The Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) leaves nothing to chance — or almost — in the choice of François Legault’s campaign itinerary: the Tafisa factory in Lac-Mégantic, Albertine Bouchard’s backyard in Victoriaville… Anger aroused by the health measures he has decreed over the past two and a half years to repel COVID-19, however, quickly caught up with him during the first week of the campaign.
The grumbling of the “anti-masks” and “anti-vaccines” first manifested itself in the form of insults such as “You’re going to get yourself out” (in Lévis) or “Eat shit” (in Trois-Rivières) and long disapproving honks, then in the guise of a voter from Portneuf.
Julie took advantage of the caquist caravan’s stop at the Ti-Oui Snack-bar in Saint-Raymond — an obligatory detour for politicians hungry for a photo in front of a steaming poutine — to empty their hearts on the health measures adopted by the Caquist government.
It was only a matter of time before the head of the CAQ was questioned about health measures. Mr. Legault, however, did not have a ready answer, turned and returned in all directions by his communications team. And he couldn’t think of anything else to say to the unvaccinated woman, who felt like an “under-citizen,” other than, “You’re telling old stories. »
“I didn’t see it coming,” a bodyguard later said discreetly to his colleagues.
Julie managed to get very close to the head of the CAQ — and prime minister — only to find, disappointed, that a huge ideological gulf still separated her from him.
Over the past few days, discontent has also entered the campaign by means of dented or smeared election signs, disseminated false information… And the anger turned into violence when a vehicle in the colors of the deputy and CAQ candidate Éric Lefebvre was intentionally pushed out of his lane by a motorist, giving the driver a good scare.
An anti-system violence
The theme of violence has never imposed itself in a Quebec election campaign as is currently the case, according to sociologist Jean-Philippe Warren. “Before, it was on the outskirts, but now it’s becoming a real issue as important as the economy or health,” he said in an interview with The duty.
Verbal and physical aggression has nevertheless been present since the beginnings of parliamentarism, specifies the specialist in social movements. Indeed, party thugs used to sow terror by blocking the entrance to polling stations where elections were held by a show of hands.
The political vocabulary testifies to this distant era when the “on di[sait] that the parties enter the campaign as if it were a military campaign”.
Historian Éric Bédard observes a break since the time when the “blues” faced the “reds” with sticks on the stands and at the doors of the polling stations. “It is not this kind of violence that we feel at the moment, it is rather anti-system violence. “If we had to look for a precedent for the popular discontent channeled by the Conservative Party of Éric Duhaime, it is on the side of the Social Crediters of the 1960s that we should turn, he suggests.
There have always been cranks, but it seems to me that the aggressiveness we see these days is a fairly new phenomenon.
“They attracted people who were not affected by the modernization of Quebec, who were on the periphery. The social creditists played the card of the flouted people. That said, I don’t remember them having harsh or violent rhetoric,” he said.
“There have always been cranks, continues Mr. Bédard, but it seems to me that the aggressiveness that we see at the moment is a fairly new phenomenon. “There is an extreme polarization with people who cringe, we are in a democracy of cringe. »
The trivialization of verbal and physical violence testifies to a decline in civility, he argues. “What I feel is savagery, it’s like a boiling pot. There is a crisis of confidence on the part of the population towards the institutions. »
The election of a handful of Conservative deputies to the National Assembly would calm things down, according to Mr. Bédard. “There are perhaps 10 to 15% of Quebecers who are libertarians, people who find that the state is the problem, that we pay too much tax, who feel bullied. If these people have representatives, that will perhaps lower the pressure. »
Mr. Warren is more pessimistic. “We have seen many examples in history where extremist parties have been represented in parliament and, far from calming things down, this has been the first step towards increasing radicalization. »
Freedom and responsibility
For Prime Minister Legault, “there is room for all ideas as long as it is done calmly, not violently, without inciting violence”.
The CAQ leader sought to take the anger aroused against health measures head-on by linking “responsibility” to “freedom” during his first visit to Beauce – where several voters ran into the arms of the leader of the PCQ, Éric Duhaime. The idea was that of Mr. Legault, not that of his strategists.
When COVID-19 invaded Quebec, the government had no other choice, according to him, than to do its “citizen’s duty” and “save lives”, in particular by imposing the wearing of a mask, by imposing a curfew, prohibiting gatherings, limiting access of unvaccinated people to public places, etc. “Freedom does not prevent you from being responsible,” he argued in front of dozens of supporters gathered inside the Le Normandie Sabreur restaurant.
The scope of this speech was however limited, indicates a caquist who knows the ridings of Beauce-Nord and Beauce-Sud like the back of his hand. The four pieces of the “anti-inflation shield” that were unveiled during the week — starting with the enhancement of the refundable tax credit for seniors with modest incomes — nevertheless caught the attention of voters, he reassures himself.
The first week of the campaign allowed the head of the CAQ to take stock of the mood of Quebecers, whom he followed in the polls (which encourage him) and in the comments on Twitter and Facebook (which discourage him). He chatted casually about 4-year-old kindergarten with members of the staff of a Laval school, or even about the quasi-monopoly of CN and CP with a business manager from Estrie. “It feeds him,” whispers his wife, Isabelle Brais.