François Legault: Federalist or non?

François Legault, former Parti Québécois cabinet minister and... federalist? Not so fast.

Legault is focusing on pragmatic politics this election campaign

Legault told reporters this week he'd vote no for separation today, but added that's because now is not the time. (Catherine Cullen/CBC)

François Legault, former Parti Québécois cabinet minister and...federalist?

Not so fast.

On Wednesday, reporters following the Coalition Avenir Québec campaign asked Legault how he would vote in a referendum, if the PQ were to get in to power.

His response, while open to interpretation, seemed to focus on his feelings about the PQ and his refusal to support them, rather than the actual referendum question.

When he walked away from the microphone, I didn't feel he'd given a clear answer.

As he walked back to his campaign bus, another reporter, this time in French, approached him and asked, "Referendum today, would you vote yes or no?"

"It would be no," replied Legault.

The comment has provoked a lot of reaction.

Some say it's evidence Legault is abandoning his principles in order to win votes. 

He did make this declaration the same day many media outlets, including the CBC, were covering his attempt to woo Anglophones.

Others have said the comments are nothing new.

After all, Legault has said sovereignty is off the table forever for the CAQ and that he will not campaign for separation.

But it seems to me that there's a nuance in Legault's remarks that is being lost.

Legault later elaborated by saying he would  vote no on separation, because, "now is not the time to do so."

That's not a federalist talking, folks.

The pragmatic approach

Legault is an accomplished businessman, and he considers himself a pragmatist.

He talks, almost every day, about Quebec's sputtering wealth creation. Not so long ago, we were fourth place amongst provinces. Now, we’re ninth. (Numbers our colleagues at Radio-Canada have verified

Legault believes Quebec is in no shape to separate right now. This is a decision founded in economics. Perhaps it also takes in to consideration that Quebecers have limited appetite for a referendum right now anyway.

But his "not right now" comments suggest to me, he'd still like Quebec to become its own country. He just wants that country to start out on a strong economic foot.

For federalists, this raises an interesting question.

First, let's set aside for a moment whether his economic plans will work. As a thought experiment, we'll assume they do.

Do federalists want to vote for a man who will put the province on better footing, but with the hope that it will make it easier to achieve sovereignty?

It's a fascinating question, really.

What's more important to voters? What Legault calls "the old divisions" between sovereigntists and federalists, or prosperity?

Will federalists trust Legault when he promises to put aside the referendum debate? And, back to the question we set aside, is he capable of producing the economic results he promises?

Follow Catherine Cullen on Twitter @cath_cullen.