Quebec could shape the federal election

Quebec could shape the federal election

For the first time in 42 years, the curtain rose on the opening speech of a new party governing in Quebec’s national assembly on Wednesday.

The circumstances could not have been more different than in 1976. Back then, the election of a Parti Quebecois government had sent shock waves across the country.

It propelled the unity issue to the forefront of the Canadian political conversation. There it remained for almost half a century.

As recently as 2014, the possibility of the election of a majority PQ government under Pauline Marois prompted then-prime minister Stephen Harper to uncharacteristically reach out to the premiers and to the main federal opposition leaders for advice on how to thwart the scenario of another referendum.

By comparison, little drama attended the delivery by Premier Francois Legault of his Coalition Avenir Quebec government’s opening speech. The next Quebec/Canada chapter is to be written by federalists at both the provincial and federal levels.

And while Legault is not a natural ally of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, his relationship with the prime minister is — at least for now — less adversarial than that of Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

When it comes to federal-provincial relations, it is a bit as if Quebec had traded places with Ontario.

But the CAQ still stands to shape the next election’s conversation in ways that could be challenging for the main federalist parties, starting with Trudeau’s Liberals.

The immigration issue dominated the recent Quebec campaign and many observers expect it to resurface in the lead up to next fall’s federal vote.

They could be right, but it is not yet a given. Since the provincial election, the two governments have opened negotiations on Legault’s bid to reduce Quebec’s immigration intake. He is set to bring it down from 52,000 to 40,000 next year.

Legault also wants to insert a French-language fluency test in the citizenship process undergone by immigrants admitted under the Quebec/Ottawa agreement. Depending on the outcome of the discussions between the two capitals, a frontal collision may yet be if not avoided entirely, at least delayed somewhat.

It may prove harder to put a lid on the even more contentious debate over the balance between religious rights and the secular character of Quebec’s public institutions.

Like the two governments before his, Legault is committed to implementing coercive measures as part of his party’s secularist agenda.

The CAQ plans to introduce legislation early next year to impose a secular dress code on judges, Crown prosecutors, prison guards, police officers and teachers. The premier reiterated as much in Wednesday’s opening speech.

“We will be very firm on that and we will act rapidly,” he declared.

This will be the third kick by a Quebec government at the same divisive can of worms. In both previous instances, the initiative resulted in fiery debates.

Legault’s upcoming bill will similarly face legal challenges. But he says he will override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms if need be to ensure it comes into force.

One way or another, the next instalment of the secularism debate is upon the province. As far as public opinion, it seems it is Legault’s to lose.

Neither Trudeau’s Liberals nor his Conservative and New Democrat rivals have much appetite for seeing the federal campaign become an extension of Quebec’s latest existential debate.

But inasmuch as the Bloc Quebecois and Maxime Bernier’s nascent People’s Party may be itching for a fight on what they believe could be fertile grounds in Quebec for their respective organizations, the main parties may have little choice in the matter.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

Just Posted

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Alberta’s declining COVID-19 numbers are a positive sign for the province. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer down to 634 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone down to 2,054 active cases

Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Rylan Thiessen (26) guards the front of the net as goalie Connor Unger makes a save on Winnipeg Ice forward Skyler Bruce during a Western Hockey League game on April 14 at the Brandt Centre in Regina. Brandon won 5-3. (Keith Hershmiller Photography)
Two big trades provide stability for Red Deer Rebels

All Connor Ungar wanted was an opportunity and he’s finally found it.… Continue reading

(Screenshot).
Seven central Alberta charities benefit from community foundation grants

Seven central Alberta charities have received grants from the Red Deer and… Continue reading

Red Deer Gun Show organizer, Harold Drok, is concerned $1 fee from each ticket sale will go to Westerner Park once shows can be restarted there. This new policy replaces parking fees which will be waived for future Westerner Park events. (Black Press file photo)
Event organizer concerned about Westerner Park’s new parking fee model

A show organizer is concerned this could impact proceeds

A rodeo south of Bowden drew a huge crowd on May 1 and 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Mom’s Diner’s Facebook page)
Organizers of central Alberta anti-lockdown rodeo plead not guilty

Ty and Gail Northcott charged under the Public Health Act

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

FILE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. Lee has signed legislation putting public schools and districts at risk of losing civil lawsuits if they let transgender students or employees use multi-person bathrooms that do not reflect their gender at birth. Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill Friday, May 14, 2021 cementing another policy into law in Tennessee that LGBTQ advocates say discriminates against their community. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, file)
Tennessee to mandate bathroom signs about transgender use

Tennessee to mandate bathroom signs about transgender use

(CPAC)
Trudeau says he knew about investigation into general overseeing vaccines weeks ago

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he learned weeks ago that… Continue reading

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States for a COVID-19 vaccine and avoid quarantine on return if they meet some straightforward conditions, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirms.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Canadians can drive to U.S. for COVID-19 vax and avoid quarantine, Ottawa confirms

TORONTO — Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Quebec can modify part of the Canadian Constitution unilaterally: Trudeau

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Quebec can unilaterally modify part… Continue reading

In this Thursday, April 29, 2021, file photo, giant bucket-wheel excavators extract coal at the controversial Garzweiler surface coal mine near Jackerath, West Germany. Canadian environmentalists are welcoming a report from the International Energy Agency that says new fossil fuel investment must end if the world is to meet its climate goals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Martin Meissner
Canadian environmentalists happy with International Energy Agency report

Environmentalists say a report from the International Energy Agency that concludes investment… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ceasefire needed in Israeli-Palestinian conflict to avoid loss of more civilians: PM

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is calling for a… Continue reading

A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis
Saskatchewan wildfire grows, forcing evacuations in the area to expand

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Dry conditions and strong winds caused a large… Continue reading

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Tam hopeful for summer even as Canada hits grim death milestone in COVID-19 pandemic

OTTAWA — Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says she expects… Continue reading

Most Read