Newly-elected Quebec Premier François Legault is “no tree-hugger”, but he’s moving “sensibly” to align with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on carbon and climate change, news analyst Martin Patriquin reports this week in the Montreal Gazette.
Legault’s rise to power has drawn comparisons to Donald Trump in the United States, since both gained political support by “exaggerating and demonizing the effects of immigration,” Patriquin writes. But he says the similarities end there: in contrast to the former U.S. reality TV star’s “typically scattershot” response to the climate crisis, “Legault’s infinitely more reasonable approach serves as proof that he is no conservative doctrinaire. Unlike Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer and a clutch of recalcitrant provincial premiers, Legault clearly sees the importance of moving ahead with carbon reduction plans.”
He recently affirmed that “I am for cap-and-trade,” took the stage with Trudeau to declare himself the PM’s environmental ally, and “even promised to bring the message of carbon reduction to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, the country’s reigning champion of bumper sticker conservative populism, who recently backed out of the carbon trading market,” Patriquin writes.
Notably, in the last couple of weeks, Legault acknowledged that his party had been thin on environmental policy during the provincial election campaign, and promised to do better.
“The Quebec premier’s take, as well as his choice of bedfellow, should serve as a caution to the scads of Conservative politicians currently balking at the very idea of a carbon tax,” Patriquin writes. “Legault is hardly a tree-hugging leftist,” but he “realizes that being against such a thing can be damaging to his career in particular, and conservative politics in general. In this regard, he is far ahead of just about every other right-flank Canadian politician today.”
That might also mean the Legault is reading the public opinion data, Patriquin adds: according to CBC/Radio-Canada’s Vote Compass, which tabulated voting priorities of more than 150,000 participants, 16% of Quebec voters rated the environment as their most pressing issue, against only 5% who picked immigration.
“Seventy-five per cent of Vote Compass participants said they supported harsher environmental norms, ‘even if this translated to an increase in prices,’” Patriquin writes. “Moreover, the results were similar across all age groups, and hardly varied between urban and rural populations. Getting Quebecers to agree on the time of day can be an exercise in futility. And yet on the environment, it would seem we are practically unanimous.”
Patriquin sees national implications for Legault’s political pragmatism. “Scheer, who expects to be prime minister this time next year, has spent several months and gobs of political capital denouncing the federal Liberal government’s carbon tax plan. In Scheer’s world, it isn’t just a tax, which is bad enough; it’s an extension of Trudeau’s feel-good elitism, akin to selfies and gender-neutral national anthems.”
But most Quebecois, and similar numbers in the rest of Canada, “agree that a carbon tax is a necessary evil, at the very least,” Patriquin concludes. “Conservative politicians who ignore the numbers and who ignore the Quebec premier, who has clearly studied them to death, are writing their own political obituaries.”