Montreal·Ballot Brief

Quebec's identity politics struggle is real

François Legault, the leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, is playing up his plan to cut back on the number of immigrants and introduce a language and values test. But why now?

François Legault is playing up his plan to cut back on the number of immigrants. But why now?

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Welcome to the Weekender edition of Ballot Brief.

Sit back and relax as we take a closer look into one of the biggest stories that emerged from the trail this week: the immigration question.

​Deep dive

By Benjamin Shingler, @benshingler

If there was ever any doubt the thorny, divisive debate over Quebec identity would feature prominently in the campaign, it was put to rest this week.

After a difficult start to the campaign, François Legault, the leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, played up his plan to cut back on the number of immigrants and introduce a language and values test.

The comment that really caught people's attention?

Legault suggested on Thursday that, if more isn't done to protect the language, "our grandchildren will not speak French."

The CAQ leader doubled down on those remarks Friday, saying that Montreal, in particular, was at risk of losing its French character in as little as two or three generations.

The statistics don't bear that out.

In fact, a majority of immigrants living in Quebec — 80.5 per cent — reported being able to conduct a conversation in French, according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada.

So, why the focus on immigration? And why now?

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault greets supporters while campaigning Friday in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

While it's still leading in the polls, the CAQ has, by most accounts, gotten off to a lacklustre start. Some of its major announcements, like its plan to overhaul the long-term care system, were dismissed as unrealistic by stakeholders.

And, this week, Legault was forced to turf a second candidate, a bar owner who was fined multiple times for serving alcohol to minors.

With immigration, Legault is appealing to his base of francophone voters outside Montreal on an issue where the CAQ can clearly distinguish itself from Philippe Couillard's Liberals.

And, unlike the Parti Québécois, Legault is promising to protect French language and culture without the threat of a referendum.

If that means wrestling more control from Ottawa over who is allowed to come to Canada (the federal government oversees the refugee and family reunification programs), Legault said he's prepared to do it, as a "nationalist party inside Canada."

Despite all this talk, Legault insisted, in an interview with Radio-Canada, that identity issues aren't "central" to the CAQ's vision — and that people are actually more concerned with economy and health care and education.

We'll see if that's what his party focuses on as we head into a pivotal stretch of the campaign, with the first leaders' debate on Thursday. Today, he's expected to present his party's full financial plan.

Freeze frame

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard greets residents at a seniors residence during a campaign stop in Sherbrooke, Que. Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée puts on a safety hat during a visit to the Davie shipyard in Lévis, Que. Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press

The mic

What do the parties have to say about their relationship with municipal government?

I became a municipal councillor for the first time last year. Most people do not realize that there is a direct effect between the party in power and our municipal taxes.

-Lynda Graham, Sutton municipal councillor

Thanks for the question Lynda! We scoured the parties' platforms and pulled out their pledges to municipalities: 

  • The PQ wants to work with municipalities "as real partners and not like subcontractors." It will give more power to local governments to come up with development plans that best fit their needs, and give those governments more funding to put their plans into action.
  • The CAQ wants to give more power to municipalities. They say they'll give more money and more people to local governments to make decisions that fit best for their region.
Legault says goodbye to Mayor Valérie Plante while campaigning in Montreal on Friday. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
  • Québec Solidaire says they will bring back regional development funds to support businesses that use local products and resources to "revitalize the social and economic fabric" of the area.
  • The Liberals want to give municipalities more power to make their own decisions. They say that will ensure economic development happens "in the regions, by the regions and for the regions." The metropolis status given to Montreal in 2017, they say, is an example of that.

Do you have election questions you want answered? Send your queries to and we'll choose some to be answered right here.


​A new conservative party is on track to win the Quebec election. It must be appealing to angry voters in a rust-belt, right? Nope. Read more

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Bon weekend!

-Melinda Dalton, social media editor


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