Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is a Québec political party founded in 2011 by Charles Sirois and François Legault, former Parti Québécois (PQ) member of the National Assembly (MNA) and cabinet minister. A centre-right political party, the CAQ merged with the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) in 2012. The 1 October election results allowed the Coalition Avenir Québec to form a majority government. Following a decisive victory in the 2022 election, the CAQ formed a second majority government with 90 members of the National Assembly.
Founding of the Coalition Avenir Québec
On 21 February 2011, Charles Sirois and François Legault, former Parti Québécois MNA and cabinet minister, established a non-profit organization, the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec. Its aim was to revitalize Québec, because it believed the province was stagnating and was being held back by longstanding inter-party squabbles. The Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec then toured all 17 administrative regions of the province to promote its vision.
On 4 November 2011, the Directeur général des élections du Québec (Chief Electoral Officer of Québec registered the coalition as an authorized political party under the Election Act. The new party was called the Coalition Avenir Québec. A few weeks later, the Action démocratique du Québec executive decided to merge their party with the CAQ, and party members ratified the decision by referendum in January 2012. The union of the two parties became a reality on 14 February 2012. Around the same time, four independent MNAs decided to join the ranks of the CAQ: former ADQ members Eric Caire and Marc Picard and former PQ members Daniel Rattée and Benoît Charrette. PQ MNA François Rebello also crossed the floor to join the CAQ in early January 2012.
The CAQ’s platform included five priorities: improving education, creating an accessible and reliable healthcare system, building an ownership economy, promoting Québec culture, and upholding integrity in public life. The last priority was a response to allegations of collusion in the construction industry and possible links between this industry, organized crime, and party financing. This explosive issue led to the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry on the Awarding and Management of Public Contracts in the Construction Industry, more commonly known as the Charbonneau Commission, on 19 October 2011.
2012 Provincial Election
During the election campaign in the summer of 2012, François Legault said that his party would not promote any constitutional position: it would not argue for sovereignty (a major change for Legault as he had previously presented himself an ardent sovereigntist) or for federalism. Legault believed that Québec had to deal with much more urgent matters such as healthcare, education, and economic development. (See Separatism)
Challenging two political veterans, Jean Charest and Pauline Marois, Legault ran with candidates in all 125 ridings. He urged electors to vote for change to sweep away corruption and to increase transparency in public institutions. In addition, the CAQ hoped that a star candidate, former police officer Jacques Duchesneau, would help to rally voters around the theme of integrity. Contrary to media predictions, there was no wave of support for the CAQ on 4 September 2012, and the party elected only 19 MNAs. The CAQ did, however, win 27 per cent of the popular vote, only a few percentage points behind the Liberal Party of Québec (31.2 per cent), which formed the Official Opposition to the PQ government.
In the fall of 2013, the CAQ had to defend the political legacy of Mario Dumont and the ADQ against allegations of illegal financing. An inquiry by the Chief Electoral Officer of Québec showed that the ADQ, like the other Québec political parties, might have used the so-called “straw man” scheme to finance political activities. The revelation cast doubt on the Party’s integrity, the very issue on which it campaigned, so in early October 2013, the CAQ offered to repay, on behalf of the ADQ, any money acquired through the scheme, since receiving money in this way violated legislation on party financing.
At the same time, Québec opinion was divided over the Charter of Québec Values proposed by the Pauline Marois government. On 7 November 2013, Minister Bernard Drainville tabled Bill 60 in the National Assembly. It included a proposed ban on the wearing of any visible symbol indicating a religious affiliation by Québec public servants. In response, the CAQ and the Liberal Party of Québec made a move that surprised many political observers: the two parties welcomed chador-wearing candidates on their teams. However, the two parties qualified their positions in the weeks that followed.
Legacy: the St. Lawrence Project
In October 2013, CAQ leader François Legault published a book entitled Cap sur un Québec gagnant : Le Projet Saint-Laurent. In it he encouraged the Québécois to make the St. Lawrence Valley a centre of innovation, education excellence, and entrepreneurship. His idea was to model the region after California’s Silicon Valley and make the St. Lawrence River and the St. Lawrence Seaway the cornerstone of Québec economic development.
2014 Provincial Election
The St. Lawrence Project was also on the CAQ platform during the spring 2014 election campaign. Even though the CAQ’s share of the popular vote declined from the previous election (23 per cent versus 27 per cent in 2012) and the party lost four seats in the Québec City region, it still managed to elect 22 MNAs and made inroads in the suburbs surrounding the island of Montréal at the PQ’s expense. The Liberal Party, led by Philippe Couillard, was asked to form the new government, while the PQ was relegated to the status of Official Opposition. The CAQ remained the third-largest party in the National Assembly.
2018 Provincial Election
On 23 August 2018, Premier Phillipe Couillard calls for elections to take place on 1 October 2018: the first fixed election date Quebec has seen.
Coalition Avenir Québec’s campaign slogan is one simple word: Maintenant (Now). In the education sector, the electoral platform announces a decrease in school taxes, as well as free pre-kindergarten for four-year-old children. As for healthcare, François Legault’s team commits to an increased access to primary care and to patients being seen by their family physician within reasonable timeframes. Proposals to lower immigration thresholds to 40,000, i.e. a 23.5 per cent decrease compared to 2017 (see also Québec Immigration Policy), leads to controversy, as does the required knowledge assessment of Quebecois values and French language test after four years.
The 1 October election results allowed the Coaltion Avenir Québec to form a majority government. This victory put an end to the exchange of power between the Québec Liberal Party and the Parti Québecois that began in 1970 when the Liberal Party of Robert Bourassa won the election. With 74 out of 125 seats in the National Assembly and 37.42 per cent of the vote (resulting in a gain of 52 seats), Legault’s party emerged well ahead of its main competitors. The Liberals managed to elect only 31 members to the National Assembly (39 fewer than in the 2014 election), while the PQ won only 10 seats (down from 28 in the previous election). Québec solidaire was the only other party to gain a share of seats, jumping from 3 to 10 members. Women were elected to the National Assembly in unprecedented numbers, with 53 seats in total (28 belonging to the CAQ) representing 42.4 per cent of sitting members.
Elected in the riding of L’Assomption, François Legault became the 32nd premier in Quebec’s history.
First CAQ Government
The CAQ’s first term in office was marked by the controversial adoption of important legislation addressing nationalist and identity issues. Bill 21 (An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State) banned certain government employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols. (See also Québec Values Charter.) The government also adopted a major reform of the Charter of the French Language, introducing new regulations for the anglophone cégeps and imposing the use of French language as the exclusive language of government and as the language of work in businesses with more than 25 employees. (See Quebec Language Policy.) These policies were opposed by anglophone groups and religious minorities. Both bills also raised controversy because of their use of the notwithstanding clause, which allows the government to override certain provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The CAQ’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was controversial. Compared to the rest of Canada, Quebec suffered the highest number of deaths linked to COVID-19. For some critics, Legault’s government reacted to the pandemic through particularly heavy-handed measures. It implemented multiple lockdowns and a vaccine passport for patrons accessing certain events and restaurants. Perhaps most controversially, the government introduced two curfews during the pandemic. Other critics felt that the government was not doing enough, notably by reopening schools at certain points of the pandemic. The management of long-term care centres, or CHSLDs, early on in the pandemic was also heavily criticized.
2022 Provincial Election
The CAQ entered the election campaign way ahead of its rivals in the polls. The debates focused on the immigration and French language, the health care system and inflation. François Legault’s CAQ was the undisputable winner of the October 2022 elections, despite some critical voices who deemed the party’s election campaign rather weak. The CAQ won almost 41 per cent of the vote and elected 90 members of the National Assembly out of 125. Compared to the CAQ, the Quebec Liberal Party elected only 21 members with less than 14.4 per cent of the vote while the Parti Québécois barely elected 3 members with 14.6 per cent of the vote. Québec solidaire managed to get 11 members elected, obtaining 15.5 per cent of the vote. The Conservative Party of Quebec received 12.9 per cent of the vote but did not get any seat in the National Assembly.