Quebecers vote on Oct. 3 and polls suggest Premier François Legault and his Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party will secure a decisive second victory. Legault’s CAQ won a majority in the 2018 election but elected only two CAQ members on the Island of Montreal and 10 in its off-island suburbs.
This time, the CAQ is likely to make gains in the Montreal region’s roughly 45 seats.
Legault’s opposition will look different this year. An emerging Conservative Party of Quebec and two new parties — Mouvement Québec and the Canadian Party of Quebec — offer alternatives for Liberal voters in the party’s Montreal stronghold.
All three oppose the CAQ’s Bill 96, which reinforces measures protecting the French language, and Bill 21, the secularism law that prohibits Islamic women working in the public sector — including teachers — from wearing the hijab.
Mouvement Québec was formed by Balarama Holness, a former CFL football player and McGill University law graduate. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Montreal in 2021, campaigning to designate the city as bilingual. Holness also will campaign against systemic racism, a concept Premier Legault rejects as divisive.
The Canadian Party of Quebec, led by lawyer Colin Standish, also favours bilingualism and aims to appeal to “Quebecers who feel betrayed and abandoned by the CAQ and the Quebec Liberal Party,” he stated when announcing the party’s creation.
Quebecers have mixed feelings about bilingualism.
They’re the most bilingual Canadians, with 44.5% claiming fluency in both of Canada’s official languages in the 2016 census. In the rest of Canada, fewer than 10% can speak both French and English.
Quebec federalists support bilingualism across Canada, and even Quebec Liberals agree that French needs protection and promotion within the province.
But francophones tend to see official bilingualism in Quebec as a threat to their identity because the policy assumes English and French are interchangeable.
The sensitivity surrounding language was on display last November, when Air Canada president Michael Rousseau spoke 20 seconds of French during a 26-minute speech to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce.
This sparked more than 2,600 complaints to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages (the most ever received about a single case, CBC News reported).
Nonetheless, francophone Quebecers generally recognize that fluency in English is an asset professionally, for travel and maybe even in their love lives. And most English speakers in Quebec want their children to have a good grasp of French, often sending them to French schools.
But English-speaking children’s capacity in French is uneven. That has left many anglophone Quebecers feeling that Bill 96 goes too far in restricting services in English to the “historic English minority” of Quebecers schooled in English.
A party promoting anglophone rights has had success before. In 1989, the Equality Party won four seats in ridings that were Liberal. But no Equality Party representative ever was elected again, and the party disbanded in 2012.
While the new parties in the coming election may not win any Montreal-area seats, history suggests they could win Liberal votes, allowing the CAQ to take more ridings in the Montreal region.