Legault gets nearly 99% in confidence vote at party convention

·3 min read

SHERBROOKE, Que. — Quebec Premier François Legault won near-unanimous support from his party faithful Sunday, nabbing 98.61 per cent in a vote of confidence at the Coalition Avenir Québec's policy convention.

Legault, who co-founded the CAQ in 2011, told the roughly 1,000 delegates gathered in Sherbrooke to cast ballots over Mother's Day weekend that such solid backing was "unexpected."

“This pat on the back that you're giving me, it makes me feel good," Legault told attendees on stage.

Scroll to continue with content

"My mother is going to be proud of me," added the 65-year-old, sparking applause.

The leadership litmus test comes just weeks after the CAQ government ditched its flagship promise to build a "third link" highway spanning the St. Lawrence River between Quebec City and Lévis. The Pierre Laporte Bridge and Quebec Bridge comprise the other two connections.

The setback caused a stir throughout Quebec, but prompted a particularly strong backlash in the Chaudière-Appalaches region south of the provincial capital.

The most recent Léger poll suggests support for the CAQ has fallen to 36 per cent from 40 per cent in February, with a drop of 14 percentage points in the capital region.

In a news conference at the Sherbrooke Exhibition Centre on Sunday, Legault said none of the delegates had come to criticize his decision on the third link. Some even applauded his change of course, he said.

“The caquistes are pragmatic. They understand that when a situation changes, you have to adjust," the premier said. "They appreciate that with my team, I listen and I continually weigh the pros and cons."

In his vote of confidence in 2014, Legault received 97.2 per cent support.

Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon recently garnered comparable levels of support from his party faithful, achieving 98.5 per cent backing in his leadership test last March.

In his speech to the base, Legault fired shots at the Parti Québécois, which is getting a boost from the CAQ's sagging poll numbers.

He gave a shoutout to nationalists who might be tempted to return to the PQ, insisting that Quebec could not afford to wait for the "Grand Soir de la souveraineté" — the great evening of a successful referendum on Quebec independence.

“As for the future of our nation, our culture, our language, there are only two parties left: the CAQ and the PQ,” he announced.

“The problem with the PQ is that it is betting everything on the 'Grand Soir.' The PQ tell us that we must protect secularism, our language. On that we agree. But we have to act now.”

Legault went on to say that the CAQ is currently “the largest gathering of nationalists in Quebec."

He also took pains to qualify the remarks of Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon, who said Saturday the government did not feel bound to policy resolutions adopted at the convention.

“We will watch them carefully. All good ideas are welcome. I know that there are ministers who have said that we are not bound. We are not technically bound, but we are morally bound,” he said.

CAQ members adopted several resolutions on environmental sustainability Saturday, asserting that “the energy transition is the challenge of the century."

Legault said he particularly likes the idea of financially assisting Quebecers to buy more efficient heating devices such as heat pumps.

Delegates voted down proposals calling for an end to the monopoly of the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) — the provincial Crown corporation that distributes alcohol in the province — and allowing right turns at red lights in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2023.

Caroline Plante, The Canadian Press