A new political landscape in Québec
Politics is often likened to an extreme sport. Last night proved to be an eloquent example of this. With a resounding win, François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) literally swept through Québec, causing stupefaction amongst pollsters and forecasters alike. With gains in almost all regions, including a breakthrough on the Island of Montréal, the CAQ will have full authority to govern in the coming four years.
In another surprise last night, Québec solidaire also had a breakthrough outside of Montréal, in university towns like Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Rouyn-Noranda. Meanwhile, Liberal and PQ losses in many ridings and key constituencies will result in a great deal of soul searching in both parties, which have alternately shared power since 1970.
The arrival of a large number of new Members of the National Assembly (MNAs), including cabinet appointments sometime over the next two weeks (with a maximum of only two MNAs who have already been ministers in the past) will lead to a number of challenges in terms of government relations.
Act quickly to initiate long-term reform…
When they are in a majority position, new governments typically use the first two years of their mandate to initiate more complex and less popular projects. The Coalition Avenir Québec will want to benefit from a honeymoon period and respond to the population’s deep desire for change, and will have a very busy early mandate. From a government relations perspective, this will be an important moment to establish contacts with new staffers, particularly in cabinet and riding offices, in order to be consulted once projects are initiated.
…but be patient, as it takes time to recruit staff
Patience is required when it comes to the appointment of the many political advisors. Because the CAQ is a relatively new party, it doesn’t have access to a deep pool of experienced talent like the Quebec Liberal Party or the Parti Québécois when they took power. After the last federal elections, it took the Trudeau government several months to fill all positions. Generally, when a minister is designated, the two first appointments are for the chief of staff and the press secretary. They will be particularly busy while waiting for the rest of the team to be appointed. So it will take some time before we know who will be responsible for which files amongst the different ministerial offices.
The other challenge, as for any government, is to align the political cabinet with the civil service: civil servants manage many urgent files that have been on hold for weeks if not months. Aligning and arbitrating election commitments and their management by civil servants is just the beginning.
Prepare for the future
Finally, everything appears to indicate that there will be leadership races to come. This represents an opportunity for each candidate to propose major reforms. It will be important to monitor the leadership races in order to be well positioned for the future.
——— Marilie Beaulieu-Gravel is a former Senior Consultant at NATIONAL Public Relations
——— Michel Rochette is a former Director and Sector Lead, Environment, Energy and Mining at NATIONAL Public Relations