Let’s be honest: The Coalition Avenir Quebec has a tough battle to penetrate the anglophone and federalist communities in Montreal. The right-of-centre, constitutionally-neutral party is painted as a separatist-wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing by the English media and by both alarmist angryphones and concerned citizens alike.

As a staunchly federalist, bilingual anglophone from NDG, prior to the 2012 Quebec election, I never had a choice. Simply put, it was “vote for the Liberals or vote for nothing” so I reluctantly voted Liberal no matter what. There were times when I believed in that choice like Jean Charest’s first win in 2003, and there were others in which I felt railroaded and needed to take a cold shower after voting PLQ: 2007 and 2008.

When the CAQ came around in 2011, I was immediately intrigued: Here was a party founded by a federalist and a former separatist that was economically right-of-centre and socially left-of-centre that was calling for a moratorium on the Question nationale that had paralyzed Quebec for nearly 40 years. The word “coalition” is thrown around a lot in politics, but in this case, it truly was a coalition of people who agreed on a lot of things and disagreed profoundly on others.

It was a movement for change.

The CAQ is not a separatist party.
The CAQ did not support Bill 14.
The CAQ does not support Bill 60 (the PQ Charter of Secularism).

Since the 1970s, there has been only one debate in Quebec: Oui ou non. While the rest of the country was debating left-vs-right, social programs vs economic growth, and how to advance their societies, all we did was stake out our constitutional territory and bicker.

The CAQ’s leader, François Legault, was once a part of that bickering as a prominent figure in the Parti Québécois for a decade. The CAQ’s other co-founder was a significant figure on the federalist side of that bickering as a prominent supporter and back-room deal-maker for the Liberal Party. After Legault quit the PQ in 2009, he and Sirois each took a deep breath and decided to come back into politics to make change.

A new frontier

Legault and Sirois set out to group federalists and separatists together in a coalition that would seek to advance Quebec’s economy above all else. They imposed a moratorium on the constitutional question for a decade and implemented the Projet St-Laurent as the party’s economic policy.

From François Legault’s book, ‘Cap sur un Québec gagnant’: “… j’ai choisi de mettre de côté le projet de souveraineté du Québec… Je me désole d’assister au triste spectacle d’un Québec hésitant et bloqué. Je souhaite vous expliquer comment nous pourrons de nouveau gagner, tous ensemble.”

Translation: “I chose to put the Quebec separation project aside… I’m tired of seeing the sad spectacle of a hesitant and blocked up Quebec. I want to explain to you how we can win again, all together.

The reality is while separatism is never going to die, it’s simply not the argument of the day. We’re falling behind and we need to talk dollars and sense, and the CAQ is the party leading that charge.

Unfortunately, the CAQ is often painted as “another separatist party” in the English media, which has largely supported the Liberal Party come hell or high water. Time and time again I’ve sat at dinner tables and in living rooms and been asked why I support a separatist party. Time and time again I’ve been told Legault is trying to trick people. Time and time again I’m barraged with people answering their own questions with pre-ordained assumptions without even seeking the truth.

Here it is in a nutshell:

1) The CAQ is not a separatist party. It is neutral on the subject of whether Quebec should sign the constitution or separate from Canada because in 2013, that debate is crippling our ability to succeed and grow our economy.

2) The CAQ did not support Bill 14. The party took and has taken a lot of heat on its stance on Bill 14, the PQ’s unnecessary attempt to expand the reach of Bill 101. The bill died on the order paper because the CAQ said “we’re willing to discuss this with you, but you have to remove all of the most contentious points of the bill before we’ll entertain the idea.” This was a pragmatic and lucid response that resulted in the bill being so stripped down as to defeat its entire purpose, yet allowed the CAQ to remain relevant in the communities that still don’t think Bill 101 is enough.

3) The CAQ does not support Bill 60 (the Charter of Secularism). The PQ is trying to pass a wildly over-the-top anti-minority, anti-religion-other-than-Catholicism law that is not only offensive and oppressive, but is so bigoted and xenophobic that it simply stands no chance of passing as law in the National Assembly unless the PQ had a majority. Even if it did pass, it would surely be struck down by the courts. While I happen to personally agree with the PLQ’s policy on secularism (essentially live and let live as long as faces are uncovered when giving or receiving government services), I also understand that no matter what my opinion is, there is a large portion of the population that agrees with significant parts of the PQ’s proposal. With that in mind, we need to meet somewhere near the middle and there is an obvious solution that would not only be, if not appreciate, at least palatable: The Bouchard-Taylor Commission, which is essentially the CAQ’s position.

Where do we go from here?

We will almost certainly have an election in the spring of 2014. The PQ has a weak minority government that doesn’t understand basic budgeting, let alone how to manage an economy that is in as much trouble as Quebec’s. We have been paralyzed for nearly two generations by a debate that is propagated by the PQ/PLQ/PQ/PLQ rotation in government.

Now is the time to look hard at our options, which, for the first time in living memory are now three: The status quo Liberals, the separatist PQ, or the pragmatic CAQ. While I understand the PLQ will almost certainly sweep anglo-Quebec again in the next election, I believe this is the time for anglophones and federalists of all stripes to realize that we need to move the debate forward, and I believe the best way to do that is for the CAQ to win a strong number of votes in PLQ ridings and to win away several of the PQ’s seats in the 450 region.

From there with the Liberals running scared in their previous strongholds, the traditional anglophone and federalist communities of Montreal can develop their voice through a PLQ that will be forced to finally pay attention to them and a CAQ that wants to bring their issues to the table and create change.

It’s time to stand up for our place in Quebec and I believe the CAQ is the party that will help us achieve this.