The founders of a new federalist party say they plan to field candidates in the next Quebec provincial election, to fill what they call a "gaping void" in Quebec politics when it comes to minority rights, including anglophone language rights.
The group behind the Canadian Party of Quebec, led by spokesperson Colin Standish, made the announcement in a news release late Monday, stating it wants to offer a voice to Quebec voters who "feel betrayed and abandoned by the CAQ and the Quebec Liberal Party."
Standish, a Université de Sherbrooke law graduate, launched a group called the Exploratory Committee on Political Options to examine whether there was enough support for a new political party, following his work with a task force opposed to the Coalition Avenir Québec government's proposed language legislation, Bill 96.
While the protection of minority language rights is one of his new party's founding principles, Standish believes the Canadian Party of Quebec will have appeal beyond the anglophone community.
"We need a progressive federalist option that is resolute in its defence of human rights and freedoms, of language rights and also constructing a narrative that can unite all Quebecers — English, French speaker, newcomer and Indigenous, in common cause," Standish said in an interview Tuesday.
The party will officially launch in the next month, he said.
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The Canadian Party of Quebec (CaPQ) is just the latest to target disaffected anglophone and minority voters, after former Montreal mayoral candidate Balarama Holness announced his plan to create a party called Mouvement Québec.
Like Mouvement Québec, the CaPQ is staunchly opposed to both Bill 96 and the law known as Bill 21, which bans the wearing of religious symbols by civil servants in positions of authority.
The CaPQ said it would push to abolish those two pieces of legislation, as well as the law passed as Bill 40, which eliminated most school boards in the province and converted them to service centres.
The party would also advocate for the removal of the notwithstanding clause from the Canadian constitution, which the CAQ government used pre-emptively to protect Bill 21 from Charter challenges — a move that a Quebec Superior Court judge called "excessive" and "troubling."
While Standish would not say whether CaPQ is in favour of repealing Quebec's Charter of the French language, he said several of the party's founding principles are in opposition to aspects of Bill 101.
The party believes all government services should be provided in French and English, that "newcomers settling in Quebec must have their Canadian official language of choice respected" and that all Quebecers, regardless of mother tongue, have the right to send their children to school in the language of their choice.
Targeting Liberal voters
While Standish denounced these CAQ policies, he is also taking aim at the Official Opposition, which he accuses of not doing enough to support minority rights.
He listed criticisms of the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) dating back to longtime Liberal premier Robert Bourassa's launching of the Bélanger-Campeau commission, which recommended another referendum on Quebec sovereignty in the wake of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990.
He also criticized the PLQ for a religious neutrality law brought in when Philippe Couillard was premier, which required anyone receiving public services to do so with their face uncovered.
He slammed the Liberals under Dominique Anglade for their proposal to amend Bill 96 to require all students at the CEGEP level to take three courses in French — a proposal which the party has since tried to walk back.
"When it comes to federalism ... on human rights and freedoms, and on language, the Liberal Party of Quebec has failed miserably for decades, and we need better," Standish said.
André Fortin, the Liberal Opposition house leader, said he has heard "the frustration from a lot of people" in the English-speaking community about the Liberals' Bill 96 proposal.
However, Fortin urged voters who oppose the CAQ government, and the language bill and Bill 21 in particular, to avoid splitting the vote.
"The ideas contained in those bills are their ideas. They're not ours," Fortin said. "If you vote for a party like the one being proposed today by Mr. Standish … you might just elect more people from the Coalition Avenir Québec."
It's difficult to say how much of an issue vote-splitting could be for for the Quebec Liberal Party, according to Christian Bourque, executive vice-president of the polling firm Leger.
But he said it signals the erosion of the Liberals' piece of the political landscape.
"Just the fact that these parties are actually forming, it has an impact on the legitimacy of that party, in saying, 'We are the party that can unite anglophone, allophone, francophone Quebecers and form something that could be the next government,'" said Bourque.
"If you take that away from the Liberal Party, what else is there?"
He points out that voter turnout in predominantly anglophone Liberal ridings had already collapsed in the 2018 election.
Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said it is the right of all Quebecers to form a political party if they don't feel represented.
But he questioned the position that English speakers are targeted by the CAQ government's bill to protect the French language.
"I don't think Bill 96 is an attack on the English community," said Nadeau-Dubois.
He said his party is working to improve the bill and "to help the CAQ find the balance between the protection of French and the protection of the historic rights of the anglophone community, which we all respect at Québec Solidaire."
Pascal Bérubé, the Parti Québécois critic for the French language, secularism and relations with English-speaking Quebecers, suggests the new party will poses a similar problem for the Liberals as he believes vote-splitting did for the PQ, in the party's recent byelection loss in Marie-Victorin.
"We're used to some initiatives wanting to be another kind of Parti Québécois," said Bérubé, in an apparent swipe at Québec Solidaire.
"Now it's on the Liberal side.... I'm sure they're more concerned than we are."