Montreal

Coalition Avenir Québec kicks off pre-election policy convention in Drummondville

The party chose Quebec pride as the theme for its last major gathering before the provincial election this fall.  

Party's last major gathering before election centres on Quebec nationalism

Quebec Premier François Legault shakes hand with delegates as he enters a Coalition Avenir Quebec annual congress, in Drummondville, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The Coalition Avenir Québec party faithful are meeting in Drummondville, Que. this weekend for a pre-election policy national convention. 

It is the party's last major gathering before the provincial election this fall. 

Concrete barriers and fencing have gone up in some areas around the CentreExpo, where the convention is taking place, and only local traffic will be allowed on some streets. 

Caroline St-Hilaire, a former Bloc Québécois Member of Parliament and former Longueuil mayor, will host the event. She will run for the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) this coming election in the riding of Sherbrooke, the seat of Québec solidaire MNA Christine Labrie. 

Little debate

The convention's theme is Quebec pride, with most of the CAQ's resolutions centring on national identity. 

Of the CAQ's 23 resolutions, the first listed are the creation of a national museum of Quebec to promote 400 years of history as well as the "contribution" of First Nations and the creation of a mandatory contemporary Quebec history course for the province's junior colleges (CEGEPs). 

Noticeably absent from the agenda are topics related to the pandemic, health care, the labour shortage, the housing crisis, climate change or any subjects that could lead to contentious debate. 

At the CAQ convention, Quebec Deputy premier and Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault told reporters the government seized an opportunity to protect French with Bill 96, calling the law balanced. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Asked about the lack of debatable resolutions up for discussion, Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said Quebec pride is "as important as any other topic." 

"The Coalition Avenir Quebec has been created for a lot of things but one of those is pride, to revive the pride of being Quebecer," she said. "Not for sovereignty or for federalism … but a new form of nationalism, of pride to be Quebecers, and this is what this congress is about."

Chantal Rouleau, Quebec's junior transport minister, said the party always has debates with its members. 

"You are not invited to those discussions maybe, but we have discussions with the members and the citizens," she told reporters. "That's why we are able to make action."

Free of judgment 

Legislation such as the secularism law and most recently Bill 96 — which overhauls Quebec's charter of the French language — have drawn criticism both at home and abroad. 

Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette responds to reporters' questions as he arrives for the Coalition Avenir Québec convention. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Simon Jolin-Barrette, the province's justice minister, pushed back at critics, saying the state of Quebec will "always be free" to make its own decisions and implement robust measures to promote and protect French. 

"We don't have to be judged by anybody because it's legitimate to defend the French language," he said. 

He added he wasn't surprised by the English Montreal School Board committing to challenging Bill 96 only two days after it was passed. 

"We will be in court to defend that law, even if it goes to the Supreme Court," he said. 

Four months before the Oct. 3 election, a Léger poll conducted from May 20 to 22 and commissioned by Le Journal de Montréal and TVA places the CAQ in a comfortable lead with support at 46 per cent. 

Based on the responses of 1,019 Quebecers, the Liberals, the Conservative Party of Quebec and Québec Solidaire are trailing behind with the support of 18 per cent, 14 per cent and 13 per cent of voters respectively. 

Ongoing protests

Demonstrators were near the CAQ convention to voice their dissatisfaction with party leader François Legault.

Nearly 2,000 people are expected to take part in the protest throughout the day, most of whom come from the Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ). 

The union, which represents government workers, has been negotiating with the CAQ for two years, says Jean-François Sylvestre, SFPQ vice-president responsible for mobilization. 

"We represent 27,000 members who earn between $24,000 to $60,000 [annually]," he said. "We have people, now, who have difficulty making ends meet. That the government has to give $500 to the population is one thing, but when its own employees ask for that $500 to meet their needs, that means we have a major problem."

The CAQ convention is expected to bring together 1,000 to 1,400 supporters.

Security measures for the event include the use of drones, tracking dogs, mounted police and bike patrols. 

Legault is scheduled to give a speech at the convention Sunday morning. Candidates for the next election will also be announced Sunday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Holly Cabrera

Journalist

Holly Cabrera is a journalist with CBC in Montreal. Reach her by email at holly.cabrera@cbc.ca

with files from Cathy Senay, Radio-Canada and La Presse Canadienne

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