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“Children of Meech” retrace the journey of the “third way”

Photo: Valérian Mazataud/Le Devoir Pascal Maillot and Éric Montigny for their book on the CAQ

Marie-Michèle Sioui and Marco Bélair-Cirino

March 2, 2024

  • Quebec

Éric Montigny and Pascal Mailhot, two “children of Meech”, retrace in a forthcoming book the journey of those who took, sooner or later, the “third way” after the failed attempt at former federal Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to bring, “with honor and enthusiasm,” Quebec into the Canadian Constitution.

The search for a new path, away from those traced by the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ), began in the wake of the collapse of the Meech Lake agreement , on June 23, 1990, argue the authors of Conquering Power. How a third political way was imposed in Quebec, published by Éditions du Boréal on March 19.

Canada's refusal to recognize Quebec's distinct society “shaped the political life” of Éric Montigny, who was active in the PLQ, then in the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ). He also “defined [the] political identity” of Pascal Mailhot, who worked for the PQ, then for the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), until 2022. The first “cleared” the third path with the former -liberal Mario Dumont; the second brought her to power with the ex-PQ François Legault.

Neither federalist nor sovereignist, the “third way” is sometimes autonomist, sometimes nationalist. Neither left nor right, it oscillates between unbridled capitalism and state interventionism. She draws on the ideas of her opponents “in order to rebalance [her] platform towards the center, where the majority of voters reside,” explain MM. Montigny and Mailhot. “Those who try to understand, to analyze the CAQ according to the left-right spectrum will never understand the bibitte,” adds Pascal Mailhot in an interview.

The Third Way Puzzle

In their book, the former political advisors trace the contours of a political movement which first brought together disappointed young liberals, then PQ members determined to put “national affirmation” before sovereignty, which had become unpopular. They put together the “puzzle pieces” of the Third Way program. They present that, master, of secularism: from Mario Dumont's “it no longer makes sense” on the subject of reasonable accommodations, in 2006, until the adoption, 13 years later, of the Law on secularism of the Quebec state (Bill 21) by means of the override provision in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — the constitutionality of which was validated by the Quebec Court of Appeal this week.

From the ADQ of Mario Dumont – who became leader “reluctantly” – to the CAQ of François Legault – “reform” leader – the third way is often presented by authors as a movement ahead of its time. “In politics, there is nothing worse than being right too early,” they argue here and there, presenting the adequists and caquists as people suffering from “first-in-class syndrome.” For others, they are just missing the point.

Projects for alliance with other political groups that crossed the minds of ADQists, then CAQists, are revealed as so many attempts to find a shortcut to power. Mario Dumont thus proposed to Lucien Bouchard to succeed him at the head of the ADQ after the Yes defeat in the 1995 referendum. The roles were reversed when Mr. Bouchard opened the door of the Council of Ministers to the “little guy from Cacouna” , door which the latter immediately closes, judging this option “unacceptable”, because it is incompatible with “his desire for change”. François Legault even attempted a rapprochement with the former Minister of Health Philippe Couillard in 2009, in the year of reflection which preceded the launch of the “Coalition for the Future of Quebec”, but in vain. “It happened thanks to a couple of meetings [between the two men],” reveals Pascal Mailhot, emphasizing that Mr. Legault needed “to integrate ideas, to exchange” at that time.

Pénélope McQuade ?

The authors also lift the veil on ideas launched in the Outremont house of François Legault and his wife, Isabelle Brais, in the months preceding the launch of the manifesto of his new movement, finally unveiled in February 2011. It is “absolutely necessary three or four more women” among the signatories. “Julie Payette ? Sophie Brochu ? Karine Vanasse ? Linda Goupil ? Pénélope McQuade ? Marie-France Bazzo ? Let's say it's easier to throw well-known names into the air in a brainstorming session than to obtain formal memberships”, relate MM. Mailhot and Montigny. Then, at the end of 2013, the CAQ, the second opposition group in the National Assembly, “strongly wishes to reach an agreement with the PQ”, in power, we learn in the book. “Is a formal alliance even possible ? And why not the inclusion of a few CAQ deputies in the Council of Ministers ?” asks the CAQ, before the calling of the election by Prime Minister Pauline Marois come and catch her off guard.

“I am announcing my resignation immediately ? »

In the Dumont and Legault camps, abandoning the third way sometimes appeared to be the only possible option. “Do I announce my resignation right away, in the evening ?” asks François Legault resigned to accepting “the end of the adventure” after a painful start to election night in 2014. “Suddenly, oh boy! the wheel of destiny is going squarely in the opposite direction,” the authors write.

Consecration will finally come in 2018. In power, the CAQ notably adopted its Law on State Secularism (Law 21), in addition to that reinforcing the Charter of the French Language (Law 96 ). It inscribes the Quebec “nation” whose “official” and “common” language is French in the Canadian Constitution. Where the Third Way Ends ?

“[At the] CAQ, we are not waiting for a big evening, we are pragmatic, answers Éric Montigny. It is at the end that we will see that the autonomy of Quebec will have expanded. This is the vision of the autonomist posture of the current government. It’s an approach on all subjects, it’s about making gains, one at a time. »

The Caquists embrace the “doctrine” advocating “occupying the constitutional space in all its possible corners” in order to “mark a strong presence of Quebec in Canada” with reinforced “powers” ​​and “autonomy”, continues Pascal Mailhot , while emphasizing the importance of the amendment made by the CAQ to the Constitution, despite the reluctance of jurists. “A political advisor who would have submitted such a strategy to Robert Bourassa while he was struggling to find how to react to the failure of [the Meech Lake Accord] would have been seen as a real savior,” the two authors argue.

Adherents of the third way dream of “the promised land, the Eldorado” where Quebec “will not receive the equalization check” from Ottawa because it is richer, argues Mr. Mailhot .

They are also “waiting for an interlocutor, a leader of the caliber of Brian Mulroney” in the federal capital, he concludes.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116