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In late 2007, then-Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s minority Liberals needed to inoculate themselves against charges they weren’t sufficiently nationalistic.

The party settled on a plan to have immigrants sign an agreement to uphold a list of generic Western values – pluralism, gender equity, etc. It worked; the issue went away and the Liberals won a majority in 2008.

A decade later, what was old is new again. Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault, who polls suggest is next in line to be premier, is mimicking the strategy. Except this time, a formal exam will be required.

The “values test” was a contemptible concept the first time the CAQ toyed with it in 2015. Now Mr. Legault has taken that terrible idea and made it worse: He wants to tack on a language requirement.

Not a particularly onerous one, mind. Mr. Legault indicated this week that anyone with a rudimentary grasp of French would have no difficulty passing. Nor would the values portion be more than a simple memorization exercise.

Sorry, what’s the point again? That is, other than concocting useless tests to reinforce the message that new Quebeckers are “l’autre” and the francophone majority is “nous”?

The CAQ has a commanding lead among francophone voters and is clearly sensitive to being outflanked in the identity stakes by an increasingly desperate Parti Québécois.

Quebec votes on Oct. 1, but the main belligerents have already started road-testing attack lines.

Recently, a senior Liberal minister tarred the right-of-centre CAQ with the “ethnic nationalism” brush. Much indignation ensued. But if the CAQ is trying to prove the charge was false, it is going about it in a strange fashion with its written values test.

When Mr. Legault also muses about lowering immigration levels and does dog whistle-y things like expressing pride in “the kind of society our ancestors left me,” the room for interpretation shrinks even more.

If this is the campaign we can expect from the front-runner, unedifying days lie ahead.

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