Allison Hanes: The Legault government should take a look in the mirror

The war of words between Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and Premier François Legault over tuition shows the CAQ is on the defensive and is looking for a convenient foil.

Article content

Several members of the Coalition Avenir Québec government lit into Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante Thursday — and laid it on thick.

French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge accused Plante of not being a strong enough “ally” when it comes to protecting French.

Article content

“Montreal is the francophone metropolis of North America. This has to be more than a slogan,” Roberge fumed. “When the mayor positions herself as the defender of the rights of non-Quebecers to study in Montreal, I say, ‘Non merci, no thanks,’ as she said in English.”

Advertisement 2

Article content

A pair of CAQ backbenchers arriving for question period also joined the pile-on, asking the assembled reporters if they could comment, according to La Presse, because Plante’s comments were so “unacceptable.”

“Does Valérie Plante want to put up a wall to ensure Montreal’s anglicization within five to 10 years?” huffed Valérie Schmaltz, a CAQ MNA from Laval’s Vimont riding.

“There’s not Valérie Plante’s Quebec and the rest of Quebec,” griped Stéphanie Lachance, the MNA from Bellechasse, outside Quebec City. “I want us to protect French from one end to the other, from the Ottawa River to the Magdalen Islands.”

After unleashing his attack dogs, Premier François Legault characterized Plante’s remarks as “sad.”

“I don’t understand why Valérie Plante or Denis Coderre don’t want to defend French in Montreal,” Legault said later during a scrum (one of multiple times he mentioned the former mayor, who is now considering a run for the Quebec Liberal Party leadership and polling well).

This over-the-top backlash came a day after Plante sharpened her condemnation of the CAQ government’s tuition hike for out-of-province students, saying it “directly attacks Montreal” by undermining enrolment at the city’s two English universities.

Advertisement 3

Article content

Her remarks followed an expert committee on higher education telling the Legault government in a report that upping fees to $12,000 from $9,000 is “unjustified, and risks compromising access to quality education and depriving society of potential talent.”

The CAQ is choosing to ignore the advice.

The committee is just the latest voice challenging the move, which has been denounced by most French universities, students and the business community.

With the CAQ government on the defensive over a damaging and indefensible policy, Legault pulled out his dog-eared playbook: He doubled down on a bad decision and attempted to whip up resentment toward Montreal.

Only this time, Plante was the foil.

Plante and Legault have always been a political odd couple, with different visions, agendas and styles. They’ve had disputes often since she broke the glass ceiling at city hall in 2017 and he led the CAQ to a breakthrough victory a year later that overturned the old sovereignist-federalist dichotomy. They’ve differed on investments in public transit, funding for social housing and money to cope with a changing climate — among many issues. But they’ve mostly gritted their teeth and played nice.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Never before has a war of words erupted between Plante and Legault where the criticism has been this barbed, the salvo so personal.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Plante said Friday she was “surprised” by the co-ordinated rebuke.

It’s a sign of Legault’s desperation as the Parti Québécois continues to rise in the polls and Coderre’s potential candidacy has given the Quebec Liberals a bump. Meanwhile, cocktailgate — the growing political financing scandal Legault disdainfully dismissed as “mudslinging” — flared back up when the grieving parents of a woman killed by a drunk driver told a committee hearing on road safety they were encouraged to donate $100 each for “two minutes” with Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault at a CAQ fundraiser.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are up in arms over the lack of consultation surrounding the Northvolt electric battery plant the CAQ government lured to Quebec to grow the green economy, prompting paternalistic Legault to chide: “We have to change our attitude in Quebec.”

Or change the bogeyman.

Enter Plante, who merely suggested the government follow its own experts’ advice. She lamented that the plan to raise tuition for students from other provinces by 33 per cent not only harms enrolment at McGill and Concordia, but hurts Montreal. It will put a damper on the vitality of downtown, erode Montreal’s status as one of the world’s best cities for students, undermine the economy and make it more difficult to attract top talent. You know, the kinds of things a mayor — and a premier, for that matter — should be concerned about.

Advertisement 5

Article content

This isn’t mere speculation. A Conference Board of Canada report projects Montreal’s economic growth will decline for the third straight year in 2024, the worst performance among 13 cities. It warns the tuition hike will make the “rocky ride” rockier.

For daring to stand up for Montreal, Plante was branded by CAQists as anti-French — among the worst epithets in the nationalist script.

The thing is, Plante wasn’t questioning the need to protect the language — a laudable objective — ensure graduates of English universities learn French, or bolster francophone universities.

She simply asked: “Do we have to penalize anglophone universities for that? My answer is: No thanks.”

Roberge threw Plante’s words back in her face. One can easily do the same with all the scorn emanating from the CAQ.

Maybe Legault should try to be an “ally” to Montreal for once. Instead of sacrificing the city’s interests for political gain or to hold its power in check, he should try to harness the vast energy and diversity of the metropolis — maybe even express a little pride.

The Legault government is the one building “a wall” around Quebec, making students from the rest of Canada feel unwelcome, curtailing the rights of minorities, and isolating Montreal politically.

What’s “unacceptable” is attacking English institutions — and then ganging up on Montreal’s mayor, who fears the fallout on her city.

If Legault thinks it’s time to “change our attitude in Quebec,” he should start by looking in the mirror.

[email protected]

Recommended from Editorial

Advertisement 6

Article content

Article content