In a historic move last October, Quebecers elected their first-ever Coalition Avenir Québec provincial government – a government that is neither sovereignist nor federalist. This October, Quebecers will decide who they want to represent their interests in Ottawa. And, as they turn their attention to Canada’s 43rd general election, what concerns will persuade them at the ballot box? What do they expect of their Members of Parliament in a province where the economy is firing on all cylinders?
With the election well underway, all party leaders will court vote-rich Quebecers until October 21. The task for incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to move past the SNC-Lavalin controversy and continue to apologize for the revelations that he has donned blackface in his past. The task for the other leaders is to make themselves known. Jagmeet Singh’s commercial introducing himself to Quebec voters without his turban is a great example of how the party leaders will look to make themselves known in a province whose interests, in many respects, are quite different from those of other provinces.
Complicating matters in Quebec for all party leaders is the recent passing of Bill 21 by the CAQ government, a polarizing secularism bill that will ban public sector workers including teachers, police officers, judges and many others from donning religious items. It also reinforces pre-existing legislation requiring citizens to uncover their faces when accessing public services like municipal transit and the legal system. Met with controversy and condemnation from across the country, Bill 21 enjoys considerable support within Quebec (64% in May).
While the parties were quick to voice their opposition to the Bill and note that they would not enact similar policy at the federal level, federal party leaders and their candidates were hesitant to wade into debate on the issue of overturning the Bill, largely deferring to the provincial jurisdiction on the issue. However, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau noted on day one of the campaign that a Liberal government would consider future intervention in the issue should the current court challenge fail. Perhaps surprisingly, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said forcefully on popular Quebec TV Show Tout le monde en parle that he would not overturn the Bill. Both reiterated their positions in the first French-language debate as well.
Quebecers tend to be opposed to oil and pipelines while being more supportive of the construction of electric public transport infrastructure. Consistent with clean public transit, Quebecers are ardent supporters of the carbon tax and they are concerned about the climate crisis. The issue will resonate with many Quebecers. The Pact for Transition, for example, initiated by artist Dominic Champagne, has been signed by more than 280,000 Quebecers so far and has led the François Legault and the CAQ to adopt a greener approach. The Conservative’s commitment to building an energy corridor from coast to coast, which could include an oil pipeline crossing Quebec, will not find the support of many Quebecers, including Premier François Legault.
Quebec’s economy is operating at capacity and numerous industries in the province are facing labour shortages, in part due to the provincial government reducing immigration levels. Lack of workers is a critical issue across economic sectors and has had an impact on the vitality of many regions. Restaurants are closing due to a lack of staff, and manufacturing plants are struggling to recruit workers. The solution to Quebec’s labour shortage may lie in increased immigration, with the recognition of foreign workers’ diplomas, pilot projects allowing the rapid entry of temporary workers and services to help companies with their recruitment efforts being measures that will attract the attention of the business community.
It bears noting that a healthy economy is reliant on a healthy labour force. Recent promises on national pharmacare and various measures to lower drug prices, however, will fall on deaf ears in Quebec because the province has a previously existing drug insurance plan. There is also a considerable risk to parties making significant promises on lowering the cost of pharmaceuticals, as measures announced to lower drug prices will be a major concern for Quebec’s well-established pharmaceutical companies.
As for the national question, it is not likely to be at the forefront of issues during this federal election in Quebec. Sovereignist forces have rallied around the new leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves François Blanchet, who will campaign under the slogan “Le Québec, c’est nous.” However, while Quebecers remain concerned about the survival of the French language, they ultimately want a voice in Ottawa. Voters will be more likely to place their confidence in the Bloc Québécois if it sets aside the issue of independence.