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Mario Laframboise replaces Eric Lefebvre as CAQ government whip

Quebec Premier François Legault waves as he arrives at the beginning of a government caucus meeting as MNA Mario Laframboise applauds, Wednesday, November 9, 2022. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot) Quebec Premier François Legault waves as he arrives at the beginning of a government caucus meeting as MNA Mario Laframboise applauds, Wednesday, November 9, 2022. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)
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Quebec Premier François Legault didn't wait long to replace his government whip.

Twenty-four hours after Éric Lefebvre's departure from the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) caucus, Legault announced that Blainville MNA Mario Laframboise would replace him as government whip.

"I took part in the weekly caucus of CAQ MNAs this evening. I took the opportunity to announce the appointment of Mario Laframboise as chief government whip," wrote the premier on social network X on Wednesday evening.

Laframboise ceded his position as caucus chair to Mégantic MNA François Jacques.

"I am convinced that Mario and François will enable us to maintain the smooth and beautiful cohesion of our team," added Legault.

Lefebvre, who represents the riding of Arthabaska, announced Tuesday evening on X that he was leaving the CAQ to run with the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) in the next federal election.

In the meantime, he will sit as an independent.

An open door

Wednesday, CAQ Finance Minister Eric Girard said he hadn't ruled out running with the federal Conservatives, hinting that he'd like to hold a similar position at the federal level.

"I've always said that I love Canada and that one day, I might be interested in being Canada's Finance Minister," Girard told a press scrum at the National Assembly on Wednesday.

Asked by reporters if he might run with the Conservatives as he did in 2015, Eric Girard didn't say "no."

"I don't have to answer that question. I have responsibilities and I'm happy with my responsibilities," he said.

Last December, Girard stated that his values were not compatible with those of the CPC.

'My heart is here with the CAQ'

CAQ Minister for the Status of Women Martine Biron says she believes Lefebvre has some explaining to do.

"I'm really curious to hear the reasons behind his decision," she said.

CAQ Minister of Higher Education Pascale Déry, who was also a candidate for the federal Conservatives in 2015, insists she won't be following her colleague.

"My heart is here at the CAQ with my premier, my party and my colleagues," she said.

Mario Asselin, CAQ MNA for Vanier-Les Rivières, suggested that Lefebvre is just "one of the first to jump ship."

Asked if there might be others, he replied that he didn't know.

Lefebvre is the second CAQ elected official to leave the caucus since the election in 2022.

Joëlle Boutin, MNA for Jean-Talon in Quebec City, resigned last July, citing family reasons.

The CAQ lost the riding to the Parti Québécois (PQ) in a subsequent by-election.

As Lefebvre plans to sit as an independent, there won't be a by-election to replace him.

However, section 17 of the Act respecting the National Assembly of Quebec "provides that the seat of a member becomes de facto vacant if he is appointed to the Senate of Canada or if he is a candidate in a federal election or in a provincial election in another province."

'A schizophrenic position'

Québec Solidaire (QS) and the PQ have expressed discomfort with Lefebvre's decision to continue sitting as an independent in Quebec while admitting he wants to make the leap to federal politics.

QS MNA Vincent Marissal urged him to reflect and make a decision out of respect for his constituents.

"It's a bit of a schizophrenic position, so I think the simplest thing is to choose. In life, sometimes you make choices, it's complicated, but I think Éric should make that decision," he said. "After that, it's his decision, and I don't want to play the conscience director, or the moralist, but I think he's putting himself in a complicated position. He's putting his voters in a confusing position."

Lefebvre previously caused a stir when he tried to justify the $30,000 salary increase for members of the National Assembly by claiming that his workload was so intense that he only saw his mother once a year.

"I don't know if he'll be able to see his mother more while sitting in Ottawa, assuming he's elected. In any case, if he's elected, he'll earn a lot more money in Ottawa because federal MPs earn a lot of money," said Marissal.

While the basic salary of a member of the National Assembly is around $130,000, it's closer to $200,000 at the federal level.

'He should explain himself'

PQ MNA Pascal Bérubé argues Lefebvre has some explaining to do, especially since he sat in the cabinet as government whip.

"The MNA for Arthabaska is leaving the Coalition Avenir Québec and its government 18 months after the election. How is it that an MNA who sits in the cabinet, who knows what's going on and what's coming, still decides to leave?" he said. "He was elected under a CAQ mandate. At the very least, I think he should explain himself."

Interim Liberal leader Marc Tanguay was more circumspect about the former CAQ whip's decision to sit as an independent.

"I assume that he will be a 100 per cent member of the Quebec National Assembly, independent though he may be," he said.

Still, Tanguay said it must hurt Legault that Lefebvre sees more of a future with Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.

While the CAQ has been floundering in the polls for several months, the Conservatives have been riding high.

However, they are lagging in Quebec, sitting in third place behind the Bloc Québécois and Justin Trudeau's Liberals, according to poll aggregator 338Canada.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 18, 2024. 

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