Legault can learn a lesson from this election
Guest Editorial by Beryl Wajsman
Just weeks ago, pollsters and pundits had François Legault and the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) heading for a victory of unprecedented proportions. Over 100 seats, many said. He and his party stood at 45 per cent in voter preference.
The Liberals would be reduced to an unsustainable rump and the Parti Québecois would be eliminated. And then, as Joseph Heller wrote, “something happened.”
That something was Legault’s rhetoric. He decided to engage in poisonous and divisive attacks. Words of nullification against minorities. Insults to anglophones so petty that they included personally ordering the taking down of the English version of the CAQ platform from the party’s website. Equating immigrants with violence.
Setting himself up as the defender of something called Quebec “national cohesion.” Denying the existence of systemic racism to the leaders of Indigenous communities, who were some of the first victims of it. The list goes on.
His resort to the politics of division and discord was unnecessary. Even for his political goals. But he wanted to monopolize the nationalist vote. He failed.
Oh yes, the CAQ certainly received a stronger majority. But it wasn’t the historic one that was supposed to surpass Robert Bourassa’s 1973 victory with 102 of 110 seats. And 60 per cent of Quebecers voted against them. Only our archaic, gerrymandered riding system permitted such a victory. But there was no moral mandate.
What Legault’s poisonous verbal strategy did was to galvanize the opposition. Bring many of their traditional voters back to their folds. And spur two leaders in particular to reassert themselves and gain back ground on the stump.
The Liberal’s Dominique Anglade decided to throw away the script, break the carefully structured rules that certain advisors had surrounded her with and be herself. It worked. She decided to answer the poison unleashed by Legault. It started with her appearance at the Montreal Chambre de Commerce. And from then, through the last half of the campaign, she solidified the Liberal base and then some. Through her eloquence, passion and force of personality, she reconnected with voters, as she had failed to do before. And, by letting them see who she really was, almost single-handedly pulled the Liberals back from the brink, won her own seat, which pundits said was lost, and returned with almost as many seats as at dissolution. She fought prejudice with decency and courage. Quebec is sorely missing that in our public life.
Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon decided to turbo-charge his campaign. He pushed the independence message alright, but did so studiously and methodically. He campaigned on sovereignty indeed, but unlike Legault’s nationalism, he did not resort to attacks on minorities and the politics of fear. Once thought to not even have a chance at winning his own seat, he led his party to three.
Mr. Legault, the lesson to learn from this election is that you have a large, comfortable majority. Use it judiciously, not divisively. Instead of tearing us apart, why not bring us together? Before the last election you promised to be the premier of all Quebecers.
You did not keep your word. You need to keep it now. That will be your true legacy. Uniting the province under a strong economy.
Beryl Wajsman is the editor of The Suburban, where this opinion piece first appeared. Reprinted with permission.