Legault says minority government better for Quebec, calls NDP, Liberals 'dangerous'

Prefers minority government

Premier François Legault on Thursday called the NDP and Liberals "dangerous" for Quebec and strongly suggested he preferred the Conservatives to win a minority government in the Sept. 20 federal election.

Legault praised Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole for promising to increase health transfers without conditions, to give the province more control over immigration and for pledging not to join a challenge to Quebec's secularism law, known as Bill 21. That law bans some public sector workers such as teachers and police officers from wearing religious symbols on the job.

But the premier said he was unhappy the Tory leader is promising to cancel a $6-billion child-care deal the province signed with the Liberals, adding that O'Toole needed to explain himself on the issue. That money is without conditions, meaning it can be spent on sectors unrelated to child care.

"We don’t want to see religious symbols for people in authority, Mr. O'Toole respects this, so for the Québécois nation, it's a good approach," Legault told reporters in Quebec City a day after the second French-language leaders debate of the federal election.

"On the other hand, Mr. O'Toole wants to deprive us of $6 billion that comes without conditions, it's not nothing."

But despite his satisfaction with the child-care deal, Legault said the Liberals would reduce Quebec's autonomy in the Canadian federation, adding that the NDP and Green Party would do the same.

"I find that dangerous," he said.

In particular, Legault said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh want to impose national standards for health care, which he described as appropriation of provincial powers.

"Mr. Trudeau, he has an approach where he wants to meddle in health care, he doesn't want to give us power over immigration, when it's important for protecting our identity, our nation," Legault said. "He has not ruled out opposing Bill 21, so it's very concerning for all Quebecers who are nationalists."

And while Legault said the increased federal health transfers proposed by O'Toole aren't sufficient, he said Trudeau hasn't proposed any increases.

Legault said he won't tell Quebecers how to vote, but he said given that no federal party is giving Quebec everything it wants, a minority government would be best for the province.

"It's up to Quebecers to choose, but I'll tell you this, I'm a nationalist, I want Quebec to have more autonomy and power," he said.

Daniel Beland, the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said he sees Legault's comments as a reaction to Trudeau's strong performance in the debate and Trudeau's defence of his identity as a Quebecer in a heated exchange with Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet.

When Legault criticized Trudeau for his position on Bill 21 during the 2019 election campaign, the Bloc was the main beneficiary, Beland said in an interview Thursday.

While Beland said the comments by Legault, who remains the most popular premier in the country, are likely to help the Conservatives and hurt the Liberals, it's hard to say how much impact it will have on election day.

"Many francophone voters support Francois Legault, and certainly his opinion is something they're likely to take into account when they go vote, but how much will this improve the numbers of the Conservatives, how many seats they can get out of this, I'm not sure, but it's certainly bad for the Liberals," Beland said.

The turn toward the Conservatives makes sense for the Coalition Avenir Québec leader, despite the warming relations between Legault and Trudeau in recent months that saw the two leaders appear together on several occasions when they referred to each other by their first names.

That "bromance," as it was described by some Quebec media outlets, was ultimately a "marriage of convenience," Beland said.

"Ideologically, the CAQ is a right of centre party that supports a really decentralizing vision of the federal system and, frankly, it's much more aligned with the positions of the Conservative party than of the Liberal Party of Canada," he said.

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