The Quebec election campaign’s second and final debate Thursday saw the four candidates seeking to become the province’s next premier attacking François Legault for not doing enough for the climate, health care and the French language.
With voting day less than two weeks away and Legault holding a commanding lead in the polls, tonight’s event was one of the last chances for the parties to get their messages out to voters.
Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, the Quebec Liberal Party’s Dominique Anglade, Québec Solidaire’s Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon and Éric Duhaime from the Conservative Party of Quebec also argued over inflation, taxes, education and questions of identity like immigration and sovereignty.
Legault’s party has been criticized for not doing enough to tackle climate change during its first mandate, but during the debate, he touted his team’s ability to build a green economy.
“The fight against climate change is not in you,” shot Anglade.
Nadeau-Dubois, who had several direct exchanges with Legault, accused the outgoing premier of spreading fear about Québec Solidaire’s plan for the environment, instead of proposing his viable plan.
“You can put away the Halloween decorations. We have to stop scaring people. You should be inspiring Quebecers, proposing solutions,” said the Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson.
“You’re discouraging people, Mr. Legault.”
Legault in turn accused Nadeau-Dubois of proposing an unrealistic environmental plan that would hamper the province’s economy. Throughout the campaign, Legault has described Québec Solidaire’s proposal to impose a 15 percent tax on heavily polluting cars as an “orange tax,” in reference to the party’s colors.
“It’s a bit like magic,” Legault said. “It’s a bit like we’re in Wonderland.”
Quebec aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37.5 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, but the province missed its 20 percent reduction target set for 2020 and instead reached just six percent.
If elected, Québec Solidaire is aiming for a 55 percent reduction compared to 1990 levels within eight years. The Liberal Party of Quebec is proposing a 45 percent reduction target over that same period. Duhaime’s Conservatives have opted not to set an emissions target, saying they prefer to prioritize “realistic” goals since previous governments have all missed their targets.
Immigration, the French language, sovereignty
St-Pierre Plamondon, the leader of the PQ, said keeping the annual number of new immigrants in Quebec at 50,000 — instead of reducing it to 35,000 as his party proposes — will make the French language more vulnerable.
“Your planning is leading to the sharpest decline of French in the history of Quebec,” St-Pierre Plamondon said, staring directly at the outgoing premier.
St-Pierre Plamondon also pounced on Legault when it came to the issue of Quebec sovereignty. Near the end of the debate, the moderator asked the outgoing premier if he would vote yes in a referendum.
Legault wouldn’t say how he would vote but did say “Listen, we don’t want a referendum.” He described sovereignty as a “legitimate” project but not a priority for most Quebecers.
Plamondon accused the CAQ leader of trying to put an end to the sovereignty movement and said he cannot be trusted by Quebecers who want the province to become a country.
“There are voters who trusted you in 2018 because they wanted to replace the Liberals and they’re sovereignists,” Plamondon said. “I am calling on those people and I’m saying you can now vote by following your beliefs. And what François Legault is trying to do is extinguish a movement.”
Families waiting for daycare spots
Legault boasted about his government’s decision to expand pre-kindergarten, but his opponents jumped at the chance to criticize him for not addressing the long waiting list for public daycares.
As a result of that backlog, women in Quebec have taken a step backward, Anglade said.
“There are women today who cannot re-enter the job market because they don’t have daycare services,” she said. “They want to do it, but they’re not able to do it.”
Both the Liberals and the PQ have promised a subsidized daycare spot for all children if elected.
Privatizing health care
The CAQ leader also defended his government’s management of the health-care system, saying he inherited a broken system from the previous Liberal government and the pandemic only made things worse.
Both the CAQ and the Quebec Conservatives have unveiled plans to expand private care in order to reduce the burden of a reeling public system.
Nadeau-Dubois said it was a matter of fixing the current system, not privatizing it. He said too many healthcare workers have left the public sector in recent years.
“If socialism worked when it came to health, we would know it,” Duhaime replied. “The reality is we need competition [between the private and public sectors]… Whether it’s public or private, a monopoly does not work.”
Anglade reiterated her party’s commitment to get every Quebecer a family doctor, even though about 1.2 million people in the province are currently without one.
“We have the responsibility to find a way,” she said.
The debate took place at La Nouvelle Maison de Radio-Canada in downtown Montreal with Radio-Canada’s Patrice Roy moderating.
All five party leaders are scheduled to appear live on Sunday night Tout le monde en parle,’ a popular talk show on Radio-Canada.
The election will take place on Oct. 3. Quebecers can also cast their ballots in advance polls this Sunday and Monday between 9:30 am and 8 pm