Tag Archives: charest

Rempel’s amazing Twitterstorm kicks off Conservative leadership race

Michelle Rempel, an outgoing junior minister from Calgary, welcomed herself to the Conservative leadership sweepstakes with a late-night, girl-power Twitter rant.

So far, the race to succeed Stephen Harper as the next leader of Canada’s Conservative Party has been notable for the level of disinterest it’s drawn — not a single candidate has yet announced a campaign for the leadership.Canada Flag Icon

Despite wild speculation about who might want to take the reins of Canada’s soon-to-be opposition, some of the most well-known potential contenders have already ruled themselves out of contention — former Québec premier Jean Charest (himself a one-time leader of the old Progressive Conservative Party), former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord, Saskatchewan’s wildly popular two-term premier Brad Wall, former foreign minister John Baird.

But there’s one potential candidate who isn’t being coy about her intentions.

It’s Michelle Rempel, a 35-year-old MP from Calgary who’s been in office only since 2011. Born in Winnipeg and of partial French Canadian ancestry, she worked in development at the University of Calgary before jumping to politics, winning the by-election when Jim Prentice left federal politics for the private sector (and before Prentice returned to provincial politics for a disastrous run leading Alberta’s government). She quickly made a splash in the House of Commons and in 2013, Harper recognized her talents by appointing her as a junior minister for western economic diversification.

In an odd — and at turns, confident, caustic and compelling — Twitter rant in the middle of the night on October 22, Rempel made the case for her potential leadership, sometimes making the case against casual misogyny in everyday politics that would make Hillary Rodham Clinton proud.

It’s worth reading in full: Continue reading Rempel’s amazing Twitterstorm kicks off Conservative leadership race

Bloc Quebecois faces existential crisis in October election


For nearly two decades, the most dominant force in Québec politics was the Bloc québécois, a sidecar vehicle to the province-level Parti québéecois that has fought, more or less, for the French-speaking province’s independence for the better part of a half-century.Canada Flag IconQuebec Flag Iconpng

From 1993 until 2011, the BQ controlled nearly two-thirds of all of Québec’s ridings to the House of Commons. In the mid-1990s, with western and eastern conservatives split, and the Jean Chretién-era Liberal Party dominating national politics, the BQ held the second-highest number of seats in the House of Commons, making the sovereigntist caucus, technically speaking, the official opposition.

That all changed in the 2011 election, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) breakthrough made it the second-largest party in the House of Commons. It did so nationally by stealing votes from the Liberals, but it did so in Québec in particular by poaching votes from the Bloc, whose caucus shrank from 47 members to just four.

Moreover, as the BQ heads into October’s general election, its caucus has dwindled to just two seats, due to defections, and there’s a good chance that the party will be wiped out completely in 2015.

If it is, and the BQ époque firmly ends next month, it could send a chilling lesson to separatist movements throughout the developed world. Most especially, it’s a warning for the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is riding so high today — the SNP controls a majority government in Scotland’s regional assembly and it won 56 out of the region’s 59 seats to the House of Commons in the United Kingdom’s May 2015 general election. But the lesson for the SNP (and other autonomist and separatist parties) may well be that there’s a limit to protest votes, especially if electorates believe that nationalist movements like the SNP or the Bloc can neither extract more concessions from national governments or take part in meaningful power-sharing at the national level.

The Bloc‘s collapse in the early 2010s might easily foretell the SNP’s collapse in the 2020s for exactly the same reasons.


The return three months ago of the Bloc‘s long-time former leader, Gilles Duceppe (pictured above), was supposed to restore the party’s fortunes. Instead, the 68-year-old Duceppe risks ending his political career with two humiliating defeats as the old and weary face of an independence movement that has little resonance with neither young and increasingly bilingual Quebeckers nor the deluge of immigrants to the province for whom neither French nor English is a first language. Some polls even show that Duceppe will lose a challenge to regain his own seat in the Montréal-based riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, where voters preferred the NDP’s Hélène Laverdière in 2011.

Outliving its usefulness? 

The BQ’s collapse at the national level holds important consequences for Canada’s federal politics. Without the Bloc‘s lock on one-sixth of the House of Commons, it becomes much easier to win a majority government. Even in the event of a hung parliament, though, assembling a majority coalition will still be easier for the three major parties, because none of the Conservatives, the Liberals or the NDP would risk forming a coalition with Québec MPs who want to leave Canada. More importantly, with the Bloc no longer holding so many ridings in Québec, Canada’s second-most populous province, it opened the way for the NDP’s rise in 2011. In retrospect, the NDP’s social democratic roots were always a natural fit for Québec’s chiefly left-of-center electorate. The NDP’s continued strength in Québec in the present campaign means that it is a serious contender to form the next government.

The most recent CBC poll tracker average, from September 14, shows the NDP leading with 42.8%, far ahead of the Liberals, with 25.7%, the Conservatives, with 14.9%, and the anemic Bloc, with just 13.2%.  Continue reading Bloc Quebecois faces existential crisis in October election

Mulcair loses chance to solidify NDP gains in Québec


What were Québec’s voters looking for in its provincial election?Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

Obviously not the hard-core separatist agenda that premier Pauline Marois did such a poor job of concealing from voters. As soon as a potential referendum on independence became the central issue of the election, Marois’s Parti québécois (PQ) immediately lost its polling lead.

Obviously not the market-friendly approach to government that François Legault champions. He’s now failed twice to convince Québec’s voters to elect the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) into government.

Despite its massive win in today’s election, it’s not obvious that the Québec electorate was so incredibly excited about returning the Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) to power just 18 months in opposition. The Charbonneau Commission, appointed during the previous Liberal government of premier Jean Charest, hasn’t even finished its inquiry into allegations of corruption related to the awarding of (mostly Liberal) government contracts.

Imagine, instead, if Québec voters had a fourth option — a party with the social democratic credibility that the CAQ lacks but without the PQ’s separatist agenda and without the baggage of last decade’s Liberal governments?

That’s right — a province-level  party of the New Democratic Party, or the Nouveau Parti démocratique du Québec (NPDQ).

Québec’s 2014 provincial elections would have been the perfect platform for NDP leader Thomas Mulcair to build a truly competitive provincial vehicle within Québec, and it’s a goal that Mulcair outlined after he won the NDP leadership in 2012 and again late last year: Continue reading Mulcair loses chance to solidify NDP gains in Québec

Québec election results: Four reasons why the PQ blew it


The sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ) has lost power after just 18 months leading a minority government. Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

Instead, former health minister Philippe Couillard, barely a year after winning the leadership of the federalist Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ), will lead a majority government as Québec’s new premier.

Incredibly, in the riding of Charlevoix–Côte-de-Beaupré, premier Pauline Marois has lost her race against Liberal Caroline Simard, and in an address to supporters, announced she would step down as PQ leader as well.

Here’s the breakdown of the 125 ridings in Québec:

QC14 v4

When she called a snap election in March, Marois had every reason to believe that she would sail through the election and win a majority government for the PQ.

Conservative Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper was so worried about the prospect of a separatist majority in Québec that he reached out to the leaders of the other major parties, including Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau and New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair for advice. Though Trudeau and the federal Liberals endorsed Couillard and the PLQ, the Tories and the NDP have remained neutral.

With nearly 97% of the vote reporting, here are the vote totals:

qc14totalsThe last time the PQ won such a small share of the vote in a provincial election was in 1970, when it won just 23.06%, when it was running in its first election after its foundation in 1968.

The PQ has suffered what might be an even more humiliating defeat than its 2007 showing, when the PQ placed third, behind both the Liberals and the predecessor to the CAQ, the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) — it won just 36 seats and 28.5% of the vote.

Among the key individual races:

  • In L’Assomption, François Legault, the leader of the center-right Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) won his race against the PQ’s Pierre Paquette, a former federal MP from the sovereigntist Bloc québécois.
  • Couillard easily won a race in his riding of Roberval, which was supposed to be a difficult race against the PQ’s Denis Trottier, an incumbent since 2007.
  • In Saint-Jérome, former Quebecor CEO, Pierre Karl Péladeau defeated Liberal candidate Armand Dubois — though Péladeau played a controversial role in the election campaign, he could well become the PQ’s next leader.
  • In Laval-des-Rapides, the 22-year-old former student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin lost his bid for reelection to Liberal businessman Saul Polo.
  • In Crémazie, PQ language minister Diance De Courcy and in Saint-François, PQ health minister Réjean Hébert lost.

The CAQ had a much better night than it could have expected. It will improve on its current 19-seat caucus by a handful of seats.

There’s no doubt that the PQ campaign now seems like an incredible miscalculation, and Marois will almost certainly step down as the PQ’s leader. But how did Marois and the PQ fall so far? Here are four reasons that show how tonight’s result came about.

Continue reading Québec election results: Four reasons why the PQ blew it

In Québec, health care is the sleeper issue


Headlines throughout Québec’s raucous election campaign have highlighted emotionally charged issues, such as a new charter on secularism, a potential referendum on independence and new regulations promoting the use of French. Nonetheless, surveys show that voters routinely list health care as the top issue facing the province’s next government.Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

With three former health ministers leading the three top parties in the province, including Liberal leader Philippe Couillard, a former neurosurgeon, there’s no election better placed for examining how to improve Québec’s health care options.

The provincial government’s role in the health care system began in 1961, when it signed up to the federal Canadian single-payer health care system and began reimbursing hospitals for medical services. A decade later, in 1971, Québec first agreed to reimburse services for non-hospital costs, and the provincial government began opening its own health clinics. Today, health care costs consume 51.8% of the province’s budget, excluding debt service. Governments of the past decade from both major parties have routinely increased health spending, even while attempting to rein in spending for other areas.

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RELATED: Peladeau candidacy transforms Québec provincial elections
RELATED: Will bilingualism doom the Liberals in Québec?

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Even before the Parti québécois (PQ) started slipping in the polls, Québec voters already disapproved of Pauline Marois’s performance as premier by a margin of nearly 2-to-1. It’s hard to believe that perceptions about her government’s performance on health care didn’t play a huge role in that. Though the PQ’s support started crumbling with a series of mishaps that brought a new independence referendum into direct focus, voters were already pre-disposed to flee Marois, who hasn’t kept her 2012 campaign promise to roll back an unpopular health tax introduced, ironically, by the Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) that now is now projected to win a majority government after Monday’s vote. Continue reading In Québec, health care is the sleeper issue

Will bilingualism doom the Liberals in Québec?

Bill 14 Protest,

One month ago, on the popularity of premier Pauline Marois’s push to enact a ‘secular charter of values’ (la charte de la laïcité) that would ban the wearing of religious symbols, including the Muslim hijab, it seemed like the sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ) was headed for a huge victory on the basis of ‘cultural’ values that, for once, had little to do with Québec independence or with the status of the French language in the province. Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

Two weeks ago, that conventional wisdom was upended, as the PQ’s star candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau and Marois spent days speculating about a potential independence referendum and how Québec might separate from Canada and still retain the Canadian dollar and open borders with the rest of Canada. The sudden return of the independence debate to the campaign agenda seemed to scare many votes into the arms of Philippe Couillard, the new leader of the Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ), which has been out of power for barely 18 months after nearly a decade in power.

Now, after the final debate among the four main party leaders last week, Couillard’s comments in defense of bilingualism have shifted the debate once again to yet another controversial issue — the proper role of the provincial government in promoting French and/or English within Québec.   

Last Thursday night’s debate was vastly different from the previous debate. Whereas Marois took much of the heat in the first debate, Couillard received more criticism in the much feistier final debate — likely because polls increasingly show that the Liberals have not only recaptured the lead from the PQ, but that it could win a majority government.

Amid all the sniping, however, Couillard’s comments about bilingualism stand out:

“Bilingualism isn’t a threat,” he said. “Knowledge of English is indispensable.”

To American ears — or, possibly, to Ontarian or British Columbian or Albertan ears — that shouldn’t be controversial. But in many regards, the French language debate is even more fraught than the referendum debate, because it’s not as hypothetical as an independent Québec.

The province’s 8 million citizens comprise a tiny island of French speakers within a sea of 341 million (mostly) English speakers in the United States and Canada. Without the Québec government’s interest in protecting the French language, English might easily overrun French as the language of Québec commerce and industry, putting the province’s native French speakers at a disadvantage in North America’s French-speaking heartland.

Continue reading Will bilingualism doom the Liberals in Québec?

LIVE-BLOG: Québec leaders debate tonight


Check in at Suffragio tonight at 8 pm ET for a live-blog of tonight’s leaders debate, the first such debate in Québec’s election campaign. Québec’s voters go to the polls on April 7.Canada Flag IconQuebec Flag Iconpng

(You can read previous coverage of the current Québec election, the Marois government and the 2012 election here).

Update, 8:00 pm: Here we go! The live-blog continues below the jump.

Update, 10:00 pm:  So who won? Who lost?

Liberal leader Philippe Couillard more than held his own in this debate — it’s hard to believe it was his first leadership debate.  He was calm, he was cool, he looked like a premier.  He didn’t refrain from engaging premier Pauline Marois, and he certainly scrapped over several issues, including the PQ’s proposed Charter of Values, Marois’s record on job creation and on Marois’s leadership.

Marois played defense all night long, and not only because she’s defending her existing government.  Her attempts to blame the previous Liberal government of Jean Charest, I think, fell flat — those attacks could have been more effective.  But just about everyone ganged up on Marois tonight, and she was alternatively aggressive and defensively brittle — and that’s even before the debate turned to the sovereignty issue.  It wasn’t her best night.

François Legault obviously believes he has more votes to win from the PQ than from the Liberals — and it showed in the way he went after Marois.  Legault took plenty of shots at Couillard too, especially in trying to defend his image as the clear champion of the private sector in the election.

Françoise David of Québec solidaire was perhaps even more calm and collected than Couillard, and a thoughtful presence on the stage tonight — it’s the same tactic she used in 2012 during the debates, and it largely worked tonight, too.  But she has the luxury of being able to float above the fray because her party’s in fourth place.  Like Legault, she targeted Marois much more than Couillard.  She was particularly effective with her deliberate answers on religious freedom and the Charter, and her attempt to reclaim the sovereignty issue from the PQ.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night is how little revolved around the question of sovereignty and Québec independence.  About half of the sovereignty section, which itself ran about 30 to 40 minutes, was devoted to the issue of the Charter.  Also missing from the debate was any mention of Marois’s early attempts to rewrite Bill 101 on the use of French language, which have now fallen by the wayside with the debate over the Charter.

Nothing in tonight’s debate will reverse the growing trend toward the Liberals and away from the PQ.  That doesn’t mean Couillard will certainly be Québec’s premier, but he did nothing tonight to disqualify himself.  Marois’s aggressive defensiveness played poorly to me, and she did nothing to help her cause along undecided voters. David, especially, may have pulled a few voters away from the PQ tonight.  It will be interesting to see if she and Legault, in particular, will focus their aim on Couillard if the Liberals’ polling lead grows even further over the next week or two.

Continue reading LIVE-BLOG: Québec leaders debate tonight

Marois calls snap election with eye on Québécois separatist majority


Despite polls that generally show a slim but steady lead for Québec premier Pauline Marois’s government, her decision to call snap elections after just 17 months in office leaves her party, the sovereignist Parti québécois (PQ) is hardly a lock to return to power, let alone to win a majority government.Canada Flag IconQuebec Flag Iconpng

That makes the April 7 race to elect all 125 members of the Assemblée nationale (National Assembly) an incredibly high-stakes moment in Québécois politics — and, by extension, Canadian politics.

In contrast to the September 2012 election, essentially a referendum on a decade of rule by the Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) and premier Jean Charest, the upcoming spring election will instead be a referendum on Marois (pictured above) and whether the province is willing to entrust a majority government to Marois’s separatist, leftist party.  If Marois loses, it will take the wind out of the sails of the sovereignist movement in Québec, especially just a year before federal elections in Canada in which the Bloc Québécois, a PQ-affiliated party meant to represent the province’s interest in Ottawa.  If Marois wins, it might be the last opportunity for the Meech Lake/Charlottetown generation of Québécois politicians to push forward with a third (and possibly final) referendum on Québec’s independence.

If Québec held its provincial election tomorrow, Marois would win a majority government, according to polls.  But that’s hardly much comfort — there are at least five reasons to doubt whether Marois can truly pull it off: Continue reading Marois calls snap election with eye on Québécois separatist majority

The problem with Pauline Marois’s sovereignist minority government in Québec


One year into the minority government of Québec premier Pauline Marois, the province is again at the center of controversy with a new attempt to legislate a ‘charter of Québec values’ that’s drawing ire from the rest of Canada. Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

That chart above isn’t a joke — it was released yesterday by Québec’s government, and it purports to demonstrate examples of ‘non-ostentatious’ signs that state employees are permitted to wear.

You’ll note that two-thirds of ‘approved’ examples are Judeo-Christian religions and three-fifths of the ‘banned’ examples are not.  The ‘secular charter’ (la charte de la laïcité) would ban public sector workers from wearing kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs or ‘large’ crucifixes.  Remember that in Québec, the public sector is quite expansive, so the charter would capture not only folks like teachers, police and civil servants, but employees in Québec’s universities and health care sector as well.

For good measure, the proposed charter would also tweak Québec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to limit religious exemptions, though it wouldn’t eliminate subsidies to religious private schools in Québec that are largely Catholic and largely funded by the state and it wouldn’t eliminate property tax exemptions for churches and other religious buildings.

In short, the charter looks less like a secular bill of rights than a sop to French Canadians to perpetuate preferred legal and cultural benefits at the expense of other ethnic and religious groups — tellingly, the crucifix hanging in Québec’s provincial assembly would be exempt from the law.  A charter that, at face value, purports to secularize Québec’s society, would actually enshrine the dominant Catholic French Canadian culture and exclude Canada’s growing global immigrant population from many of the religious freedoms typically associated with a liberal democracy.  If passed into law, it would conflict with the religious freedom guaranteed in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (essentially, Canada’s bill of rights) — Québec did not sign the federal Charter, nor did it approve of the 1982 constitutional settlement, but remains subject to the federal Charter.  That means the ‘secular charter’ could once again put Québec on a collision course with the rest of Canada.

It’s also the latest salvo in a series of only-in-Québec culture-war misfires that have plagued the Marois government since it took power last year, and it goes a long way to explaining why Marois and the sovereignist Parti québécois (PQ) are in danger of losing the next election.

Over the past year, it would have been enough for Marois to declare victory on the issue of student fees and largely pacifying student protests, to declare that her government would largely continue Charest’s Plan Nord, a push to develop Québec’s far north in pursuit of resources over the coming decades, and to focus on bringing investment and jobs to Québec.  Marois’s government has also pushed to end support for Québec’s notorious asbestos industry, winning plaudits from environmentalists.

But if you want to know why Marois’s minority government isn’t in a more commanding position, it’s because it has pursued language and culture legislation as a time when Québec, which wasn’t exactly Canada’s most growth-oriented province to begin with (its per-capita GDP of around CAD$43,400 is CAD$5,500 less than neighboring Ontario’s and a staggering CAD$35,000 less than resource-rich Alberta), is falling behind the rest of Canada.

Between August 2012 and August 2013, Canada’s unemployment rate has dropped from 7.8% to 7.6%, but in Québec, the unemployment rate rose from 7.8% to 8.1%.

Instead, her government has plunged Québec back into the language wars, drawing ridiculous global headlines — a great example is the crackdown of the Office québécois de la langue française against a Montréal Italian restaurant’s use of the word ‘pasta’ and other Italian words on its menu and demanding the restaurant print their French equivalents more prominently. (Though we all know that apéritif or hors-d’œuvre is not the same thing as antipasto are not the same thing).

It comes after the Marois government has largely given up its year-long fight to pass Bill 14, which would amend Québec’s La charte de la langue française (Charter of the French Language, also known as ‘Bill 101’) by allowing the government to revoke a provincial municipality’s bilingual status if the anglophone population falls below 50%, requiring small businesses (of between 26 and 49 people) to use French as their everyday workplace language, and mandating that all businesses that serve the public use French with customers.

Marois switched gears from the language charter to a new religious charter when it became clear that her minority government would have a hard time pushing Bill 14 through, but also because a ban on religious symbols is relatively popular among the Québécois electorate.  Continue reading The problem with Pauline Marois’s sovereignist minority government in Québec

Who is Philippe Couillard?


As unbelievable as it seems, the Jean Charest era is firmly over in Québécois politics.Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

Philippe Couillard, his former minister of health and social services, is now the leader of Québec’s Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ), which narrowly lost its reelection campaign in September 2012 for what would have been a fourth consecutive term in government under Charest.

As expected, Couillard won on the first ballot with 58.5% of the vote — the convention lacked the drama of January’s Ontario Liberal Party convention that saw Kathleen Wynne win the leadership in Canada’s largest province, thereby paving the way for Wynne to succeed Dalton McGuinty as Ontario’s premier.

So who is Couillard and what does his elevation as Québec’s chief opposition leader mean for the province and for Canada?

A neurosurgeon by training, Couillard came to provincial government in 2003 as a member of the provincial legislature from Mont-Royal, a constituency in Montréal, though he stepped down in 2008 after a relatively successful stint as health minister, where he oversaw a ban on public smoking in the province.

During the leadership race, Couillard received criticism for his partnership with Arthur Porter, the former head of McGill University’s health center, who is living in the Bahamas and wanted on fraud charges in respect of a 2010 contract to build McGill’s new hospital — Couillard had partnered with Porter for a consulting venture in 2008 upon returning to the private sector.

Couillard must now win a seat in the Assemblée nationale du Québec, although he may well wait until the next election, and he’s said that winning a new seat is not a top priority for him — Jean-Marc Fournier, who served as the interim party leader, will continue for now as the PLQ floor leader in the provincial assembly.  Because the current sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ) holds only a minority government under premier Pauline Marois, Québec could return to the polls, perhaps even within the year.  So it’s fair that rebuilding and rebranding Québec’s Liberal Party is a more pressing task for Couillard in the months ahead.

Unlike Charest, who worked to keep a lid on the fraught constitutional politics that afflicted Québec in the 1970s and the 1990s, Couillard has wasted no time in calling on the province to become a signatory to Canada’s 1982 constitution by the year 2017 — a move that’s already generating controversy both inside Québec and outside:

“We need to be methodical in the way we are going to approach this,” said [Couillard]… “The first thing to do is within our party, to discuss this question of identity or the specific nature of Quebec and then have conversations with the other governments of Canada on how this could be approached.”

He proposed that a new round of constitutional talks could include other issues, such as prime minister Stephen Harper’s proposal to reform the Senate. “This could be one window of opportunity,” he said adding that another more “symbolic window” would be the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

That’s slightly perilous talk for any Canadian politician in light of the constitutional battles of the early 1990s — the 1990 Meech Lake accord failed and Canadians voted down the Charlottetown accord in a 1992 referendum, one of the reasons for the implosion of Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney’s government.  Three years later, Québec voted by only the narrowest of margins to remain within Canada in a referendum on its future status.

Charest, a federalist who led the Progressive Conservatives in the 1997 Canadian federal elections, left national politics for provincial politics in 1998, and his Québec premiership sought to downplay constitutional and sovereignty issues.

Couillard has also criticized Marois’s government for its proposed Bill 14, which would make Québec’s French language laws even stricter by revoking the ‘bilingual’ status of municipalities with less than 50% anglophone population, introduce a mandatory French proficiency test for Québécois students, and prevent small businesses (less than 25 employees) from using English in the workplace. Continue reading Who is Philippe Couillard?

What next for Liberal leader Jean Charest?

Jean Charest stepped down yesterday as the leader of Québec’s Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ), following his loss in Tuesday’s election for the 125-seat Assemblée nationale.

His party finished less than 0.75% behind the soveriegntist Parti québécois (PQ), and it won just 50 seats to the PQ’s 54.  But those four extra seats mean that the PQ will form a minority government under Pauline Marois, bringing Charest’s nine years as premier to an end.  Charest himself lost the seat that he has held since 1998 in his election district of Sherbrooke (where he also held a federal seat in the House of Commons from 1984 until leaving federal politics to take the helm of the PLQ).

The race is on to replace him, although outgoing justice minister Jean-Marc Fournier has already said he’s not running, and the remaining candidates are hardly well-known figures:

  • Raymond Bachand, Charest’s finance minister since 2009, has only been a MNA since 2005 and, at age 64, may be viewed as too old for the leadership.
  • Pierre Moreau, an MNA since 2003, was most recently Charest’s transportation minister.
  • Sam Hamad, also an MNA since 2003, the is Syrian-born, a former minister of labour, employment and transport, and most recently minister of economic development.
  • Pierre Paradis, an MNA since 1980, who clashed with Charest and never served in Charest’s cabinet, was previously a candidate in the 1983 leadership race that Robert Bourassa won.

In fact, the 1983 contest that Bourassa won was the last contested PLQ leadership race.  Bourassa, who was premier of Québec from 1970 to 1976, resigned after losing the 1976 election to the PQ, only to return in 1983 to provincial politics — he would thereupon return as premier from 1985 to 1994.

After nearly three decades at the pinnacle of Canadian and Québécois politics, surely Charest deserves a break — to be a grandfather and to reclaim a bit of his own life.

But was Charest’s decision the right one politically? Continue reading What next for Liberal leader Jean Charest?

An amazing 48 hours in Québec

Well, there’s not much I can add to what the Canadian — and indeed, the Québécois, media — have covered in the past 48 hours.

But let’s just recount:

  • In Tuesday’s election, the Parti québécois (PQ) finished first with 31.94% with 54 seats.
  • Premier Jean Charest’s Parti liberal du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) came a very-much closer-than-expected 31.20% with 50 seats.
  • The newly-formed Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) trailed narrowly with just 27.05%, but won just 19 seats.  That’s surely somewhat of a disappointment for its leader, François Legault, but the party did very well in the Québec City region and former Montréal police chief and anti-corruption figure Jacques Duchesneau won a seat.  Nonetheless, the CAQ was the significant gainer in the election and Legault has an excellent chance to build upon his success.
  • As such, the PQ leader, Pauline Marois, will form a minority government, and Marois will the first woman to become Québec’s premier, although it seems likely that we’ll see new elections long before the five-year government runs its course.
  • Marois’s victory speech was marred by a horrific assassination attempt, which left one man dead and another injured.
  • Léo Bureau-Blouin — the articulate 21-year-old and student spokesman — won his seat for the PQ in Laval-des-Rapides.
  • The leftist Québec solidaire won both seats for Amir Khadir and rising star Françoise David, but achieved a total vote of just 6.03%.  That, however, combined with the 1.90% that the breakaway sovereigntist Option nationale won likely hampered the PQ in its efforts to win a majority government — that’s nearly 8% of the electorate that would likely not have supported the PLQ or the CAQ.
  • Charest stepped down as leader yesterday after three decades in political life and after nine years as Québec’s premier.  Charest lost his own election district, Sherbrooke, which he has represented in either the federal House of Commons or Québec’s Assemblée nationale.
  • Marois has already started to move forward on ending Charest’s planned tuition hikes on students, the controversial Bill 78 limiting street protests and introducing changes to Bill 101, strengthening and enhancing the French-language requirements in the province.

Québec votes today

Canada’s only French-speaking and second-largest province goes to the polls today to elect the 125-member Assemblée nationale — Quebec’s politics are a fascinating subset of Canadian politics (notwithstanding the fact that the election will likely have a minimal impact on federal Canadian politics).

Rather than try to provide my own rundown and projection, I’ll leave it to Éric Grenier of ThreeHundredEight: his ridiculously detailed (and amazing) projection calls for a majority government led by the leftist, sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ), although just barely.

Polls show three top parties since premier Jean Charest announced snap elections and kicked off the campaign on August 1:

  • Charest’s own Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) — Charest has governed the province since 2003, and the Liberals are seeking their fourth consecutive mandate in the face of charges of corruption (the Charbonneau Commission is looking into whether the government traded construction contracts in exchange for political financing) and a government that’s not done enough to boost the economy, despite a flashy plan to develop northern Québec.
  • The PQ, led by Pauline Marois, which is looking to return to provincial government after nearly a decade.
  • The Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), led by François Legault, which was formed just last year and which lies vaguely to the right of the PLQ, although not in every way, and which lies somewhere between the sovereigntism of the PQ and the federalism of the PLQ (Legault, a former PQ minister, once supported the 1995 referendum on Québec’s independence, but has said any CAQ government will not pursue a new referendum).  The CAQ’s recruitment of quality candidates has been a boost, none of which more so than former Montréal police chief Jacques Duchesneau, whose presence in the election has been a constant reminder of potential PLQ corruption.

Grenier forecasts 63 seats for the PQ, just 33 seats for the Liberals and 27 for the CAQ.  If true, it would be a bloodbath for Charest’s Liberals, who would stand a chance of being pushed not only out of government, but into third place (while the CAQ becomes the Official Opposition) — it would likely also mean that Charest himself would lose his seat in Sherbrooke, a district where he’s been winning elections since 1984.

Roughly speaking, the PLQ is expected to hold its own in Montréal and its suburbs, where most of the province’s anglophones live (although they comprise 10% or so of the electorate, English-speakers tend to vote en masse for the Liberals, even though there are signs that some may be considering the CAQ).  The CAQ is expected to do well around Québec City further north, and the PQ is expected to do well everywhere else.

A key question will be whether two smaller more radically leftists and sovereigntist parties, Québec solidaire (whose spokeswoman Françoise David performed well in the party leaders debate) and Option nationale, succeed in taking away votes form the PQ — Marois has tread very lightly on the sovereignty issue, making it clear that she’s more interested in governing the province than arranging another referendum.

Increasingly less important over the course of the campaign has been the tuition fee issue — student protests over tuition hikes that shut down Montréal universities, and Charest’s police-heavy (some might say unconstitutionally repressive) response, brough international attention last spring.  Despite Marois’s opposition to tuition hikes and a high-profile PQ candidate in 20-year-old student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin, the issue has not had the salience you might have expected just a few months ago.

I am traveling most of Tuesday, but hopefully will have some brief thoughts much later tonight when we have an idea of which party — PLQ, PQ or CAQ — has won the most seats and whether they’ll command enough seats to have a majority government.

In the meanwhile, a little Céline Dion to help set the election day mood, and of course you can follow all of Suffragio‘s coverage of the election here.

À bientôt!

Plan Nord and the Québec election

Lurking behind the sexier issues at the forefront of tomorrow’s Québec provincial elections — sovereignty, federal-Québec relations, health care, corruption inquiries, tuition fees and student protests — lies an issue that will be quite strongly affected by who wins.

That issue is premier Jean Charest’s Plan nord — a plan announced in May 2011 to exploit the natural resources in the great expanse that comprises the northern two-thirds of Québec.  The idea is that over the next 25 years, the Plan will attract up to $80 billion in investments for mining, renewable and other forms of energy and forestry.  Charest, whose Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) is struggling to win a fourth consecutive mandate, has made it one of his government’s top priorities, although it’s been met with some resistance from environmentalists as well as from the native Innu people, around 15,000 of whom inhabit Québec’s far north, to say nothing of Charest’s political opponents.

His government claims that northern Québec contains deposits of nickel, cobalt, platinum group metals, zinc, iron ore, diamonds, ilmenite, gold, lithium, vanadium and rare-earth metals, and that, with a warming climate and melting polar ice, extracting the mineral wealth will be easier than in past generations.  The region, although fairly undeveloped and remote, already produces 75% of hydroelectric power in Québec.

Pauline Marois, who leads the sovereigntist — and more leftist — Parti québécois (PQ), which leads polls for tomorrow’s election, has said that she will not scrap the plan if elected, but will instead raise royalties on mining companies from 16% to 30% for mining companies that achieve a certain level of profits, with a minimum royalty of 5% on all mining companies.  Charest’s government has already raised royalties from 12% to 16%.

François Legault, the leader of the newly-formed Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), has argued that Charest’s government is “putting all its eggs in one basket” with Plan nord, but he hasn’t said he wants to scrap it — he’s criticized Marois as well for trying to extract more royalties from mining companies.  Legault has proposed using $5 billion from the province’s $160 billion Caisse de depot et placement (its public pension fund) to capitalize a new natural resources fund.

In announcing Plan nord, Charest stressed the developmental elements of the plan, which would include a $2.1 billion investment from the province in northern infrastructure and which would also aim to build roads to link communities — in many cases, for the first time.

He also stressed the conservation elements of the plan — the government has claimed it will set aside 50% of the region for natural protection and unavailable for industrial development.

Late last week, however, Charest’s PLQ was ranked the worst of the three parties for the environment in a survey among environmental groups — a fourth party, the leftist and sovereigntist Québec solidaire,  scored the highest with 83% under the survey, while the Liberals scored just 33%.  The report followed another news story in Le Devoir late last week that claimed the Plan nord would wipe out wild caribou herds in the region.

Meanwhile, it is not clear that Charest has ever had the native population, which owns much of the land and mineral rights, quite on board.  Also last week, Ghislain Picard, Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, criticized the Charest government in a criticized the manner in which the Charest government has approached northern development: Continue reading Plan Nord and the Québec election

Could this man defeat Québec premier Jean Charest in his own district?

Serge Cardin (pictured above) leads the premier of Québec in his own election district by 12 points in the latest Segma poll — by a daunting margin of 45% to 33%. 

It’s not a fluke — Jean Charest’s seat is one of the most vital election districts to watch among the 125 seats up for grabs in next Tuesday’s election for control of Québec’s Assemblée nationale, and it’s far from certain that Charest himself will even be reelected.  Cardin’s 12-point lead is actually narrower than a poll earlier in the month that showed him with a 15-point lead.

Just yesterday, protesters in Sherbrooke proved so disruptive that Charest cancelled a campaign appearance in his own district.  Moreover, Charest has spent a significant amount of time in Sherbrooke since announcing snap elections in early August, indicating that the premier is increasingly worried about his own constituency.

Although Charest has been the premier of Québec for nearly a decade, and he’s won elections in eight federal and provincial elections since 1984 in Sherbrooke, he faces an increasingly tough fight — the latest province-wide CROP poll shows his party, the Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) in third place with just 26% to 33% for Pauline Marois’s sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ) and 28% for François Legault’s newly-formed Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ).

Charest, who is seeking a fourth consecutive mandate from Québec voters, finds his government under attack from both the PQ and the CAQ on the economy, on his response to student protesters over the tuition increase and, above all, charges of corruption, including a high-profile commission investigating whether his government traded construction contracts in exchange for political financing. Continue reading Could this man defeat Québec premier Jean Charest in his own district?