Francois Legault takes hard line against sovereignty
Published Saturday, June 25, 2016 7:35AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, June 25, 2016 11:31AM EDT
It's been 18 years since Francois Legault first won a seat at the National Assembly.
With recent poll numbers suggesting a steady rise in support for the Coalition Avenir Quebec he now sees himself with a very good chance of becoming the next premier of Quebec.
But Legault knows the best way to make that breakthrough will be to earn support from a group that's been eluding him ever since he launched the CAQ five years ago.
His first political career, as a hardline separatist, haunts him still among the anglophone and allophone population of Quebec.
"The anglos, they still see me as a former guy from from the PQ," he said earlier this month.
In the early days of the CAQ Legault tried to play it both ways by promising not to make sovereignty an issue for at least a decade.
Now he is taking a harder line and acknowledging that separation is an idea that has come and gone.
Legault says that a vote for the CAQ is a vote for Canada, plain and simple.
"I want to be clear and I want to promise everybody that never at the CAQ will there be a referendum. Never," said Legault.
The former PQ cabinet minister says it's not a contradiction, just realistic.
"I'm a pragmatic guy, and we have to be realistic. Two-thirds of Quebecers, they don't want to hear about the sovereignty of Quebec," said Legault.
He says Quebecers have been trapped in the same polarizing pattern for decades, and that it is time to move past thinking there is only one federalist party in the province.
"People were only voting on one subject. The ballot question was: are we for or against the sovereignty of Quebec?" said Legault.
It's a debate that has crippled the province, and prevented Quebecers from tackling the economy, education, and other provincial issues.
"Economic growth is still slow, the GDP per capita is very low compared to other states or provinces in North America," said Legault.
Trying to court anglophone and allophone voters who traditionally support the Liberal party may be a tough sell because while Legault has given up on the idea of sovereignty, he is still very much putting Quebec first.
"I think it's important that we protect not only our language, French, but also protect our values," said Legault.
He also wants to see Quebec have more control of immigration, with better tools for integrating those immigrants.
"We already select about 70% of new immigrants at the Quebec government level, so why not 100%?" said Legault.
But he wants to do that as a strong Quebec within a united Canada.
"You can be proud of being Quebecer and proud of being a Canadian," said Legault.
Premier Philippe Couillard has accused Legault of "fanning the flames of intolerance" for questioning the government's immigration targets, and the CAQ has lost at least one high profile supporter because of that very issue.
Dominique Anglade is a Liberal cabinet member, who said she left her position as president of the CAQ in part because Legault's party isn't as open as it used to be.
Last September she said that as a child of immigrants, she had to leave the CAQ.
"Questions around identity, questions around immigration and for me it's not a small issue. My parents were immigrants. This is something that is really a part of my DNA. I can't look at this and say it represents me," said Anglade.
Legault acknowledges that his party needs more diversity, having only elected ethnic francophone MNAs without any visible minorities, but said he believes Anglade had other reasons for leaving.
"She would like that we be open to everybody, to all kinds of value and we have a difference of opinion on that. But honestly, that wasn't the real reason why she accepted the offer of the Liberal party. It was because she wanted to be a minister, and that's it, that's all," said Legault.
He said that immigration and diversity and integration are important issues, not just in Quebec, but in the UK where he said the vote to leave the European Union was due, in part, to "a rejection of the multiculturalist approach."
Legault argues that being inclusive means making provincial pride something for everyone to enjoy, starting with the Fete Nationale.
He says the annual celebrations have been far too politicized for far too long.
"We're all proud to be Quebecers and on this day we should celebrate our pride to be Quebecers. That's it, that's all. It shouldn't be about the sovereignty of Quebec," said Legault.
He said it's frustrating that people who have lived for decades in Quebec won't wave the fleurdelisé because they see that as a symbol of sovereignty.
"We have to change that. We have to find a way to stop dividing people," said Legault.
It's a message he he hopes will convince voters to take a closer look at his party.