CAQ elected as Quebec's government with a majority
Francois Legault promised he would bring change to Quebec, and he has finally managed to do that.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec was elected Monday as the province's new government, making it the first time since 1970 that a party other than the Liberals or the Parti Quebecois will be governing Quebec.
"Today we have marked history. Today there are many Quebecers who have put aside a debate that has divided us for 50 years. Today there are many Quebecers who have demonstrated that we can work together," said Legault.
"We were able to gather and it's in the spirit of gathering that I have the intent to govern for all Quebecers.
"I invite all men and women of goodwill to join us, to put their shoulder to the wheel to do more for all Quebecers.
"Today Quebecers have chosen hope," said the next premier of Quebec.
"I can guarantee that we will give our all to answer this hope. We will do it for families, for children, for the elders who built modern Quebec. We will do it also for our regions," said Legault.
Legault's support comes from across the province, winning 74 of the 125 seats in Quebec, taking support from traditional PQ strongholds such as the Laurentians, while also grabbing seats in Liberal areas such as Laval and eastern Quebec.
The CAQ won a majority with 37 percent of the popular vote, the lowest percentage to grant a majority in Quebec's history.
The CAQ's weakest support is on the island of Montreal, where only 19 percent of voters prefer the CAQ, although it has managed to win two seats on the eastern tip of the island.
Overall about 38 percent of Quebecers chose the CAQ, granting the party a four-year majority government.
"We have huge challenges before us, but we are capable, we Quebecers, are able to meet those challenges," said Legault.
Addressing the crowd in English, Legault once again dismissed the notion of Quebec's independence.
"Let's start working together now for the benefits of all Quebecers! Let's work together to make Quebec stronger within Canada, and I want to assure you that my government will be your government," said Legault.
What to expect
The CAQ's raison d'etre is to improve Quebec's economy and education and to that end the party made multiple promises aimed at streamlining the province's bureaucracy.
The party's promises include:
- eliminating up to 30,000 civil servant positions through early retirement
- eliminating 200,000 additional civil servant jobs
- reducing immigration to 40,000 per year
- making immigrants take a language and values test after three years
- raising the legal age for purchasing cannabis to 21
- eliminating school boards and replace them with regional service centres
- scrapping CHSLDs and replacing them with modern seniors' homes
- prohibiting government employees from wearing religious symbols
Legault has promised new spending measures to improve the lives of Quebecers, including:
- extending the REM to other suburbs
- extending the Blue metro line in Montreal
- creating a tramway in Montreal's east end
- adding lanes to Highway 30
- spending $400 million on high speed internet
- spending $1 billion on new seniors' residences
- increasing the family allowance
Legault went back and forth on several issues during the campaign, including how best to integrate immigrants.
Following the English-language debate, Legault said he would, as did the leaders of all four parties, keep the English secretariat.
In his acceptance speech Legault declared, once again, he would attempt to be inclusive.
"I want to remind everyone that even if we are opponents, we are not enemies. There are many more things that we share than divide us. Let's never forget this," said Legault.
Campaign of gaffes and surprising revelations
The election campaign began with Francois Legault's Coalition Avenir Quebec having the most support among decided voters, and certainly among francophones, and retained that position throughout August and September.
Legault entered the campaign with a commanding lead in the polls, but it shrank substantially as the campaign went on.
The low point for the CAQ came during the week of debates, first in French, then in English, as Legault was frequently questioned by other leaders to clarify his stance on immigration.
Legault has frequently said that Quebec accepts too many immigrants and does a poor job integrating those it does accept.
At times he was vague about precisely how he would change this, but eventually settled upon a number -- 40,000 -- of immigrants that should be allowed in Quebec, which is about 13,000 fewer than the number of immigrants currently accepted each year.
Legault also touted a series of tests to allow citizens to stay in Quebec, saying that three years after becoming citizens, people should be forced out of Quebec if they failed a "simple" test that would cover the French language and Quebec's values.
The problem -- which Legault never resolved or explained -- is that Quebec does not have the power to force any citizen to leave the province.
Legault was also proven to know very little about how citizenship is obtained, at one point telling reporters he believed it took just three months for an immigrant to become a Canadian citizen, when it reality it takes at least three years of living in Canada before an application is accepted.
Legault also had to backtrack after talking to a voter in Rimouski, where 98 percent of the population speaks French at home, who said that immigrants were going to erase Quebecers, "change our customs," and "remove our crosses."
He told that woman to vote for his party because he would stand strong against immigrants, but the next day said the word "erase" was too strong.
"Yes, we have to protect our language," he said. "French will always be vulnerable in Quebec. And we have to make sure that we protect our values."
Legault is by far the wealthiest political leader in Quebec. During the campaign he revealed that his assets total $9.86 million, including a Montreal home worth $4.5 million.
He has retirement savings worth $5.78 million and nearly half a million dollars available under a line of credit..
"I think it's a tradition in about everywhere in the world to publish your assets, to publish your income-tax reports," Legault said. "I did it in 2014, I did it this year. I think it's important that we be transparent.
When Legault published his financial information, the other political leaders followed suit.
During the final week of the campaign Legault's wife made headlines after recordings of what she said at a CAQ event in August were released.
In August, Isabelle Brais was the guest of honour at a Westmount fundraiser and she proceeded to insult Justin Trudeau for his handling of a state visit to India, saying that he was "not brilliant."
She also said that people in Saskatchewan and Ontario, where she lived for several years, had no culture.
On election night the prime minister congratulated Legault on his success.
"I look forward to working with Premier Legault to make Quebec, a province we are all proud of, an even better place to live. We will continue to stand up for Quebec’s workers and industries, create good, middle class jobs, build a strong economy based on on innovation, protect the environment, and combat climate change. Together, we will work to make the province even more dynamic and prosperous, to the benefit of all Quebecers," said the statement.
Two decades in Quebec politics
Legault entered politics in 1998 following a success career in finance and as co-founder of Air Transat.
Elected as a member of the Parti Quebecois, Legault served in cabinet under Premier Lucien Bouchard as a Minister for Industry and later as the Minister for Education, where he fought often with the bureaucracy and developed one of the key proposals for the CAQ: the elimination of school boards across Quebec.
Legault also served as Minister of Health before being relegated to the opposition benches in 2003 when the Liberals defeated the PQ.
He was re-elected again in 2007 and 2008, but stepped down in 2009.
Two years after he left the National Assembly, Legault returned with a promise for a third way in politics: a party that would be neither federalist nor separatist, but would be a coalition of both ideas.
From day one, the CAQ said Quebec needed to focus on the economy, on managing health care, reducing the dropout rate in high schools, and on cutting income taxes.
Even before it was officially created, polls showed Legault's party was more popular than either the Liberals or the PQ of the day, but that support dwindled on election days in 2012 and 2014, where the party won 19 and 22 seats respectively.
Along the way the CAQ took over the Action Democratique Quebec (the similarly-themed centre-right party formed by Mario Dumont in the early '90s) and saw many high-profile members come and go, including Gaetan Barrette and Dominque Anglade, both of whom joined the Liberal party and served as cabinet ministers.