Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

Politics is often compared to hockey, but being prime minister is more of a solitary sport, like tennis. And, for months, François Legault has been making unprovoked errors that are helping to sink his government.

Analysis | The unforced errors of François Legault< /p>Open in full screen mode

François Legault, Prime Minister of Quebec (Archive photo)

  • Alec Castonguay (View profile)Alec Castonguay

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The Premier of Quebec is a big sports fan. Every fall, François Legault carefully selects the players in his hockey pool, a friendly competition that pits him against his advisors for several years – he is also at the top of the rankings and enjoys reminding those around him of this. In another hockey pool in which he participates, the very difficult one of the daily La Presse, he is currently 74th out of… 18,729 participants. So, not everything is bad.

It’s not the only sport that catches his attention. If there was a tennis pool, François Legault would be in it. This sport is at the top of his preferences. Despite his premiership schedule, he still practices it regularly and rarely misses a final or semi-final of the National Bank Open in early August in Montreal.

We often compare politics to hockey, saying that it is a team sport, with the caucus of deputies, the Council of Ministers, the advisors… We play, we win and we lose as a group. It's not false. The composition and performance of the team is important.

But in many ways, being prime minister is more of a solitary sport, like tennis. The function allows you to take credit for good moves and forces you to take responsibility for bad decisions. He must master all files. Get involved in all controversies. The Prime Minister is constantly in the spotlight, and sometimes feels very alone when things go badly on the ground.

Tennis, unlike hockey, compiles a revealing statistic for each game: unforced errors. Self-inflicted errors that are not caused by a good shot from the opponent.

The ball is right in the center of the court, easy to return , but poor concentration or impatience in the gesture, even minimal, causes a fault.

Tennis, like politics, is a sport that is mostly played between the two ears. A mental battle. An exercise in discipline. All players, all governments make unprovoked mistakes. The challenge is to avoid the accumulation of unforced errors. To limit the damage.

Otherwise, the nervousness increases. The player starts to grip his racket a little too much. He loses his bearings, tries to recover, to catch up, but rushes his actions and ends up accentuating his difficulties.

You see me coming. For several months, François Legault has been accumulating unforced errors.

  1. In April, the CAQ abandoned its symbolic promise to build a third highway link between Quebec and Lévis. At $10 billion, a tunnel that could no longer accommodate trucks (due to the slope) and reserved minimal space for public transportation no longer made sense. But the way of announcing it was catastrophic.

    The deputies had not been consulted or warned, the explanations were shaky, the reasons for the about-face seemed to change according to the elected officials questioned, the first minister did not deign to appear alongside his Minister of Transport to accept his decision… In short, the voters of the greater Quebec region felt betrayed, discredited.

  2. A few weeks later, to calm down a heated caucus, François Legault rammed through a 30% increase in the salaries of elected officials in the National Assembly – with the support of the Quebec Liberal Party. An immediate increase, without touching the generous pension fund (which was recommended by expert reports on the subject, such as that of Claire L'heureux-Dubé, Claude Bisson and François Côté (New window), in 2013). br>
    A proposal that the Prime Minister and government ministers have not defended publicly, other than paying lip service. It came at a time when citizens had to tighten their belts due to inflation, without them having the privilege of voting for a generous salary increase. This increase is a drop in the ocean of the state's public finances ($4.4 million), but it still haunts the government. The equivalent of a double fault when the first round is at stake…
  3. Autumn rears its ugly head, and with it reappears… the third link! The day after the severe defeat during the by-election in Jean-Talon, in Quebec, François Legault appeared before journalists and improvised a response on a third link which would rise from the ashes in a new form to be defined. His advisors are stunned. They listen live as the Prime Minister derails the game plan.

    François Legault simply had to show contrition, affirm that he was going to take the time to think, to consult his caucus on the causes of the defeat and to listen to the people of Quebec. But he goes further.

    His deputies are as surprised as during the April announcement, his Council of Ministers is in shock, and the population is scratching their heads. It really wasn't necessary, a member of the government summed up for me a few days later. The ball is offline, and far away.

  4. Then, in mid-October, the Parti Québécois (PQ), buoyed by its victory in Jean-Talon, presented its year 1 budget for a sovereign Quebec. A telegraphed exercise to which the Prime Minister was prepared to respond. At the start of the question period, he told journalists that while the PQ is having fun with the Bank of Quebec, it will take care of food banks. He juxtaposes his fight against inflation with the piastre in Plamondon.

    Everything is going well… until Paul St-Pierre Plamondon's question in the House, to which François Legault responds by talking about federal government jobs. “Could he, at the same time, say how many Quebecers would lose their jobs with the 8 billion cuts? »

    This is the argument of fear used by the federalist camp for decades, but in the mouth of the former hard-pressed PQ who became head of the CAQ, it rings false. The many separatists within the Coalition Avenir Québec swallowed wrongly.

    Then, as if to redeem himself, five days later, he responded sharply to Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, who accused him of repeating arguments by Jean Charest: “Being called Jean Charest, is there anything more insulting than being called Jean Charest? », Says the Prime Minister (New window), responding briefly to a journalist after leaving the Blue Room. He even said Jean Chrétien, anyway!

    The CAQ is a coalition of voters who voted for other parties in the recent past. Even within his ministerial team and among cabinet employees, all political colors rub shoulders. It is a strength, but also a fragility.

    In public opinion, the slap at the separatists, then that at the former liberals, in less than a week, made former supporters of both camps. We started bleeding from both ends…, a government political advisor whispers to me.

  5. Now let’s return to sport. It happens during a game that the player is sure of hitting a winning shot, and to his great surprise the ball hits the frame of the racket and ends up far in the stands. Embarrassing mistake. Generally, this is a sign that the protagonist, too sure of himself, took his eyes off the ball at the last minute. He was already thinking about his next move.

    Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard never saw the mistake coming when he announced a subsidy of $5 to $7 million to Quebecor to encourage the Los Angeles Kings to come and play two exhibition games at the Videotron Center in October 2024. His smile showed a man convinced he was announcing good news. And yet.

    The sum will be used to cover the expenses of the three teams who will face each other – the Kings, the Florida Panthers and the Boston Bruins – as well as the losses at the box offices of these teams, who will play far from their amphitheater, justified Eric Girard.

    Nonsense for any hockey fan who is even the slightest bit attentive. The Los Angeles Kings must leave their arena next fall, since it will be renovated (New window). Far from a favor, they were looking for a temporary home. The Florida Panthers play almost all of their off-season games away from home because their arena is empty due to a lack of enough fans to watch trivial hockey. This year, the team competed in Kraft Hockeyville, Nova Scotia, because it was more profitable for them to play in Sydney than in their own arena. That’s saying something.

    Every year, NHL teams play exhibition games away from their hometown in order to expand into new markets without disappointing their fans, who would not like to see their team play important games away from home. And each time, no public funds are spent (New window).

    We tried to negotiate downwards, said Eric Girard. And then it was that or nothing. The answer should have been nothing. In the context of deteriorating public finances, of inflation that is hitting, of negotiations in the public sector, the message, even if the amount is small on the scale of the Quebec budget, is disastrous. The most recent poll on voting intentions (New window), carried out in the wake of the announcement, bears witness to this. The CAQ is backing down everywhere, including in Quebec.

    Note, however, that even if the idea comes from Eric Girard, this subsidy to the Kings has gone through all the usual stages. The Council of Ministers approved it. The Prime Minister too. Eric Girard did not hold a major press conference at the Videotron Center behind the backs of his colleagues.

Five unforced errors in just a few month only.

However, when facing a formidable opponent, each unprovoked mistake hurts doubly.

All Western governments currently face a major opponent: a slowing economy, a rising cost of living and post-pandemic popular discontent. Governments, so powerful and agile during the health crisis, suddenly seem helpless and struggle to tackle the ambient crises, which fuels exasperation.

The average citizen living in a democracy feels like they aren't getting enough for their money, whether at the grocery store, looking at their rent or mortgage bill, or receiving state services. Wars in Ukraine and the Middle East add to the gloom.

The world is going badly. Expectations are disappointed. The angry voter has a lot to say, but feels he is not being heard. He vents in the polls and on social networks.

The popularity rating of the parties in power suffers, as much here as in the United States, in France or Great Britain. Voters are looking elsewhere. In several countries, radical political options are making progress. In the Netherlands this week, the far right won the elections.

In Quebec, we must add to the atmosphere the difficult negotiations with the public service unions. That's nearly 600,000 employees (and their families) who are not in a good mood these days.

A formidable adversary who x27;faces better with patience and iron discipline. Two qualities that François Legault does not possess.

The Prime Minister is authentic, frank, in a hurry and sometimes heated. A recipe that allowed it to be successful during the pandemic and gain the trust of the population. But when the crisis fades and it is necessary to govern with medium and long-term objectives, the hurried temperament of the CEO who seeks immediate results is put to the test.

However, the government and its boss seem to have been constantly in “crisis management” mode for months, looking for the winning move at all costs to get back into the game as quickly as possible.

On the contrary, the errors keep coming. The message gets confused.

To the point of erasing the good moves, such as the recruitment of 5,000 to 7,000 people who will follow accelerated training to enter the construction industry. Or the sum of $1.8 billion for the construction of thousands of affordable housing units in the coming years. The new fiscal pact with cities has also not received the attention it deserves.

The player at the head of the government has- Was he too confident? Has he become accustomed to good polls and resounding victories (90 MPs!) to the point of losing his bearings?

The CAQ has just completed the first year of its second mandate. The slogan behind the scenes at the CAQ is to say that there are still three years before the next elections, that the polls come and go, that the time has not come to press the panic button…

That's true, but it might be time to get your act together.

On has already seen players unable to recover from a bad start to a match.

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