Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

While the CAQ is falling in the polls, the Prime Minister and his advisors have developed a plan to correct the situation.

Analysis | How François Legault hopes to straighten out his government

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François Legault hopes to relaunch his government in 2024.

  • Alec Castonguay (View profile)Alec Castonguay

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At the end of December, while Quebecers were busy planning their Christmas with family, organizing their New Year's Day with friends and enduring their viruses (half of Quebec seemed to have caught COVID-19, and 'other half, gastro…), Prime Minister François Legault and his restricted circle of advisors were thinking about solutions to stabilize their government, which had been declining in voting intentions for months.

Should we take a step back or rather make some adjustments for 2024? The second option was retained. However, these adjustments are not insignificant.

The idea of ​​a cabinet reshuffle, generally the first instinct of a government losing momentum, was quickly dismissed.

There are not enough ministers who are underperforming to trigger a game of musical chairs which would have every chance of making people unhappy, both among the demoted ministers and among the many MPs who are waiting their turn and who would be disappointed not to move up. in rank. As the Montreal Canadiens' chief philosopher, Martin St-Louis, once said, everyone wants to steal someone else's chair. This is also true in politics.

However, a Joëlle Boutin-style resignation, which would cause a risky by-election like that of Jean-Talon, Quebec, would not bode well for the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ). Better to leave ministers sitting in their chairs.

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Moreover, François Legault does not like to stir things up cards of his council of ministers. During his previous term, he did so only when absolutely necessary. The Prime Minister does not easily trust new people in his entourage.

And this recipe rarely produces miracles: see, as a reference, the section “Justin Trudeau, July 2023”.

The cartridge for the ministerial reshuffle will therefore be fired later during the mandate.

The first decision of François Legault and his chief of staff, Martin Koskinen, was rather counterintuitive: to give leave to everyone, or almost. When things are bad, instinct dictates that you have to work harder to get through it. However, at the end of December, the watchword was quite different.

Metaphorically, ministerial offices were encouraged to pose a big do not disturb sign on their door. Get some rest, get some brain juice out! even said an advisor to the Prime Minister to the communications director of a minister.

The fall was terrible for the Legault government, which made a series of blunders and faced an endless stream of bad news.

The brain is an organ that has its limits. At a certain point, he is unable to endure any more. There is no more room even for thinking. Efficiency suffers, ideas become muddled.

Former President Barack Obama once said that he made one of his best resolutions – and one of the most banal – upon his arrival at the head of the United States: to make as few decisions as possible. You have to eliminate from your life the daily problems that absorb most people, he told the magazine Vanity Fair (New window) in 2012 in a long portrait which aimed to explain his way of govern.

From the time he got out of bed until he arrived at the office in the morning, he didn't make any decisions. None. Someone chose their clothes – a gray or blue suit –, what they were going to eat, who to wish happy birthday to, what time to train… Otherwise, I have too many decisions to make in a day, explained- he. I have to save my energy for important decisions.

Scientific research (New window) shows that making decisions, even simple ones, wears out the mind. Hesitation reduces available attention span, siphons off energy, and, over time, this fatigue can impair judgment and cause brain fog.

Obviously, no one in Quebec carries the weight of the decisions of an American president on their shoulders, but the example can apply to the staff of a government in office tossed by controversies and which is struggling to get out of trouble during months. The ministerial teams and that of the Prime Minister then make a series of decisions, large and small, multiply the announcements, and the reserve of brain juice diminishes.

C that's also the wear and tear of power.

The slogan was widely followed within the CAQ government.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Aside from ministers Bernard Drainville and Sonia LeBel, who had to cancel their vacations due to the labor conflict with public service union members, most ministers, cabinet directors, advisors and communications directors refugees in a chalet or took off: the Caribbean, Florida, Argentina, Paris…

As soon as the agreements in principle were concluded with the Common Front and with the Autonomous Federation of Education (FAE), François Legault headed to Mexico to spend two weeks there. Until January 15, unless there was an emergency, no one was allowed to call or write to him, says a government source.

Goal: have a clear mind to start 2024.

During the caucus to prepare for the parliamentary session this week in Sherbrooke, the CAQ deputies were repeated the new mantra of the Prime Minister and his entourage: discipline and consistency. These two elements have been lacking since the start of the second term.

This is the second stage of the government's recovery plan.

Distractions and inconsistencies have taken up too much space over the past year, judge those close to François Legault, who give as examples the salary increase for deputies, the subsidy to the Los Angeles Kings or even the relaunch of the debate on the third link between Quebec and Lévis.

We were not elected to give a subsidy to the Kings! It is not a priority. We played our cards badly, testifies an advisor to the Prime Minister, who requested anonymity to be able to express himself freely, like all the people cited in this text.

The Legault team wants to take its eyes off the polls, stop aiming for short-term gains or try to correct a blunder too quickly, which sometimes causes other errors, as was the case last fall.

The election of 2026 will not be won this year.

A quote from An advisor to François Legault

The government hopes that the health and education reforms, adopted in the last weeks of 2023, will begin to bear fruit, slowly but surely, within two years.

It is for this reason in particular that Bill 15 was adopted under a gag order in December so that the new Santé Québec agency could implement jerk off sooner rather than later. The health liner takes a long time to turn around.

It is also to do this that the agreements to renew the collective agreements concluded with the public service unions are for a duration of five years . These employment contracts, of an abnormally long duration, aim to establish a climate more conducive to change than the confrontation which characterizes the preparation of the next round of negotiations.

Completing or accelerating certain ongoing reforms, such as connecting regions of Quebec to high-speed Internet or the cellular network, and improving the efficiency of home care are also among the priorities.

To this short list, we can add the following elements:

1-the overhaul of the Act respecting labor relations, vocational training and workforce management in the construction industry, commonly known as Law R-20, led by Minister Jean Boulet to increase productivity in this sector of activity;

2- the creation of an agency to manage large public transport projects, led by Minister Geneviève Guilbault;

3- the bill on Hydro-Québec, energy consumption and electricity production from Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon.

In all cases, studies and debates are on the menu so as not to rush anything. The government does not intend to rush the adoption of these bills before the end of parliamentary work in June.

A recent Léger survey (New window) shows that nearly one in two Quebecers (44%) are outraged by the deterioration in the quality of public services. Without saying that all the problems will be resolved by 2026, the Legault team wishes to show the population that we have turned the corner, to use the expression of someone close to the Prime Minister, and that the worst is behind us .

In short, we want to shine a ray of hope in the next 18 months.

François Legault and Martin Koskinen remember the disappointing 2012 electoral campaign, when they believed their new party aspired to power only to settle for a third place. We were not able to provide some hope. The message was too focused on cleaning, François Legault then declared in an interview in October 2013 (New window).

Here we go again.< /p>

In 2012, the student spring and the collusion and corruption scandals of the Charest government had weighed down the morale of Quebecers. This time, it's the rising cost of living, the price and scarcity of housing, the slowing economy, public services suffering from labor shortages… The atmosphere is gloomy and this discontent is no longer just Quebecois: it affects all Western governments.

In this context, the government does not have the luxury of spreading itself thin, say CAQ strategists. Hence the new slogan discipline and consistency, repeated since the start of the new year, with priority given to improving public services.

At least, that's what François Legault wants, even if the population, who has seen others, risks remaining skeptical until proven otherwise.

It's not enough to have a plan: you still have to stick to it. Execution is difficult in politics. How many objectives, magnificent on paper, ended up in the trash a few months later, victims of events?

To try to stick to this strategy , two changes were made to François Legault's entourage.

This is the third stage of the recovery plan.

The advisor and editor of speech by the Prime Minister, Stéphane Gobeil, is transferred to the position of director of strategic planning, where he replaces Pascale Breton, now chief of staff to the Minister of Families, Suzanne Roy.

This is not a cosmetic change.

Stéphane Gobeil has been close to François Legault for years. He is the only one, with Martin Koskinen, who can afford to speak informally to the Prime Minister.

In fact, Stéphane Gobeil comes to fill the void left by the departure of Pascal Mailhot, the former holder of this position before Pascale Breton, who joined the ranks of the public relations firm TACT in the fall of 2022.

Stéphane Gobeil is more naturally inclined towards partisan politics than Pascal Mailhot, more of a public policy enthusiast. However, these two men have been gravitating around François Legault for almost 25 years and have gained his trust for a long time, an influence that Pascale Breton did not have.

Every Monday, Stéphane Gobeil participates in one of the most important meetings within the government, where only a handful of people are admitted: that of plans and priorities, with François Legault, Martin Koskinen and the general secretary of the government, Dominique Savoie. This is the meeting during which the Prime Minister's office ensures that the state machine follows the government's priorities. We follow up on critical files.

Stéphane Gobeil will ensure that the government does not lose sight of the essential and that the priorities for 2026 remain at the center of concerns despite the emergencies and the fires to be put out that inevitably arise on the road to a government.

To maintain discipline in choices and consistency in actions, it will be necessary to add another word, which does not rhyme with François Legault: patience.

This is where the new arrival to the cabinet, Daniel Zizian, 66, comes into play.

François Legault's career is driven by the urgency to act. He likes to shake things up, try new avenues, break molds. And he lives well with controversy, evoking from time to time the reserve of courage that a politician must use at the right time, according to him.

This is how he built Air Transat in just a few years, damaging friendships along the way and making him a wealthy freelancer at the age of 39.

His years as Minister of Education and Health, under the PQ regime, also bear witness to this (remember the reinvestment in post-secondary education in exchange for performance contracts with universities (New window), in 2001, or even in standoff over the salary of specialist doctors (New window), in 2002, which ended in special law).

It is also in this way that he leads the Coalition Avenir Québec: it's sometimes square and hasty, but it's him, all in one piece.

However, business leaders like heads of state have the bad habit of surrounding themselves with people who are similar to them rather than looking for complementary personalities.

Apart from his alter ego, Martin Koskinen, who is calm and collected by nature, François Legault has around him several energetic advisors who are sometimes too reactive, even untimely. There are several of us hot together! laughingly recognizes an advisor to the Prime Minister.

This is the dynamic that the new special advisor Daniel Zizian will have to break, a rare addition to François Legault's inner circle since he took power in 2018.

The two have known each other for almost 50 years. They attended CEGEP together, Collège Marguerite-Bourgeoys. However, while François Legault dreamed of doing business, Daniel Zizian entered politics, where he notably worked for the leader of the Parti Québécois and Prime Minister Pierre Marc Johnson in the 1980s.

Their paths crossed again when François Legault left the business world to join Lucien Bouchard's Council of Ministers at the end of the 1990s. Daniel Zizian then became chief of staff of François Legault when the latter was entrusted, to his great surprise, with the Ministry of Education in 1998.

Recognized as a person of formidable calm who has seen others, Daniel Zizian's mission is to infuse an extra dose of wisdom into the Prime Minister's office. Avoiding overreacting to certain events, describes someone who has worked with him on a daily basis since he took office.

We said above that François Legault does not easily trust new players in his entourage. He falls back on the same people to carry out the tasks he considers important. The transfer of Stéphane Gobeil and the arrival of Daniel Zizian are an attempt to reshuffle the cards, to bring in new blood and a different vision, without completely renewing the Prime Minister's inner circle.

Will they be able to help François Legault and his ministers better choose their battles and apply the new game plan in order to straighten out the government's trajectory? Verdict in a few months.

  • Alec Castonguay ( View profile)Alec Castonguay Follow

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