Quebec election: Leaders square off on immigration, taxes and COVID in first debate | Globalnews.ca

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest
Pocket
WhatsApp


Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) Leader François Legault was forced to defend his recent controversial comments on immigration and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday during the first leaders’ debate of the Quebec election campaign.

Early in the contest on the TVA network, moderator Pierre Bruneau asked Legault if he believes there is more violence in Montreal than in other parts of the province because the region receives more immigrants.


Conservative Leader Eric Duhaime, Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade, Quebec Solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, Parti-Quebecois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, CAQ Leader Francois Legault and moderator Pierre Bruneau, left to right, stand on the set prior to the leaders debate in Montreal, on Thursday, September 15, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/POOL/Martin Chevalier.

“That’s not what I said,” Legault responded.

Story continues below advertisement

“Yes or no?” Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade asked.

“What I said is that all the countries in the world have to ensure that new arrivals are integrated into the values of where they will live — look at what’s happening in Sweden,” Legault said without giving details of the situation in that country. “And in Quebec, our priority is to integrate in French.”

READ MORE: Quebec election: Conservative leader provides explanation over unpaid bills

Earlier this month, a right-wing bloc that includes a nationalist anti-immigration party won a narrow majority in Sweden’s parliament — a major political shift in the Scandinavian country, which had a decades-long history of welcoming refugees but is grappling with a crime wave linked to immigration.

During the election campaign, Legault has said Quebecers “don’t like violence,” in response to a question on the challenge of integrating newcomers.

Legault and Anglade — who previously referred to Legault’s comments about immigrants as “pathetic” — would return to the subject later in the two-hour debate.

The debate — known as a “head-to-head” contest because leaders are pitted against one another — was divided into three sections: the environment, quality of life and the economy; health, family and education; and immigration, language and identity.

Story continues below advertisement

Anglade hit the premier by saying, “Every time Mr. Legault talks about immigration, there’s always something negative associated with it.”

“I think we both agree that immigration is a source of wealth,” Legault said a few moments later.

“I’m not sure with the comments that you’ve made,” Anglade replied.

Legault’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic came to the forefront as he faced off against Conservative Party of Quebec Leader Eric Duhaime, whose party has gained support through its opposition to public health measures.

READ MORE: Quebec election: politicians facing repeated intimidation on campaign trail

“I didn’t get into politics to close businesses and impose masks; I did that to save lives,” Legault said, defending his government’s management of the pandemic. He said that studies have shown the province had a lower rate of excess mortality than elsewhere in North America.

“We had more deaths per capita than anywhere else in Canada,” Duhaime responded, before asking what scientific studies Legault read before imposing a five-month curfew — the only such measure used in Canada during the health crisis.

“Are you trying to tell me that asking people to go home at 8 p.m. didn’t reduce contacts?” Legault responded, growing visibly angry.

Story continues below advertisement

“The idea was to reduce contacts, so there were fewer contacts, so there were fewer deaths.”

Legault squared off on taxes with Québec solidaire spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, whose party wants to impose an inheritance tax on assets worth more than $1 million and put in place an annual wealth tax on people whose assets are worth more than that amount.

“People who have accumulated more than one million can contribute a little more,” Nadeau-Dubois said.

Legault replied that the spokesman for the left-wing party wanted to “double tax” people’s homes.

“You’re saying that someone who worked all their life and paid off their house and paid capital gains — you’re going to tax them again?”

In one of the more strange parts of the debate, Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, during an exchange on academic freedom, said no words should be banned from the classroom — including the N-word.

And the PQ leader dared Nadeau-Dubois to say the word publicly, referring to a famous book whose title includes the N-word.

Nadeau-Dubois met the dare and stated the title of the book, saying he had no problem using the word.

The debate comes as a Leger poll for Quebecor media published earlier Thursday shows a slight drop in support for the CAQ, down four points to 38 per cent. They are followed by the Liberals at 18 per cent, Québec solidaire at 17 and the Conservatives at 15 per cent. The PQ trails the pack at 11 per cent.

Story continues below advertisement

The online survey of 3,100 Quebecers aged 18 and older between Sept. 6 and 12, cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

A second French debate, on Radio-Canada, will take place on Sept. 22.

Unlike in 2018, there will be no English-language debate this election campaign.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest
Pocket
WhatsApp

Never miss any important news. Subscribe to our newsletter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.