Political Spring Assessment in Quebec and Ottawa

The political session has been tumultuous this spring with turbulent parliaments, repeated showdowns, plot twists, flip-flops, an unstable public opinion, and a charged international scene. What has been the biggest political mistake of our politicians? And who, on the contrary, has done well? The panelists of the program “Les Coulisses du pouvoir”, Chantal Hébert, Alec Castonguay, and Michel C. Auger, assess the spring session on both hills and offer their summer reading suggestions to party leaders as the summer begins.

The Highlight Event
Alec: The signing of collective agreements for the public service in Quebec in January. They include historically high salary increases that employees have been demanding for a long time. Additionally, if the CAQ can rise in the polls, it will be because public services will improve. It’s a step that has been taken, which, according to the government, is important for improving the working conditions of public sector employees to recruit more easily and retain staff. Will it work? It’s a gamble.
Chantal: The decline of the CAQ in the polls, because it changes the balance of power of the government of François Legault with Ottawa and with municipalities. Before, everyone wanted to be on François Legault’s side because he was very popular. He walked on water in his relations with Ottawa. Almost all of Quebec government’s interlocutors have adjusted to a new reality.
Michel: The position of Pierre Poilievre in the polls, who has managed to maintain a 20-point lead for almost the entire period, and it does not seem to be eroding. That also changes the balance of power.

Political Mistake
Michel: Not taking seriously the issue of foreign interference by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It took a huge amount of time to create a commission. It’s extremely troubling.
On foreign interference, we went from being victims to participants in the case of the Canadian Parliament […]. This week’s report says that there are people who knowingly contribute intelligence to foreign powers in exchange for services rendered or to be rendered in the ballot box. It’s another dimension.
Alec: The Housing Minister, France-Élaine Duranceau, finally woke up at the end of the May session with an agreement with Québec solidaire to introduce this bill against evictions of low-income seniors. It could have been done in the fall, so adopted in February before the lease renewals in March.
Chantal: Pierre Poilievre giving ammunition to the Liberals on abortion and the use of the notwithstanding clause. He handed the Liberals a weapon they didn’t need. Since then, he has been trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Political Lesson
Chantal: Governing is about foreseeing. A minority government does not foresee, it manages day by day to score points and hope to be in the majority. But in Quebec, Mr. Legault still has a second majority mandate.
Michel: When the electorate has had enough of a leader, they’ve had enough. There’s not much to do when the trend becomes heavy.
You can do the longest budget striptease in history, empty the coffers, try to say, “We will make enough programs for everyone to benefit, so that they start to love us again.” But when it’s broken, it’s broken.
Alec: Every crisis is an opportunity. If anyone still doubted Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois’s political talent, it was settled this session. Going from a fairly personal attack on himself, in 24 hours, he turned it around. All the focus shifted from him to the future of the party.

A Shining Personality
Chantal: The Bloc Québécois and its leader, Yves-François Blanchet. It’s still the only federal party, the only leader, resisting this blue wave of Pierre Poilievre. It’s not talked about much, but it’s a fact.
Alec: François-Philippe Champagne. Whether you like it or not, a lot of public funds are invested in the battery industry. So the federal government’s Energizer bunny, as it’s called, delivers the goods.
Michel: Pierre Poilievre. You’re doing something right when you spend a year with a 20-point lead. It’s not just that people are tired of the current government: Pierre Poilievre is disciplined. We didn’t expect him to be; he isn’t always.

The Weakest Link
Alec: Justin Trudeau. If the Liberals are wondering at this point if he’s still the man for the job, it’s because he’s seen as a weak link. Maybe he’ll prove us wrong, but for now, I don’t think he is, contrary to what he believes, the greatest asset of his party.
Michel: Christian Dubé and Geneviève Guilbault. In this government, they put it in agencies, it’s more private sector, so it should work better. Except that what we might gain in efficiency, which is not certain, we will lose in accountability.
If we think we’re going to provide more services through bureaucratic reform, we’re mistaken.
Chantal: Justin Trudeau. He has spent the past year trying to revive his party in the polls. He still seems convinced that he has the solution to the problem. Why is he convinced? I imagine it’s partly because, in his life, Justin Trudeau has never experienced defeat.

A Political Personality Who Failed?
Michel: François Legault. He really seems like someone disoriented, and it’s early in the mandate for that. So I think if there’s someone who has failed in Quebec politics, it’s him.
Chantal: Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the NDP. He fails to translate the gains he gets from his deal with the Liberals into the polls. It’s quite the opposite: not only is the NDP not rising, but it feels fragile.
Alec: Martine Biron, Minister of International Relations and La Francophonie as well as Minister responsible for the Status of Women. She backtracked on her idea of legislating to guarantee the right to abortion, she was difficult to follow in the issue of gender-neutral markers at the SAAQ and the Ministry of Health, and she poorly chose her moment when it came to the opening of a Quebec office in Tel Aviv, in the midst of the Israel-Hamas conflict. The icing on the cake was in March when she adopted a motion in the National Assembly to blame a Supreme Court judge. The Supreme Court was accused of wanting to make women invisible, even though the word “woman” appeared 67 times in the judgment.

The Revelation of the Year
Chantal: Marie-Josée Hogue, the judge heading the Public Inquiry Commission on Foreign Interference. It was said that it was going to be a free-for-all, then, after the release of the interim report, there was radio silence in the House of Commons. To achieve this kind of result, one must have held the reins of the Commission quite firmly.
Michel: Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Heritage. Despite her lack of political experience, in the context of the fight we are trying to wage against web giants, she has done quite well. We have set markers that are causing a stir in many countries around the world by saying that we may not have to let ourselves be pushed around by Google and other platforms.
Alec: Jean Boulet, Quebec’s Minister of Labor, who had been disavowed by his prime minister because he made a controversial statement while he was Minister of Immigration. François Legault brought him to a minor position as Minister of Labor and, instead of sulking, Jean Boulet decided to work. He came up with a reform of the construction industry, the kind of reform that no one usually wants to touch.

To Watch in Ottawa
Michel: Foreign interference. This issue is not over; several twists are possible. With the Hogue commission report and the report on the involvement of parliamentarians, it’s very embarrassing. Not just for Prime Minister Trudeau but for the entire Liberal government.
Alec: The decrease in the overnight rate. Will this decrease for governments translate into votes?
Chantal: The by-election on June 24 in Toronto-St. Paul’s. If the Liberals perform poorly or lose this riding, it will be very difficult to argue that Justin Trudeau is still the man for the job.

To Watch in Quebec
Alec: The first mandates of the agency Mobility Infra Quebec. This agency seems to be the solution for almost everything, but for 50 people, these are big complex projects. Either the agency is structured too small and will have to increase its staff, or we won’t be able to give it all the mandates we plan to give it. Something is going to happen this fall in the adjustment, but I’m looking forward to seeing how this new agency will handle projects.
Chantal: Health and back-to-school.
Michel: Immigration.
Mr. Legault tends to overdo it. Making links between the fact that there is a problem with the number of immigrants and mental health problems, that was strong!

A Vacation Project
Alec: I would send the Health Minister, Christian Dubé, mountain biking on the North Shore.
Michel: All party leaders, I would send them to a busy beach, without cameras, to talk to citizens.
Chantal: I would send Justin Trudeau to Great Britain to see up close what it’s like for someone who launches a campaign after X years of his party in power and leaves with a 20-point deficit.

Summer Reading
Chantal: Two books about Justin Trudeau by Steven Maher and Paul Wells. What both authors have in common is that they started with a positive impression of the Trudeau years – especially Steven Maher – and both concluded that Mr. Trudeau must leave. The other political book on Pierre Poilievre is written by someone who appreciates him, Andrew Lawton, who works for a media associated with the right.
Michel: I would have politicians, especially Quebec politicians, read “Rue Duplessis” by Jean-Philippe Pleau about the rapid evolution that Quebec society has undergone. It’s an excellent reflection on that.
Alec: The judgments of the Supreme Court but the elimination of motions without notice.