Confident Legault predicts ‘historic’ election for CAQ
Quebecers expect better on health and education, party leader says
The 2018 general election will be “historic,” because there’s a good chance Quebecers will elect their first Coalition Avenir Québec government in history, says leader François Legault.
And he’s again invited anglophones to get aboard the bandwagon, saying they have just as many reasons for voting against the tired Liberal government as francophones do — and that includes the poor state of the healthcare system.
Gushing with confidence and saying he senses fear in the Liberal ranks, Legault revealed he is already starting to design his first government, including the cabinet. He’s also reflecting on what his first act in office will be.
The election is Oct. 1, 2018. For now, he’s calling on the Couillard government — which is sitting on a $2.5 billion surplus — to table a mini-budget this fall that would immediately hand $1,000 back to every Quebec family.
“There’s a real chance the 2018 election will be historic,” Legault said at a news conference wrapping up a two-day party caucus meeting.
“That, after 45 years of alternating between the two main parties, we will have a first CAQ government, a government which will launch change, positive change.”
When asked if he’s feeling the pressure given recent polls showing he is a solid second with some saying the CAQ is on the cusp of power, Legault said he knows he has big responsibilities.
The same poll, by Léger, revealed Quebecers see him, not Philippe Couillard or Jean-François Lisée, as the best person to be premier.
“Expectations are high in Quebec,” Legault said. “Quebecers want change. Quebecers think we can do better on the economy, education and health. Without taking anything for granted, I am thinking about the first act we will take.
“I want to respond to these hopes which Quebecers are expressing.”
When asked if he feels ready to take office, Legault said: “Yes. I’m anxious. I take nothing for granted so we’ll keep working.”
There are signs the CAQ feels it has the wind in its sails. The caucus was held in the Mauricie region, where the Liberals hold all five seats. The CAQ is here because it feels some are ripe for the picking.
The party is attempting to control its message, a typical act of a party trying not to slip up this close to the election.
And Legault dwelled at length on the image of intolerance the Liberals have tried to peg to the CAQ in the wake of its more hardline views on asylum seekers.
He said he has never accepted being labelled a right-wing politician, describing himself as “a pragmatic guy,” who believes in increased spending in health and education. If anything, he is “extreme centre,” he said.
Polishing his image further, he said to his knowledge there are no members of the anti-immigrant, ultranationalist group La Meute in the CAQ ranks, and they would not be welcome in any case.
“I don’t like people on extremes, whether it is the extreme left or extreme right,” Legault said.
CAQ MNA Éric Caire, from La Péltrie riding, was blunter, describing La Meute as a “few excited idiots nobody wants.”
But reporters noticed certain outspoken CAQ MNAs were simply not available to the media. The CAQ’s most media savvy MNAs, including health critic François Paradis, were. Paradis’s job was to keep the media focused on the health issue, and he pulled it off, making himself available to discuss a new poll commissioned by the party that found 53 per cent of Quebecers believe the health system has deteriorated over the last 14 years of mostly Liberal rule.
Produced by Léger, the poll found that only 13 per cent of Quebecers feel the health system has improved. Twenty-eight per cent say they did not notice any change.
The same poll shows four out of 10 Quebecers (40 per cent) think the system has deteriorated over the last three years, which is when the government diminished the normal increases in funding as part of its effort to slay the deficit.
Forty one per cent noticed no change, and only 13 per cent felt the system had improved.
The online poll of 1,022 Quebecers was conducted from Aug. 21 to 23 and was released Tuesday by the party, which this week has chosen the health theme to attack the Liberal government with. The poll followed a nasty CAQ attack ad released Monday on social media, which bluntly states Quebec prisoners are better treated when it comes to health care than seniors, who are often limited to one bath a week in public long-term-care facilities.
Health Minister Gaétan Barrette responded to the ad Monday on Twitter, accusing the CAQ of indulging in demagoguery while sitting in the bleachers with no solutions.
“These populists do not understand that the people see clear,” he wrote. “Facts. Vigour.”
Barrette’s repeated late evening tweets caught the CAQ’s eye, with Legault saying it’s a sure sign the Liberals are running scared.
“When you look at Mr. Barrette’s tweets, he’s looking more like a goon than a minister of health care,” Legault said.
At his news conference, Legault conceded despite all the good news in recent polls, Montreal remains a tough nut to crack. The CAQ currently holds no seats on the island.
Recent polling shows the nonfrancophone vote swinging wildly between the Liberals and CAQ.
“Many people in Montreal don’t know the CAQ will never hold a referendum on sovereignty,” Legault said, switching to English. “They don’t know our Article 1 (in the CAQ program) states clearly that our project is within Canada.
He said one problem that remains is the Liberals like to play up the fact that Legault was once a Parti Québécois cabinet minister and can’t be trusted.
“I still have a year to convince the anglophone community that they have an alternative,” Legault said.