QUEBEC — A prominent Quebec radio host and the man behind the Parti Québécois's controversial values charter is making a return to provincial politics, this time under the Coalition Avenir Québec banner.
The news of Bernard Drainville's political run with Premier François Legault's party was confirmed Friday to The Canadian Press by a reliable source. Drainville, a former minister with the sovereigntist PQ, will be a star candidate in the Quebec City region in next October's provincial election.
Drainville's decision to join the CAQ prompted federalist members of Legault's cabinet on Friday to try and assuage concerns the party is preparing a push for Quebec independence.
"The CAQ is not sovereigntist; our caucus will not promote sovereignty," Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said on Friday in response to the news about Drainville.
Drainville is known for presenting a so-called values charter when he was in government in 2013. The charter called for people who wear religious symbols to be prohibited from working in public institutions.
The idea for the charter fell when the PQ was defeated in the 2014 election, but the Coalition Avenir Québec took up the secularism mantle and adopted Bill 21 in 2019. That law prohibits certain public employees — such as judges, teachers and police officers — from wearing religious symbols at work.
Montreal radio station 98.5 FM said Drainville, who will turn 59 next week, resigned Thursday from the midday radio show he had hosted for six years. There had been rumours for several months that Legault was courting him, but Drainville had steadfastly denied it, having said very recently he renewed a very lucrative contract with Cogeco, the station's owner.
He could run in Lévis, a Quebec City-area riding that became available as the Speaker of Quebec's legislature, François Paradis, announced he will not seek a third term. An official announcement is expected later.
Drainville worked as a journalist between 1989 and 2007 before jumping to provincial politics with the PQ. He was elected four times between 2007 and 2014. Under Pauline Marois's short-lived minority government from 2012-14, he held the title of minister responsible for democratic institutions and citizenship participation. He was briefly the PQ house leader between September 2015 and June 2016, before leaving politics.
His former party accused him on Friday of political opportunism. PQ member Pascal Bérubé said Drainville is serving "political ambitions" rather than staying faithful to convictions, as the CAQ is riding high in the polls compared to the PQ.
Drainville went easy on the Legault government during his radio show in recent years, Bérubé accused.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for the third-party Québec solidaire, said he was convinced that recruiting Drainville was proof Legault intended to focus the next election campaign on religious symbols and immigration.
The Quebec Liberals suggested Drainville's arrival is a sign the CAQ is not-so-secretly interested in campaigning for Quebec to break away from Canada. Liberal member Marc Tanguay noted that the CAQ recently recruited Caroline St-Hilaire — a former Bloc Québécois MP and the spouse of ex-PQ minister Maka Kotto — to run in October.
Drainville did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2022.
Jocelyne Richer, The Canadian Press