but one that cost him some votes, too.

If the past five weeks confirmed anything, it is that Mr. Legault clearly prefers governing to campaigning. He may have achieved his goal of winning a second majority government. But he once aspired to much more than that.