Legault’s big win in Quebec can only ratchet up tensions with Trudeau, observers say


One professor says restlessness is growing among provinces for more autonomy and Legault played a role in that. ‘It will be an interesting time in federal and provincial dynamics’

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The massive election win in Quebec by the CAQ led by François Legault is likely to only sustain growing tensions between the provinces and Ottawa, causing more headaches for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, political observers predict.

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Jonathan Kalles, a former Quebec adviser to Trudeau, expects health care and immigration to become “points of friction” between Quebec and Ottawa, even more than they already are.

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“I think that with an even larger majority, you will see Premier Legault working with other premiers to continue to demand a first ministers’ meeting and a summit on health care, and ultimately increased dollars,” said Kalles, a senior consultant for McMillan Vantage .

“And, as we know, Quebec, on any transfers of money, will be demanding no strings attached, which is where the friction will be,” he said.

Trudeau has been promising the premiers since early in the pandemic that he would meet with them to discuss the future of health-care funding in Canada once the emergency was over. But no meeting has been set, even though virtually all public health measures have been dropped.

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The federal government has also been reluctant to discuss more federal health-care funding in light of several provinces having drawn down their own revenues by offering tax breaks in response to rising inflation.

Several provinces are also looking to litigate the federal dental-care subsidy, which some premiers see as Ottawa interfering in provincial jurisdiction, Kalles said.

“I think that public opinion is very clear on only one thing: that the health-care system is in shambles and the average Canadian does not really care whose fault it is. They want it fixed,” he said.

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Geneviève Tellier, professor of political studies at the University of Ottawa, says Legault’s powerful majority and a new full term ahead could add new momentum to the provinces’ demands for more health-care funding.

“I think this will strengthen the provinces. Provinces are quite united, which is quite rare,” she said.

Quebec has also been demanding more powers in selecting immigrants to the province, another potential “source of friction,” said Kalles given the federal Liberals’ lack of interest in negotiating immigration levels.

Legault campaigned on a promise to limit immigration in Quebec to 50,000 people per year, the current level, claiming it was necessary to protect the province’s culture.

Martin Koskinen, Legault’s chief of staff, explained in a recent interview that one of the challenges for the CAQ will be to “make Canada understand that Quebec’s approach on immigration needs to be different because of unique specificities.”

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He added that Quebec needs to find a way so that its “immigration is more francophone, more francophile” and to “ensure the future of the French language.” During the campaign, Legault even floated the possibility of a referendum on the issue.

Kalles said it is unclear which new powers Legault could realistically expect, since Quebec already has control over its economic immigrants, the bulk of new arrivals in the province. Immigrants that come in as refugees or for family reunification are Ottawa’s responsibility.

He also pointed out that Quebec, like elsewhere in the country, is faced with labor shortage issues and that the business community has been at the forefront of the battle in trying to convince the government to bring in more immigrants to address the situation.

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“There is a shortage of people in the construction trades, not to mention in public sector jobs like doctors, nurses, teachers. If the new government plans on really addressing that they’re going to have their own challenge figuring out where to find these new people,” he said.

Eric Montigny, associate professor of political science at Université Laval, said restlessness is growing among provinces for more autonomy and Legault has played a role in that.

“There is something happening in Canada,” said Montigny. “It will be an interesting time in federal and provincial dynamics and it makes Mr. Trudeau’s life a bit more complicated.”

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