Con­fi­dent Le­gault pre­dicts ‘his­toric’ elec­tion for CAQ

Que­be­cers ex­pect bet­ter on health and ed­u­ca­tion, party leader says

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - PHILIP AU­THIER

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.

Fran­cois Le­gault

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