CAQ whip resigns from caucus to run for Conservatives in next federal election

QUEBEC — The Quebec government whip has quit the Coalition Avenir Québec and will join the federal Conservatives, leaving the province's ruling party wondering whether its current slump in the polls will lead to more departures.

Eric Lefebvre announced on Tuesday he would sit as an Independent in the Quebec legislature before he runs with the Conservatives under leader Pierre Poilievre in the next federal election, which has to be held by October 2025.

On Wednesday, Poilievre wrote on X that he was "very proud" to have Lefebvre join the Conservative team "to help us cut taxes, build housing, repair the budget, and stop crime."

Lefebvre's sudden departure from the governing party left legislature members with a lot of questions — and left one cabinet minister tight-lipped about his own future with the CAQ.

In Quebec City, Finance Minister Eric Girard refused to rule out a run with Poilievre's party.

“I have always said that I loved Canada, and that one day I might be interested in being Canada's Minister of Finance,” Girard told reporters Wednesday.

Asked repeatedly whether he would join the federal Tories — a party he ran for in 2015 before making the jump to provincial politics three years later — Girard said, “I don’t have to answer that question. I have responsibilities and I am happy with my responsibilities."

Lefebvre is the second CAQ member to leave the CAQ since its landslide 2022 win. The member for Jean-Talon riding in Quebec City, Joëlle Boutin, resigned last July, citing family reasons. Her vacant seat was snapped up by the Parti Québécois in a byelection.

On Tuesday, Quebec Premier François Legault wrote on X that he asked Lefebvre to resign from caucus after the member said he would be running with the Tories. "Thank you, Eric, for your years of public service, and good luck in your new challenges," the premier said.

Opposition parties Québec solidaire and the PQ invited Lefebvre to reflect on his decision to stay in office as an Independent, suggesting doing so was disrespectful to his constituents.

Even members of Lefebvre's own party wanted answers.

“He was still elected with a resounding majority so his citizens were counting on him," said International Relations Minister Martine Biron. "I am really curious to hear the reasons behind his decision."

Mario Asselin, member for the Vanier-Les Rivières riding in Quebec City, described Lefebvre as “one of the first to leave the boat.”

The CAQ has fallen behind the PQ in the polls, and poll aggregating site indicates that Legault's party would win 11 seats if an election was held Wednesday.

Asselin said he didn't know if other CAQ members would follow Lefebvre.

Poilievre's Conservatives, meanwhile, are riding high in the polls, although they currently stand third in Quebec behind the Bloc Québécois and Justin Trudeau's Liberals, according to the poll aggregator

Lefebvre intends to run in the federal riding of Richmond-Arthabaska, which was held by the Conservatives before Alain Rayes quit the party to sit as an Independent after Poilievre won the party leadership in 2022. Last September, Rayes announced he wouldn't seek re-election. He has represented the riding since 2015.

Lefebvre, who was unsuccessful in a 2008 run for the federal Conservatives in the same riding, first won the provincial Arthabaska riding in a 2016 byelection and was re-elected in 2018 and 2022. As government whip, his job was to ensure party discipline in the legislature.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2024.

-- With files from Thomas Laberge in Quebec City.

The Canadian Press