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.
Founding of the Coalition Avenir Québec
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.
Provincial Election of 4 September 2012
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. (SeeSeparatism)
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.
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.