For Francophones outside of Montreal, it was about protecting their culture, language, and identity.
The Avenir Québec Coalition won its second majority term on Monday, the result announced just 10 minutes after the polls closed. This was like me having written, the least surprising choice we’ve had in a long time. But it may not be the last. In fact, I’m starting to think we may have a second Duplessis on our hands.
For the youngest: Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis. People knew how to give kids big middle names in those days, like US President Harry Truman, whose middle name was the simple letter S. mais, venons à nos moutons. Maurice Duplessis was a dominant figure in Quebec politics, prime minister between 1944 and his death in 1959, plus three years in the 1930s, because he knew exactly how to appeal to white, Catholic, and Francophone voters who were not from downtown Montreal.
Prime Minister François Legault is, like most pure laina Quebecers, culturally but not especially religiously Catholic. He likes to read Quebec books. If I had time, I’d watch Quebec TV shows. He speaks English well enough to get by, but he does not have the elegance of Jacques Parizeau and his doctorate from the London School of Economics, nor the ease with which the journalist René Lévesque could communicate anything to anyone, even vividly describing radio listeners what he saw while accompanying the American soldiers who liberated Dachau. Legault obviously doesn’t care how it sounds in English, as long as he understands it. That is working fine for him.
He is of modest origin, he played brilliantly like all the other children, he lived in a normal house in a normal francophone neighborhood. He made his name and fortune from it by co-founding Air Transat, a charter airline that offers Quebecers discounted travel to their favorite destinations in exchange for less legroom or other airborne comforts. Obviously Quebecers don’t mind being stuffed like sardines if it saves them enough money. Legault understood that and made a fortune out of it.
He was first elected in 1998 with Lucien Bouchard’s Parti Québécois and served as Minister of Industry and Education. That ended in 2008 with the return of the Provincial Liberals under Jean Charest himself, who just lost the leadership of the federal Conservative Party to Pierre Poilievre. Legault retained his position in 1998 but resigned in 1999.
In 2011, he founded the Avenir Québec Coalition and I knew immediately that it would become popular. He was a nationalist in a way that the breakaway parties could not be; he was confident, almost boisterous rather than whiny, and business-friendly rather than leftist.
I was sure that the party could win the 2012 provincial elections. So much so that I asked to be sent to cover it, in Repentigny. I came six years too soon, and the raven I ate out of the air that night deflated as much as the pitiful balloons stranded onstage after the speech that promised the CWC was here to stay.
Now the CAQ has won a landslide re-election with 90 of 125 seats. The Liberals will form the Official Opposition with its 21 seats. The leftist Québec Solidaire has 11 seats and the Parti Québécois has three. In the small-mercedes department, note that the Trump wannabe party won zero seats.
Maurice Duplessis knew what motivated the people who voted for him: to protect their culture, language, and identity. The fact that he improperly targeted Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses went unchallenged at the polls. Perhaps, one could argue, the opposite was true. His time was also known as the great noirceur (the great darkness) for its crass anti-intellectualism and autocracy.
Today’s Quebec is different, thank God. But it can still be dominated by a political leader if that leader knows how to appeal to francophones who live outside of Montreal. François Legault, I contend, knows how to do this precisely because he essentially is. As long as he follows his instincts, I predict, he will be able to stay in power. This could be a long time indeed.
brigitte pellerin was born in Quebec weeks after the October Crisis and has followed the province’s twists and turns ever since.