- David Boudeweel-Lefebvre
Are Legault and his party really centre-right?
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
Its opponents like to portray the Coalition Avenir Québec as a conservative party that does not say its name. In the rest of Canada, it is also often presented as a centre-right party, even a right-wing party. François Legault describes his political party as "pragmatic". But what is the reality?
To fully understand the ideological DNA of the CAQ, a look at the past is necessary. As the standard-bearer of the "third way", and heir to the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), the CAQ, at its creation in 2012, was effectively positioned on the centre-right. At the time, the party defended higher tuition fees and a greater presence of the private sector in health care. It also promised a "clean sweep to eliminate corruption and waste," a recipe for success that had made a certain Stephen Harper very successful at the federal level. But those days are long gone.
After a first nationalist turn in 2015 with the adoption of a logo with the fleur-de-lys, the CAQ, helped by the departure of long-time members of the adéquistes, and the subsequent arrival of former power brokers of the Parti québécois, Legault, and Co. began a clever refocusing. They thus gambled that the centre was the place to win an election in Québec. This political refocusing continued after the victory in 2018, as evidenced by the current government record. And it continues in the current election campaign.
In four years in power, the CAQ has not skimped on spending, injecting billions of dollars into the various missions of the state, which it does not otherwise question. Whether it is the deployment of a 4-year-old kindergarten network, the improvement of the network of subsidized daycares, or the construction of costly facilities for the elderly, we can say Legault and CAQ went the “big state” way.
Last spring, the CAQ also made Québec the first province in Canada to ban oil and gas exploration and development on its soil, a move that is antithetical to the ideals of economic freedom.
Several of the commitments marked on the right have also disappeared from its agenda. The abolition of 5,000 public service jobs? On the contrary, almost 4,000 jobs were added. The hunt for abuse in the public administration? An end to golden parachutes for government mandarins? Also put off.
On the economic front, the party has shown certain dirigisme, committing considerable sums to various economic development projects in line with its priorities. This interventionist tendency was accentuated during the pandemic, with Québec becoming the North American champion in this area.
Despite this, the CAQ remains a fiscally responsible party, which should be able to balance Québec's budget faster than expected with inflation.
The party remains true to its nationalist bent, with strong positions on the secular nature of the state, protection of the French language, and immigration. On this last point, the CAQ has softened its rhetoric because of the labour shortage, accepting a record number of immigrants in 2021. It is these positions that sometimes make some analysts outside Québec wrongly say that the CAQ is right-wing. In fact, the CAQ has clearly moved from the right to the centre of the Québec political spectrum.
This repositioning is not unrelated to the rise of Éric Duhaime's Conservative Party of Québec, itself a former adéquist and definitely more right-wing economically.
As they say, nature abhors a vacuum.