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Analysis | Legault-Trudeau meeting: what will be the CAQ’s plan B?

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar15,2024

Justin Trudeau has little to gain by giving his Quebec counterpart what he wants to get.

Analysis | Legault-Trudeau meeting: what will be the CAQ's plan B?

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Justin Trudeau does not necessarily have much to gain, politically, from giving his Quebec counterpart what the latter wishes to obtain. (Archive photo)

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The decision of the Court of Appeal in the secularism case offered the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) a victory like it had not had in a long time. The three judges of Quebec's highest court recognized that the government had made valid use of the notwithstanding provision, which allows a law to be exempted from the application of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Faced with the rise of the Parti Québécois (PQ), François Legault repeats that Quebec can assert itself more and obtain more power within Canada. The Prime Minister often cites the same two examples, namely the adoption of Law 21 on secularism and the adoption of Law 96 on the French language.

In both cases, these are unilateral gestures by Quebec, for which the Legault government did not have to negotiate anything with the federal government. It was certainly necessary to be ready to assume recourse to the controversial override provision with voters, but the government did not have permission to ask.

To fulfill all of the commitments that the CAQ has made in recent years in terms of nationalism, Quebec must, however, reach an agreement with Ottawa. This is particularly true when it comes to immigration, the central theme of the last electoral campaign, which François Legault now wishes to discuss with Justin Trudeau.

However, until now, getting anything from the federal government has proven to be rather difficult. The Minister of Immigration, Christine Fréchette, recently boasted of having convinced her counterpart Marc Miller to impose a visa on Mexican nationals, but one can wonder whether she or the Biden administration weighed in heavier in Ottawa's decision.

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Christine Fréchette recently boasted of having convinced her federal counterpart, Marc Miller, to impose a visa on Mexican nationals. (File photo)

Quebec's requests, for the rest, remained essentially a dead letter, think of the increased powers that François Legault hoped to obtain in matters of family reunification or temporary immigration. Even respect for the immigration thresholds determined by Quebec — an achievement of around thirty years — recently appeared to be compromised, with Ottawa letting the Quebec government know that it would no longer tolerate delays in family reunification. stretch indefinitely.

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We can make the same observation with regard to numerous other promises, whether we think of the powers that the CAQ was keen to repatriate in matters of culture or the single tax report. Things might be different under a Conservative government, but unlike his predecessors, Pierre Poilievre has so far offered no guarantees.

En 2017, the Liberal government of Philippe Couillard affirmed its vision of Canadian federalism by publishing a new constitutional policy. Entitled Québécois, it’s our way of being Canadian, the document mentioned as a long-term project the idea of ​​Quebec reintegrating the Canadian Constitution, but it only took a few hours for Justin Trudeau to definitively close the door to any constitutional reform project.

The Canadian Prime Minister did not show much more interest in the CAQ's proposals. Although he often repeats that he is ready to have conversations and work in collaboration with his Quebec counterpart, more structural results are still awaited.

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In many respects, however, the Canadian and Quebec prime ministers simply do not share the same vision. (File photo)

There have of course been some victories, such as the agreement reached between Jean-François Roberge and Ginette Petitpas Taylor, regarding the Official Languages ​​Act. In many respects, however, the Canadian and Quebec prime ministers simply do not share the same vision. This is true of the question of secularism as well as that of immigration, but also – more fundamentally – of the definition of federalism itself and the dynamic that should prevail between the provinces and the federal government. Justin Trudeau has never hidden his interest in intervening in the field of social policies, to the great dismay of Quebec.

However, not only do the two prime ministers not see things the same way, but Justin Trudeau does not necessarily have much to gain, politically, from giving his Quebec counterpart what the latter wishes to obtain . After all, the Liberal Party of Canada obtained more votes and more seats in Quebec than any other party during the last three federal elections, without having to make any specific promises to Quebecers.

Faced with Ottawa's refusal to respond to Quebec's demands, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon urged the CAQ government to force the game, for example by organizing a referendum on immigration. The Parti Québécois would have everything to gain from a new Quebec-Canada confrontation, but François Legault has understood the maneuver well and he certainly does not intend to give ammunition to his adversary.

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The leader of the Parti Québécois, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, urges the CAQ government to force the game on immigration. (File photo)

However, the CAQ would really need a victory, if only to shut up its rivals. In addition to the PQ, the Liberal Party and Québec Solidaire have also been quick to show the weaknesses of the government strategy in recent times. Faced with this turn of events, CAQ members are whispering behind the scenes that their government should above all rely on itself to advance its nationalist project. This means, for them, favoring unilateral actions, like the adoption of laws 21 and 96, rather than banking on hypothetical agreements with the federal government.

There are options that present themselves, we are already in the process of evaluating them, François Legault responded yesterday to Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, who asked him what he planned to do, in the event of a refusal from Ottawa in the file of immigration. The government has not yet lost hope, but it is clearly preparing its plan B.

It is true that time is running out. The CAQ will soon be halfway through its second mandate and unfavorable polls continue to accumulate. Having requested a meeting with his federal counterpart, François Legault hopes to convince Justin Trudeau of the merits of his requests, but the Quebec Prime Minister might have an interest in not asking too much.

Gestures of unilateral affirmation already irritate the federal government quite a bit, as demonstrated by Ottawa's desire to participate in the challenge of Bill 21 before the Supreme Court. All things considered, convincing Justin Trudeau not to oppose Quebec decisions would already be a step forward for the CAQ.

In the wake of the presentation of the budget earlier this week, the Quebec Prime Minister made health and education his priorities, but bet his re-election on the fate of two networks which have not so far demonstrated a great propensity for transformation and the improvement appears bold. Focusing on identity could prove to be more politically profitable, but we still need to have results to show.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my natasha@thetimeshub.in 1-800-268-7116

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