ST-FRANÇOIS-DE-L’ÎLE-D’ORLÉANS — Premier François Legault has extended an olive branch to the four opposition parties, offering to work with them on specific issues including the economy and protecting French.
And Legault insisted Tuesday that despite the fact his Coalition Avenir Québec party only won two seats on the Island of Montreal in Monday’s election, the city’s voice will be heard at the cabinet table. He noted he himself lives in Montreal and has a good working relationship with Mayor Valérie Plante.
“Pardon my voice, we partied a little (Monday) night,” Legault said arriving for a post-election news conference in the lush gardens of the Seigneurie de L’Île d’Orléans.
The site was in tune with the message he had to deliver after sweeping Quebec — except Montreal — in Monday’s general election.
Legault said he’s aiming for a fresh start with his new mandate. After endeavouring to mend fences with new Quebecers and anglophones in his victory speech Monday, Legault turned to the four opposition parties.
The election left them in a difficult position.
While it is the Liberals who will form the official opposition in the legislature, the other three parties, Québec solidaire, the Parti Québécois and the Conservative Party of Quebec obtained similar scores in the popular vote, with wildly different seat outcomes.
The Liberals, for example, got 14.37 per of the popular and 21 seats. QS got a similar number, 15.43 per cent but only 11 seats. The PQ got 14.61 per cent of the vote and three seats while the Conservatives got 12.91 per cent and zero seats.
The three parties now are clamouring to obtain a bigger profile and party status in the legislature, which tends to be dominated by the party in power and official opposition. The current rules state that to have official status a party has to have elected 12 MNAs or have obtained at least 20 per cent of the popular vote.
In 2018, those rules were bent for the PQ and QS, giving them status even if they didn’t quite qualify. Tuesday, as they licked their wounds following the CAQ’s massive sweep, all three were asking for the same leniency, including Duhaime who does not have a single MNA.
They are again calling for reforms to the electoral system in favour of a mixed proportional representation formula. The CAQ toyed with the idea in its first mandate, even tabling a bill that was never adopted.
During the campaign, Legault said the only people interested in electoral reform are intellectuals, and it was not a priority for his government. He kept the door closed on the idea Tuesday.
“I was very clear during the election campaign,” Legault said. “I made a commitment to not open the debate on the electoral system, so I will respect my commitment.
“No electoral system is perfect. You must remember we got 41 per cent of the vote and our nearest opponent got 15 per cent.”
Legault, however, said he has spoken to the other leaders and wants to hear their ideas on some issues: Liberal leader Dominque Anglade on the economy, PQ leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon on protecting French and Conservative leader Éric Duhaime on making government more efficient.
“The next one (campaign) will only be in four years,” Legault said. “We’ll have time at the end of the mandate to re-start fighting. Now, we have, all of us, to work for all Quebecers.”
He said he is not opposed to reforms to the way the legislature works to improve the role played by ordinary MNAs. When will this happen? It is unclear. Legault Tuesday did not say when he plans to recall the legislature although it seems clear it will sit for a limited period before Christmas.
Before that happens, he has to form his new cabinet and draft a fresh inaugural speech. With 90 MNAs, he won’t lack people to pick from.
Legault revealed he had spoken Monday evening to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who congratulated him on the win as did Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Legault said he went beyond the niceties with Trudeau, asking him what they can do together to stop the decline of the French language.
A meeting is in the works but no date set.
Legault said he also wants to pursue his quest for more immigration powers from Ottawa. In May he announced he wanted a strong mandate from the people Oct. 3 to up the pressure on Ottawa. Legault said with 41 per cent of the vote, he feels he got the mandate he needed to talk turkey with Ottawa.
And he argued, protecting French should be everyone’s business in Quebec, including the English-speaking community which, he said, enjoys the distinctive nature of Quebec as much as francophones.
“I know many anglophones in Montreal who agree with this, that we have to do something to stop the decline of French,” Legault said. “They understand we’re distinct and it’s a plus for everybody.”
Asked if he intends to retain the title of Minister Responsible for Relations with English-speaking Quebecers — a role he assigned himself in 2018 — when he forms his new cabinet, Legault said: “I will think about that but so far, yes.”
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