QUEBEC CITY -- Premier François Legault sees his government as a bulwark against radical elements in society, including all those who oppose health measures and vaccination against COVID-19.

In a strongly nationalist speech delivered Sunday morning to his party's youth wing, which was meeting at a convention in Quebec City over the weekend, Legault stressed the importance of avoiding divisions and showing social cohesion in times of pandemic.

After his speech, during which he did not refer to the crisis that is currently shaking many hospital emergency rooms, forced to close their doors due to lack of staff, he answered questions from some young CAQ members, but he refused, both before and after the event, to speak to media representatives who were covering the convention.

The day before, Minister of Health Christian Dubé was also present at the Young CAQ convention to give a speech, but he did the same thing, avoiding any questions from the journalists present.

"This is not the time in Quebec to divide. It's time to defend our social cohesion," the premier said during his speech, after taking his seat in the nave of the old church in lower Quebec City where young activists had come to hear him.

"We are, in the CAQ, people who are like a bulwark against the radicals. We are a bulwark for our national cohesion'," said the CAQ leader in front of the party's new generation.

As he did repeatedly in recent weeks, including at the last caucus of his party, then in the National Assembly at the start of the parliamentary session, he stressed to young party members that if the population had voted for the CAQ in 2018 it was to support a nationalist party, and that it was "to defend our language, our values, our powers."

He made no secret of the fact that the CAQ would position itself as the nationalist party, in the next election campaign in 2022, as "the party in Quebec that stands up for our nation."

On the eve of the federal election, the premier reiterated that political parties "have bragged about intervening in a really important jurisdiction, health, which is a Quebec responsibility."

Referring to his repeated demands for a substantial increase in federal health transfers to the provinces, he once again denounced the willingness of "certain parties" to give Quebec "a little money, a crumb" and to impose their conditions.

Quebec is demanding, without success, that the federal government's share of health funding be increased from 22 per cent to 35 per cent of the bill.

"The federal government must contribute to health-care," said Legault, who is calling for an additional $6 billion annually from Ottawa to meet needs. "Because what Quebec needs is not more civil servants in Ottawa, but more nurses in Quebec."

It is estimated that there is currently a shortage of more than 4,300 nurses to make the network function normally. The government is expected to table a plan in the next few days to recall retired nurses and those who have moved to the private sector to the public system.

In response to a question from a young CAQ supporter, Legault said he had no intention of telling people who to vote for on Monday.

However, as he has done a few times in recent weeks, he asked young CAQ members to "take into account" the fact that three parties "want to interfere in our jurisdictions, limit Quebec's powers in immigration and won't rule out challenging Bill 21 on the secular nature of the state. These three parties are the Liberal Party of Canada, the NDP and the Green Party."

The young CAQ members organized their convention around the theme of pride in being Quebecers. The resolutions studied over the weekend were all adopted without much debate.

They were in favour of the creation of a national history museum in Quebec and the enhancement of heritage buildings, for the development of a common curriculum of Quebec literary works to be studied in school, for more mental health services for young people, as well as ensuring better treatment of municipal wastewater.

Without making a firm commitment as to the content of the CAQ's next electoral platform, the premier was favourable to the suggestions of his youth wing.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Sept. 19, 2021.