The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) catapulted to national recognition when it defied even the most optimistic projections to win a majority government in the provincial election on October 1st.
TL;DR Since the October 1st Quebec election, the CAQ has repeatedly stirred controversy. Listed below are 7 things the CAQ has done so far that have attracted widespread criticism.
Since then, the CAQ has repeatedly stirred controversy. Although the new National Assembly only officially convenes later this month, the party has already caused what some view as irrecoverable harm.
Listed below are seven of the worst things the party has done so far. Remember that the views expressed in this opinion piece in no way reflect the views of this publication as a whole.
Religious symbol ban and exceptions
In the week after the October 1st election, CAQ leader François Legault announced his intention to invoke the notwithstanding clause, which basically grants provinces certain exceptions from federal law, to enforce a ban on religious symbols for public servants which a court struck down under the law provincial government.
The ban will disproporionately affect Muslim women and Jewish men, for whom religious garments can be a necessary demonstration of faith. Meanwhile, the Christian symbols on public land, including the giant cross atop Mount Royal in Montreal and the crucifix in the National Assembly in Québec City, may stay, according to Legault, because they have "historical" and not religious significance.
This, of course, is a folly. Both Christian symbols are rooted in the colonial expansion of Catholicism in French North America. These exceptions to the religious symbol ban expose it for what it is: a thinly-veiled validation of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.
Just the announcement by Legault was enough to provoke national outrage and embolden far-right groups with racist claims of ultimate legitimacy in Quebec.
No commitment on the environment
Of the four major political parties that released climate action plans before the October election, those of the CAQ was by far the weakest. Since its victory, the party has been further mercurial about its environmental policy.
Legault has said, for example, that he will not sign a pact that commits signatories to radical action to address climate change.
In response to the weak plan for the environment from the CAQ, thousands of Montrealers took to the streets this past weekend.
Tens of thousands filled the Place des Festivales demanding the CAQ government make the environment a priority. Demonstrators now slowly marching west on Ste Catherine. pic.twitter.com/TQywp5GYzL
Legault has since stated that his party is "doing its homework" on environmental issues. But it might be too little too late.
Other CAQ promises, too, defy progressive climate policy. The new government's choice to focus on highway improvements instead of investing in public transit, for instance, will only incentivize fossil fuel consumption.
Flip-flop on repayment of Hydro surplus
When news broke that Hydro Québec had overcharged its customers a total of $14,000,000,000 over the past decade, it quickly became a political issue.
The CAQ, then the opposition party, lambasted the PLQ government for this mismanagement. Legault vowed during the campaign period earlier this fall to repay Hydro customers the entirety of that unfair surplus.
On Friday, however, the party attempted to bury its announcement that these promised reimbursements are not, in fact possible. That $14,000,000,000 has already been distributed to shareholders and employees as dividends and benefits and is thus irretrievable.
This information was likely available to the CAQ long before the election. The party used a false promise as a political prop. While the CAQ did not gain its majority government on this issue, alone, the matter did contribute to its brand as a righteous and transparent alternative to the PLQ.
This flip-flop raises serious questions about the CAQ's accountability. But perhaps most disappointing is the sad reality that Hydro customers are not getting their money back.
STM Yellow line extension
The CAQ derives its strength from its suburban base. Non-urban areas voted overwhelmingly for the centre-right party. The island of Montreal, by contrast, will only have two CAQ representatives in the National Assembly. A majority of city residents opted instead for the PLQ and QS.
This suburban base explains the CAQ's focus on non-urban development. The party will dedicate more resources toward highway infrastructure than transit in the urban core. Legault's interest in an extension of the STM Yellow line is an exception only because it mostly serves suburban commuters.
The Yellow line connects suburbanites on the South Shore of the Saint Lawrence River with the Orange and Green lines at Berri-UQAM station. Commuters need only park their cars at Longueuil station to avoid the congested bridges into the city.
An extension of the Yellow line toward St-Hubert airport would expand access for these commuters. To be clear, any heavy-rail transit expansion is generally a good thing. But Legault's approval of a possible Yellow line extension over much more critical transit projects on Montreal island, like the long-promised Blue line extension to Anjou, is negligent.
Antagonism toward Montreal
Because the city voted for its political opponents, the CAQ has no incentive to serve urban interests. Moreover, the social and economic progressivism that defines Montreal is a major threat to the CAQ's policies of fiscal conservatism and cultural preservation.
For these reasons, the CAQ has made clear its antagonism toward Montreal. Legault appointed as minister for the Montreal region mayor Plante's former political rival. He also disapproves of the mayor's proposed STM Pink line, which would run from Montreal North, through downtown, and west to Lachine. The Pink line, perhaps the most radical transit proposal the city has seen in fifty years, was the cornerstone of Plante's mayoral campaign.
Legault's denunciation of the transit proposal directly undermines the mayor and makes clear his reluctance to serve the people of Montreal.
Reduction in immigration
The CAQ has promised to both reduce immigration to Quebec and expel those immigrants who do not demonstrate proficiency in French within three years.
Both moves could prove economically catastrophic. Quebec is in the midst of a major labour shortage. The province is in desperate need of skilled workers. Any policy that would discourage immigration will have major economic consequences in the long term.
Quebec already has the right to select its own immigrants based in part on French language proficiency. That is how it should be. People coming to the province should respect its official language.
As it stands, however, the province has little power to do more than that. Immigration is controlled by the Canadian federal government. It is unclear how the CAQ could actually reduce immigration.
The CAQ, and Legault in particular, has a tendancy to make grand proposals with sweeping rhetoric without disclosing a means by which these plans could actually manifest.
These untenable proposals amount to a grand scam. The CAQ will not be able to deliver on some of its core promises. That inability will damage its credibility and disappoint eager voters.