Frankly, I was surprised to see him there. To see François Legault, in May 2018, sign with the leaders of three other parties, in front of the cameras, a promise to change the voting system in Quebec. I was surprised because I had never heard the head of the CAQ worry about this issue. I had carefully observed the Caquist mental universe, and I could not find any trace of it for themes such as cycle paths, the fight against inequalities or the proportional ballot.
The membership of the CAQ in the coalition has therefore always seemed fragile to me. QS and the Green Party being the smallest parties, it was natural that they wanted a voting system that better translates their electoral gains into seats. The PQ had fallen into the pot of proportional voting when it was born, when the party won, in 1973, only 6% of the seats for 30% of the vote. Once in the majority in 1976, René Lévesque’s deputies became less inclined to share hard-won power. Having become a PQ leader in 2016, I had this objective reinscribed in the program in order to increase the political weight of the independence parties in Parliament, since the PQ was no longer alone in carrying the project.
I admit here that I have never been convinced that the method of mixed proportional representation, where 75 members come from constituencies and 50 others from a list allowing to re-establish fairer representation, was the right one. My reservation has always focused on the excessive extent of the 75 remaining constituencies in the region (rather than 125). I rather have a weakness for the French two-round system, which creates a dynamic of mobilization, or for the preferential vote, where the voter designates his first and second choice. If a candidate does not achieve 50% of first choices, then the second choices are taken into account.
But the question then was not to know what I preferred, personally, but what was most useful to the independence movement. The mixed proportional representation was at the same time the historical position of Lévesque, the consensus established after two major consultations and, more cyclically, the choice of the other separatist party, Québec solidaire, with which I had the weakness to think that ‘we had to try to come to an understanding. (To those who reproach me for it, I retort that 50% of French-speaking voters had indicated to Léger that they would vote for the candidates of a PQ-QS pact, which would have given us in 2018 a pro-independence, environmentalist majority government of center left. But hey, the only person who understands me on this point is Perrette. Yes, the one in the milk jug.)
An undemocratic virus?
Why did the CAQ get on this boat? At the time of signing, the voting intentions were smiling on Legault, and the election would prove that he could very well bring a majority of his candidates into Parliament with the existing voting system.
Even before our joint press conference in May 2018, I noted that Legault never committed that the reform would be introduced in time for the 2022 elections. It was shady. During the 2018 campaign, I challenged him to clarify his position. Stuck, he declared for the first time that it would apply in 2022 and that he would not make, by breaking his promise, “a Justin Trudeau of himself”, as Trudeau had just done at the federal level.
In power, Legault first made a half-Trudeau of himself by announcing that there would be, on election day in 2022, a referendum on the question. It was not a break, but a postponement. Was he going to lead the Yes camp? He never told us. A lukewarmness that could indicate his wish that the voters, by voting no, free him from his promise.
Then the virus came to his rescue. The Chief Electoral Officer had given the Prime Minister a strict deadline, without which he would not have time to organize the planned referendum. Legault accused the virus of having prevented him from meeting the deadlines. Reform, some believed, was in intensive care.
Could we at least study and vote on the bill prepared by Sonia LeBel and provide for the application of the reform to the elections of 2026, or the holding of a referendum in the meantime? We understood last week that the reform was, in fact, palliative care. Only the fatal dose was missing, to take her from coma to death. This is what François Legault did, accusing the virus of not creating a favorable climate for such a debate, then proroguing the session and letting the bill die.
In short, we can pass laws on language, on health reform, on a court devoted to domestic violence, all of which are excellent causes that the pandemic does not affect. This crap is baited on democracy!
Legault’s betrayal is all the more odious since it occurs when the voting intentions ensure his re-election, whatever the voting method. The reform is therefore, for him, without risk. There is, however, an aggravating factor. Legault buries reform when our democracy needs it most. According to Philippe Fournier’s calculations, if the electoral results reflect the latest polls, the CAQ, with 47% of the vote, would obtain 80% of the seats; the PLQ, with 20% of the vote, would have 14% of the seats; QS, with 11% of the vote, would have 5% of the seats; the PQ, with 11% of the vote, would have 0.8% of the seats; and Eric Duhaime’s Conservative Party, with 8% of the vote, would have 0% of the seats.
Legault will therefore end up with a majority swollen on steroids and a democracy sicker than ever. You have to believe that’s exactly what he wants.
The author was leader of the Parti Québécois from 2016 to 2018
[email protected] ; blog: jflisee.org