Couillard, the CAQ leader, facing political malaise

The Quebec Liberal Party (PQ) could be the beneficiary of disenchantment with the Coalition Avenir Québec Party in the forthcoming Quebec provincial election.

The current leader of the Liberal Party, Philippe Couillard, recently announced that there will be no ambiguity for the Liberals about how they want to represent the values of Quebec.

Couillard, as a lawyer by training, and a longtime active member of the Liberal Party, long associated with the Parti Québécois, which had been in power prior to his current party, saw his party lose an election he was expected to win in 2014 and wants to change the narrative of politics in Quebec.

His call for a greater emphasis on climate change and ecology can be seen as a reaction to the established right-wing party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ). The CAQ were behind a high-profile move to limit certain economic growth. And in the first three months of its government, the CAQ allowed itself to be led by a politician with nationalist, anti-free trade, and anti-immigration, political positions.

It is time for the Liberals to act like the Liberal Party of Quebec that Trudeau and Couillard came up in.

Canada’s relationships with the U.S. are strained, though the Quebec government has denounced them and begun to develop a slightly different relationship with China.

Provinces aren’t the U.S. or China, so they don’t have to mimic them, but what the Quebec Liberals are doing may be good practice for other provinces when they run the risk of losing the federal government’s favour if they fail to manage these challenges.

The big issue for the Liberal Party is the Quebec “sovereignty-association,” which continues to occupy considerable space in party policy and has caused Couillard considerable challenges in the past two elections. The PQ was the true heir to the original party of the same name; Quebecers could have voted the Liberal Party out in 1974, but they stuck with the party and ensured a winning coalition.

As a minority government, Couillard made one of the most important political moves possible: he ran for and won the premier’s job without making Quebec sovereign. Now he’s gone about making sure Quebec doesn’t spend all the money on the sovereignty-association, first it needs to put itself in a state of general economic security. And while Quebec has a fairly narrow, and relatively prosperous, economic growth rate, it is still sputtering — rising but not accelerating.

Couillard has signaled in his speeches and been front and centre in new, themed campaign ads that he is standing up for Quebec and wants to close the gap between Quebecers and their federal government in Ottawa.

If the Liberals can make it clear to Quebec voters that they will not further entrench inequality through an increased role for the Quebec government in environmental regulation and other factors, they could find themselves in an advantageous position ahead of October’s provincial election.

Trevor Paglen is a public policy strategist. He writes for the Hill Times and other publications. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorPaglen

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