#NewsMatters: The National Assembly Report

After by-election defeat, amendment fiasco, Anglade insists Liberals can turn things around

Raquel Fletcher in Quebec City

Quebec City correspondent for QCNA Raquel Fletcher.

After another tough week, an optimistic Dominique Anglade remains adamant that “there’s absolutely no reason to question the raison d’être of the Parti libéral du Québec.”

The Liberal leader’s party had a dismal showing in last Monday’s by-election in MarieVictorin where candidate Émilie Nollet came in fifth place, garnering only 7 per cent of the popular vote. Polls show the Liberal Party in continual decline among francophone voters. If last week’s by-election is a precursor for things to come, it could spell disaster for the party come election day on October 3.

Anglade understands the optics, but she’s staying upbeat. She owns the fact that up until now, her party does not seem to be resonating with a large part of the electorate, but that it’s only a question of making her message clear. “We have to be really clear about what our party stands for,” she says.

Marie-Victorin was never a Liberal stronghold and the CAQ win in Longueuil mayor Catherine Fournier’s old riding is a defeat for the Parti Québécois, Anglade says. Even if the Conservative Party outperformed the Liberals, Anglade says she is not worried about the rising support for Éric Duhaime’s party in the polls. Both parties may be federalist, but only one of the two is progressive, she says, in reference to Conservative Party candidates who have openly said they are anti-abortion.

Amateur and tone-deaf

But the Liberal Party is facing more challenges than just reconnecting with francophone voters. For weeks, it’s also been in turmoil with its own base. A wave of backlash from anglophones, historically loyal to the Liberal party, came after a major gaffe many have qualified as amateur and tone-deaf.

Earlier this session, the opposition proposed an amendment to the government’s French language reform Bill 96, which would require English CEGEP students complete three courses in French to receive their diplomas.

The amendment was accepted by all four parties represented at the National Assembly without any consultation of the community. CEGEP directors, parents and students were quick to denounce the modification to the bill, saying such a strict requirement could lead to students failing classes or getting poor grades that could affect their chances of getting into the university of their choice.

Another humiliating defeat

Anglade apologized and the Liberal Party tried to convince the committee to walk it back, but to no avail. Then, after being mocked by the media and other parties, the Liberals endured another humiliating defeat last Thursday.

The committee voted against a new Liberal amendment, which would have required students to complete three classes of French instead of three classes in French. That would have meant that students who are not as proficient in the language of Molière would have been permitted to take three French as a second language courses.

“It was incumbent on everybody to find a solution,” says André Fortin, Liberal MNA for Pontiac, who said “it was a shocking turn of events” that French Language) Minister JolinBarrette voted against the new amendment.

Fortin insists there is still a possibility to make changes to the bill, although that seems less and less likely with the end of the session just around the corner. The Liberal Party will vote against Bill 96, what it calls “a deeply-flawed bill,” but it will require more than that to appease frustrated Quebec anglophones and win back indifferent francophones. Anglade is well aware of this.

“I think I need to be a lot more vocal about a number of (positions) that we’ve taken,” she says.

Anglade says under her leadership her party would focus on both the economy and fighting climate change, but above all, she says her party is about promoting inclusion. She says Premier François Legault is pitting Quebecers against each other with “politics of division.”

“The premier is saying that there are anglophones and francophones. Immigrants and not-so-good immigrants. People who are making $56,000 a year and the other ones,” she says.

“The future of Quebec needs to be outward focused. We have to be looking at opportunities for every single person. We have to be thinking about an economy that is modern and progressive. And we have to stop dividing Quebecers and look at how Quebec can be a beacon for the rest of the world.”

She admits she’s running out of time to get her message across but is not deterred.

“I’m extremely motivated. If anything, this week proves to me that we need to work harder. There’s no question about that.”

Raquel Fletcher is QCNA’s News Matters columnist on provincial affairs.