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How a powerful Legault government could face pushback from the opposition and beyond

François Legault cruised to victory in Monday's election. His party won 90 of 125 seats.

François Legault cruised to victory in Monday's election. His party won 90 of 125 seats. Élections provinciale 2022 au Québec. Soirée et rassemblement de la CAQ. Des centaines de partisans de la CAQ (Coalition Avenir Québec) se sont rassemblés pour suivre la soirée électorale. Photo prise au Capitole à Québec, Canada. Sur la photo: (Gauche à droite) Arrivée d François Legault avant son discours de la victoire de la CAQ Le 03 Octobre 2022 2022/10/03

Photo: Radio-Canada / Ivanoh Demers

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Outside National Assembly, CAQ likely to face challenges from mayors, grassroots protesters and the courts

Despite winning a commanding majority Monday, the Legault government will face plenty of opposition, and not just from the three other parties in the National Assembly. 

Advocacy groups and municipal leaders are likely to clash with Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), and the government is already facing a number of court challenges for laws passed in its first term. 

A substantial portion of the population — just under 60 per cent of those who cast a ballot — voted for a party other than the CAQ.

But with the CAQ's stranglehold in the legislature, with 90 of a possible 125 seats, how effective will any opposition to the government's agenda be?

Diminished opposition in Quebec City

The Quebec Liberal Party will once again form the Official Opposition in the legislature, a crucial role meant to hold the government to account. 

Prof. Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said the Liberals can be effective — even if they only have 21 seats, down from 27 at dissolution.

Opposition is not just about the number of seats that you have, he said in an interview.

If it's well organized, if they push the right buttons, and if the government makes mistakes, they can actually play a major role.

Quebec Premier François Legault, left, responds to the opposition during question period on June 8, two days before the end of last spring's session.

Quebec Premier François Legault, left, responds to the opposition during question period on June 8, two days before the end of last spring's session.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Jacques Boissinot

Béland said the Liberals, as well as Québec Solidaire and the Parti Québécois, will need to exploit the mistakes of the ruling party and make them known through mainstream media and on social media platforms. 

He also said a large majority such as the one the CAQ now enjoys is a double-edged sword, given that there will be MNAs who had hoped for a cabinet position left on the back bench.

These people might be frustrated because they don't get a seat at the table that matters the most, he said.

The opposition is divided, with three parties holding a total of 35 seats. A fourth party, the Conservative Party of Quebec, didn't win a single seat despite getting 13 per cent of the popular vote — nearly the same percentage as the other three losing parties. 

Université Laval political scientist Prof. Valérie-Anne Mahéo said the opposition parties may need to form alliances — either informal or formal — to take on the CAQ on certain issues they deem to be a priority.

But since only the Liberals meet the bar set for being officially recognized as a party — 12 seats or 20 per cent of the vote — the National Assembly would have to bend the rules to allow QS and the PQ resources. In 2018, an agreement was reached that allowed them status, which means more speaking time and research budgets.

They will need to hone their focus during question period.

They are going to share time in the National Assembly, Mahéo said. 

Beyond the National Assembly

Advocacy groups pushing for more affordable housing, stronger environmental policies or other measures issued statements on Tuesday, pressing the government to act. 

Will they be able to persuade the government?

Activists trying to get their message across is always a challenge, said Marc-André Viau, director of government relations for Quebec at Équiterre. 

Viau said the CAQ had virtually no environmental platform heading into its previous mandate, and environmental groups were able to score some wins, including the banning of oil exploration in Quebec and the LNG pipeline

These were things that were not on the agenda, he said. The goal going forward will be to bend the government toward greener policies. The CAQ is set to update its zoning policy, for instance, in the coming year.

The people voted for the CAQ to govern for the next four years, but that doesn't mean that they don't care about the environment, he said.

For his part, Ghislain Picard, the regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, said he was encouraged that — at least during the televised debates — party leaders committed to more co-operation with Indigenous groups. 

He said the Legault government must create a space that will allow a dialogue between the elected representatives of the First Nations and those of the National Assembly.

Mayors offer a different vision

Leading up to the election, a new generation of mayors expressed discontent (new window) with the CAQ's policies on issues ranging from immigration to public transit.

Those municipal leaders are likely to ramp up the pressure on the CAQ in its second term, although Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, for one, put on an optimistic face immediately following the result.

Plante said she looked forward to working with the government on shared priorities. 

We have always worked collaboratively, she said. 

One of the ridings changed, but just like in 2018, the CAQ came away Monday with only two seats on the island (new window), which is dominated by the Liberals and Québec Solidaire.

During the last term, we had two CAQ [MNAs] on the island of Montreal, and we did great things together.

The leaders of the opposition parties — Dominique Anglade of the Liberals, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of Québec Solidaire and Paul St-Pierre Plamondon of the Parti Québécois— all hold seats in Montreal. 

Plante said she's pleased they will be a voice for Montrealers but her main relationship will be with the CAQ government.

Based on the previous mandate, with the same number of CAQ MNAs in Montreal, we really did big things [together], Plante said. She cited the example of the REM de l'Est light-rail project as an example, even though the timeline for that multibillion-dollar extension to the light-rail line now under construction is unclear.

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Courts as 'guard dog'

The CAQ is also being challenged in court on two of its landmark pieces of legislation from its first term: Bill 96, the province's updated language law, and Bill 21, which prohibits some public employees from wearing religious symbols, both of which required the government to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the CAQ's attempt to insulate them from constitutional challenges.

Challenges to both laws will be heard in the CAQ's second mandate. 

McGill University law Prof. Robert Leckey said the courts shouldn't be seen as a form of opposition, but rather a guard dog to ensure that people's fundamental rights are respected. 

Demonstrators against Bill 21, the province's secularism law, are seen holding signs outside Quebec Superior Court. A challenge to the law will be heard at the Quebec Court of Appeal in November.

Demonstrators against Bill 21, the province's secularism law, are seen holding signs outside Quebec Superior Court. A challenge to the law will be heard at the Quebec Court of Appeal in November.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Ivanoh Demers

The courts are there to be defending the constitutional framework, he said.

They can hear voices that may be shut out of the parliamentary process. So, you know, Bill 21 and Bill 96 didn't have nearly as many or as broad a range of groups invited to participate in the public hearings as you might have wanted, given how consequential those laws are. So some of those voices may come in through the judicial process.

The Quebec Court of Appeal will hear a challenge of Bill 21 in November. Whatever the outcome, the case is expected to eventually wind up before the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Benjamin Shingler (new window) · CBC News ·

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