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MONTREAL — After Monday night’s provincial election results, Montreal appears on Quebec’s electoral map as a small red-and-orange island in a sea of light blue.
The blue represents François Legault’s coalition Avenir Québec, which has risen to a majority of 90 seats in the 125-seat legislature. But as ridings across the province fell to Legault’s centre-right party, Montreal voters largely stuck with the opposition Liberals in Quebec and with the left-wing Québec solidaire — the red and orange on the map.
And with the size of the provincial opposition reduced, one political expert suggests it could be Quebec’s new generation of progressive mayors who will be Legault’s true ideological “counterweight.”
As it did four years ago, Legault’s party won by only two ridings on the island of Montreal. The CAQ picked up one new riding on the east side of the island, but lost another to Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, leader of the Parti Québécois.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante on Tuesday rejected suggestions that the city is more politically isolated than ever, or that she intends to oppose the prime minister. She insisted that her left-wing municipal party – known for its environmental agenda and advocacy for affordable housing and for public transport – works well with Legault, whose base is in the city’s suburbs and which has made a key transport link in Quebec City one has. of his signature promises.
“In the last quarter, a lot of people said it would never work, the CAQ and Projet Montréal,” she said Tuesday, referring to her party. “Well, it works, and it works because we want solutions, because we’re pragmatic.”
She said her administration has worked with Legault’s government over the past four years to advance important files, including a major public transit project in the city’s east end.
She also pointed out that all four parties that won seats in the legislature were represented on the island and that three of the four leaders – Liberal leader Dominique Anglade, Québec solidaire spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, and the PQ’s St-Pierre Plamondon – Montreal represents rides. Several other newly elected legislators worked with the city in their previous professional roles, she added.
Despite Plante’s optimism, a glance at the map reveals the political gap between Montreal and the rest of the province.
One expert said the gap could be explained by demographics. Danielle Pilette, an associate professor of strategy, social responsibility and environment at Université du Québec à Montréal, says Montrealers are younger, more educated and more racially and linguistically diverse than Quebecers in the rest of the province.
“Montreal is aging much more slowly than its suburbs, and CAQ voters are largely baby boomers,” she said.
Montrealers are less likely than other Quebecers to support legislation introduced by Legault that strengthens French language laws and bans some civil servants from wearing religious symbols on the job. They are also more likely to have arrived in the province as a result of immigration – a topic that was controversial throughout the campaign.
Coalition Avenir Québec candidate Jean Boulet — the sitting immigration minister — recently came under fire for saying that 80 percent of the province’s immigrants go to Montreal and don’t work or speak French. Legault denounced the comments, saying Boulet was “disqualified” from remaining in that portfolio in the new cabinet, but the prime minister was also forced to apologize for statements of his own in which he drew links between immigration and violence and attract extremism.
With a weakened opposition in the provincial legislature, Pilette suggests it may be up to mayors to provide the real “counterweight” to Legault by highlighting issues such as poverty and a lack of affordable housing.
“This allows them to do the work of opposition and to challenge government programs that are not adapted to the reality of multicultural cities or populations that are less well off,” she said.
While the province’s ruling party is relatively conservative, cities across Quebec are less so. Last year’s municipal elections saw several cities across the province, including Longueuil and Sherbrooke, elect a host of younger mayors who increasingly put climate change near the top of their agendas.
Bruno Marchand, mayor of the traditionally conservative provincial capital, expressed doubts about the main parties’ highway construction ambitions. And while Plante and other mayors have been outspoken on issues like social housing and gun control, Pilette said mayors are limited by what they can do because they depend on the province to fund most major projects, including public transit.
On Tuesday, Plante rejected any suggestion that it will be mayors who form the real opposition to Legault. “That’s not what we want, for very practical reasons.”
However, Pilette said the mayors can still influence the political climate through their calls for funding, as well as through their decisions on the distribution of provincial funding for programs – something that falls within their responsibility.
And despite Plante’s stated desire to work together, Pilette said tensions between the province and its largest metropolis will only rise if Legault chooses policies and cabinet ministers that favor the suburban areas around Montreal – which largely voted for his party – rather than the island.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 5, 2022.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press