A year ago today, the 40th Quebec Legislature was dissolved and I embarked on one of the hardest, craziest and most rewarding adventures of my professional life: Running as a candidate for the Coalition Avenir Québec in the 2014 provincial election.
The long-story-short of how I came to be a candidate was that I had begun a dialogue with the CAQ’s president at the time, Dominique Anglade, that led to a meeting at CAQ headquarters, eventually hosting a 5-à-7 with François Legault and finally, me becoming the party’s candidate for the riding of NDG.
While I was officially selected in December 2013, the election wasn’t called until the outgoing disaster of a premier Pauline Marois broke her own fixed election date law and called the vote for April 7, 2014 (coincidentally the day of my 33rd birthday), beginning my 33-day marathon of ups, downs, lefts, and rights and even a crazy personal attack by the PQ.
As news of my candidacy came out in my personal and professional circles, most of the feedback was very positive – whether the person I was speaking with supported my party or not. Generally speaking, it was “congratulations for putting your money where your mouth is” and kind wishes.
It’s not a secret that the CAQ had and has a lot of work to do to break into Quebec’s Anglophone community, so I was one of just a handful of Anglo candidates. As such, I was given a lot of opportunities to speak for the party publicly including several radio interviews on CBC Daybreak, a weekly panel appearance on CJAD’s Tommy Schnurmacher Show and a few TV interviews. Anyone who knows me knows I relish a healthy debate, and during these appearance I had the chance to go toe-to-toe with people like the PQ’s JF Lisée and Léo Bureau-Blouin, and Quebec Liberals Kathleen Weil and Geoff Kelley.
During the campaign, I easily spoke with 4,500-5,000 NDGers whether it was shaking hands and talking on Monkland, through social media, or at party events. The interesting thing was that while the PLQ’s Weil won our riding by a massive landslide (as was expected), I did not meet one – and I mean not one – person who didn’t work for the PLQ who said they were satisfied by or supported the Quebec Liberal Party or Weil herself. There was only one reason given to me by every person who voted Liberal: We don’t want the PQ to win.
From that message, I understood that the people of our riding and I believe the larger West End, West Island and Anglophone communities are desperate for change and that the CAQ can eventually break in with hard work and good policies. That left me with a great feeling of accomplishment despite coming third in my riding.
While I walked out of the election experience with my head high, proud to have lived through the experience of being a candidate and proud of my party, I’ll admit there were some very tough times during the campaign.
Politics are hard. That’s just part of the game. And knowing that, I’ll say it was hard at times to publicly fight for some of the CAQ’s policies. While I stood and stand by the party’s pragmatic and balanced approach, when it came to questions of identity politics during the election (and still today), I have issues reconciling my personal beliefs with those of the party at times.
This was no secret to Legault and the party leadership, but we made a commitment to each other: I will support the party’s approach and the party will support me when I voice my opinions, even when I respectfully disagree. If it were up to me, I’d push for complete freedom when it comes to identity issues. But I understand that this is not realistic and I support the CAQ’s belief that in order to move forward together, we must apply the Bouchard-Taylor Commission’s recommendations. While I may not wish to see Bouchard-Taylor-style limitations, I respect that a majority of Quebecers do and until we apply those limitations and let them work through the court system, the identity issue will continue to dominate. We have an economy to work on and to get there, we must do this.
That approach led to some people being less-than-happy with me, some people to argue with me, and apparently, some to hate me including one absolutely vile and misinformed woman (who I will not name for the sake of politeness) who said terrible things about me in a public forum. But that’s part of the game and I accepted it.
Most people who disagreed with the CAQ’s and my personal approach at least understood where I was coming from and were able to respectfully disagree while maintaining our relationships. A year later, I can say I gained a lot of friends and acquaintances during the 33-day election campaign and I believe I lost none.
The ugliest part of the campaign came near the end when radio host Benoit Dutrizac (who once openly called on “real Quebecers” to fart and honk their horns in Hampstead during the Jewish High Holiday of Yom Kippur) and the PQ’s Lisée and Bernard Drainville tried to use me as a weapon against Legault by ambushing the CAQ leader in an interview.
Dutrizac deliberately removed the context from words I wrote on this blog and tried to imply that I called the PQ Nazis and openly didn’t support both the CAQ’s position on secularism and was against Bill 101. All of these things were and remain patently false and Legault not only elegantly defended me during the interview, but the CAQ continued to defend me two days later when the PQ issued a press release demanding I be disciplined. This was the official response from both myself and party.
When this hit, François Legault and the CAQ’s leadership had my back. And they continue to do so.
One of the most common questions people ask me is whether I’ll run again in 2018. While it’s impossible to commit either way to something that far away, I will say that I continue to be a dedicated Caquiste who is working hard within the party every day to represent my communities (Anglophones, Jews, NDGers, the West End, Montreal, etc). Do I love every policy and every statement made by my party? No. But that’s politics. There is no party at any level, in any jurisdiction that represents all of the views of any one individual. The only way to do that is to start your own party.
I believe strongly that the CAQ is what Quebec needs: A party to push the debate towards the economy and away from La question nationale. The first word in the name of the party is “coalition” for a reason – it’s a group of people from different backgrounds and, in many cases, different sides of the constitutional debate, who understand that Quebec has been in a quagmire over oui/non for almost 45 years and we must put that debate aside to move forward together.
As always, I am proud to be part of the solution.