• Stuart Benson

'Quebecois libre’

Conservative Party of Quebec leader Éric Duhaime hopes to attract voters with a "pro-liberty" platform

As part of a Quebec-wide tour, the new leader for the Conservative Party of Quebec,  Éric Duhaime, stopped by The Low Down office on Aug. 3 to discuss what he sees as the role of the party and how it can benefit from the new political divisions created by the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stuart Benson photo
As part of a Quebec-wide tour, the new leader for the Conservative Party of Quebec, Éric Duhaime, stopped by The Low Down office on Aug. 3 to discuss what he sees as the role of the party and how it can benefit from the new political divisions created by the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stuart Benson photo

The Conservative Party of Quebec is the “only option” for voters critical of the Legault government’s handling of the pandemic, according to new party leader Éric Duhaime who spoke to The Low Down on Aug. 3, during his latest stop on his provincial tour.


Duhaime, a former radio host and conservative media personality, has seen the party’s membership balloon from 500 members when former leader Adrien Pouliot stepped down in October 2021 to over 15,000 current active members. While he doesn’t deny much of the support garnered from voters critical of the Legault government’s handling of the pandemic, Duhaime isn’t trying to distance the party from the “protest vote” label either.


“Many people vote against rather than for," Duhaime said, adding that he hopes voters will also be persuaded by his "free-market, pro-liberty, and pro-democracy" positions.


“We’re on an upswing”


Duhaime admits that many voters might not even know that Quebec has a “big C” conservative party but said the party is gaining momentum through paid memberships and individual donations. It also gained its first sitting member in the National Assembly in 86 years after Coalition Avenir Quebec MNA Claire Samson defected to his party on June 18.


“We’re on an upswing because a lot of people, like myself, are concerned that the government has gone too far in its response to the pandemic,” Duhaime argued, adding that his party benefits from the fact that it is the only one to vocally oppose the Legault government’s pandemic restrictions. He says that many Quebecers – of all political stripes – disagree with measures like curfews, closing borders, and steep fines for visiting family and friends at home but found no political leadership to voice those concerns. "We're filling a political vacuum.”


Duhaime explained that what he views as "unanimous consent" from the other opposition parties in the National Assembly for the CAQ's pandemic measures has left a large fraction of the population – who have participated in protests and rallies across the province – unrepresented.


"It's one thing to protest in the street, but it's another thing to be around the table where the decisions are made," Duhaime added. "We need to stop protesting, and we need to start acting, and that's the purpose of the party."


Health “extremism”


Duhaime said that the unanimous support for the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response and the lack of dissenting voices in the National Assembly has created a hostile environment for anyone critical of what he sees as “extremism” in some of the health restrictions.


“It's a huge battle; we’re a small voice against the government's huge power," Duhaime said. “It's very difficult because when you say something critical, you are accused of being a conspiracy theorist or ‘COVIDIOT,’ so people are scared to speak out.”


Duhaime strongly opposes a vaccine mandate or “passport,” which the Legault government announced it would implement on Aug. 5.


"I'm vaccinated because I choose to get vaccinated," Duhaime said but believes the decision to get vaccinated is a personal one Quebecers should make themselves. "For me, it's a very personal choice because it's something you put in your body."


According to CISSSO, only 68.9 per cent of the eligible residents in the Outaouais have received a first dose as of Aug. 3, setting the region up to miss the province's target of 75 per cent of residents 12-years-and-older by the end of August. Instead of "scaring people off" with a mandate or offering them a lottery ticket incentive, Duhaime said his strategy would be to educate as much as possible and let residents make their own informed decision.


"I think that if people are smart enough to elect you, they are smart enough to know whether or not to get vaccinated," said the Quebec City resident. "When I made my decision to get vaccinated, I consulted my physician; I didn't go see my MNA."


The vaccine passport, like other issues, presents a new division in the population that doesn't follow traditional party lines, and he believes the Conservative Party will benefit from being "the lone voice of dissent."


"Many of the people I fought against politically for decades are now my new allies," Duhaime said. "We have party members who used to be leftists, separatists, and federalists.”


“It's not 'Quebec libre,' anymore it's 'Quebecois libre,’” Duhaime added, referring to the Quebec sovereigntist phrase popularized by French President Charles de Gaulle in 1967. “There's a new division, and it's going to be a very important election.”


The next provincial election is scheduled to take place on or before Oct. 3, 2022.