In a press conference Thursday, leader of the front-running Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) François Legault called for his “Parti Québécois friends” to vote strategically for his party in order to defeat the Liberals.
“It’s a struggle between the CAQ and the Liberal Party. Those who are nationalists: you have a choice between voting for a party that is at its knees before the federal (government), or a nationalist party that is going to defend Quebec. That’s the CAQ.”
Replying to Legault statement, Jean-François Lisée–leader of the Parti Québécois–responded that his rival was “panicking.”
“I thought that Mr. Legault would be in panic later in the campaign. I didn’t think that this early in the campaign, he would see that his bad proposals are not serving him…”
Lisée views this as a sign that his campaign is “doing well.” Importantly, the CAQ and the PQ are both vying for the same electorate: primarily francophone, located outside Montreal and in Quebec’s regions.
Legault’s recent call for strategic voting is unlikely to be a coincidence; it follows a contentious declaration on the issue of immigration.
“There is a risk our grandchildren will not speak french…I wouldn’t want to have that on my back, during my watch,” declared Legault on Thursday.
This statement was made in criticism of the provincial Liberals’ handling of immigration. According to Legault, Liberal premier Philippe Couillard’s policy of allowing 50,000 immigrants into the province per year jeopardizes the status of french in the province.
“Sitting in North America, Quebec is surrounded by hundreds of millions of anglophones. we will always be in a vulnerable position. Mr. Couillard has not understood that. It is the responsibility of the premier of Quebec to protect the nation, to protect french.”
Legault has promised to lower the province’s immigration threshold by 20% within his first year in power, from 50,000 to 40,000.
In order to justify this measure, Legault has stated that 25% of immigrants who enter the province decide to move to elsewhere within Canada.
Premier Philippe Couillard accused Legault of employing the “rhetoric of fear” with respect to the latter’s declaration on immigration.
“I don’t have a need to tell certain Quebecers that they must fear other Quebecers… I prefer to focus on confidence and optimism. The argument of my adversary focuses on fear and worries.”
Couillard aims to maintain the current threshold of 50,000 immigrants per year, a policy that has been justified by supporters to address the labor shortage in the province.
Lisée Adapts his Position on the Issue
The Parti Québécois, whose previous position on immigration revolved around consulting the auditor general on the issue, has entered the numbers debate.
Lisée announced Friday that a Parti Québécois government would set the immigration threshold between 28,000 to 40,000 immigrants per year.
This sudden change in policy can likely be attributed to the fact that the PQ hopes to not be left behind on the immigration cleavage. Their previous position–which did not fix a concrete number for immigration–would have plausibly left them out of the debate.
With an early campaign revolving around embarrassing scandals of candidates from all the province’s parties, the theme of the election will likely be centered on the issue of immigration and the protection of Quebec’s distinct culture.