Legault Wins Big in Quebec Vote With Pledges on Taxes, French

(Bloomberg) -- Premier Francois Legault won another term in Quebec, strengthening his grip on power with promises to reduce income taxes, send checks to millions of residents coping with high inflation and protect the French language.

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Legault’s Coalition Avenir Quebec party won 90 of 125 seats in the National Assembly in Monday’s election. The Liberal Party of Quebec will form the official opposition, with 21 seats.

“We must continue to create wealth because it gives us the means for the great ambitions we have for Quebec,” the 65 year-old politician said in his victory speech in Quebec City. “We have the opportunity to transform our economy to become one of the world leaders in the green economy.”

The victory means Legault can implement a plan to trim tax rates on the lowest income brackets and send C$400 to C$600 payments this fall to residents who earned less than C$100,000 (about $73,300) last year. He’s also promised tens of billions in spending to financially help seniors, improve health services and build infrastructure.

But his easy victory is not entirely indicative of the mood in Canada’s second-largest province. Nearly 60% of voters chose parties other than Legault’s CAQ, but they split their vote almost equally among the four main opposition groups. His popularity dropped during the five-week campaign, and he sometimes appeared irritable and slipped on hot-button topics such as immigration.

Business groups and companies want the government to allow more newcomers to ease an acute shortage of workers in the province of 8.7 million people. The premier drew criticism for saying it would be “a bit suicidal” to the French language if the province were to raise immigration levels beyond 50,000 a year.

In May, his government adopted a controversial law, Bill 96, to strengthen French-language rights. All businesses will have an obligation to serve their clients in French. A public agency responsible for enforcing the law could search a company’s internal and external communications in response to a complaint.

More than 150 business leaders signed a letter warning Legault that the law “is threatening to do enormous damage to the province’s economy” by putting up new barriers to doing business and attracting talent. But with its electoral majority, the premier is unlikely to back down on the most contentious language measures.

“I will be the Premier of all Quebecers,” Legault said Monday night. “The greatest duty of a Premier is to protect our language. Whether we like it or not, the future of French depends a lot on our ability to integrate in French with those who have decided to build their future in Quebec.”

Higher Deficit

An entrepreneur who co-founded of travel company Transat A.T. Inc., Legault first made his mark in politics with the separatist Parti Quebecois. In 2011 he launched the CAQ, a center-right and nationalist party, seeking to attract voters who had grown tired of the debate over Quebec independence.

Legault said the key question in the election was about the economy and “who could help Quebecers get back money in their wallet.”

His tax cuts and spending promises will increase Quebec’s short-term borrowing needs. The budget deficit will increase to C$7.7 billion in the current fiscal year, from C$1.7 billion, according to the party’s own projections. Still, the government plans to reduce Quebec’s net debt to 36% of gross domestic product, from 38%, in four years.

Read more: A $4.7 Billion Mega-Tunnel Is Quebec Premier’s Grudging Priority

Legault has also put forward ambitious infrastructure plans, with spending on roads, hospitals, schools and public transportation expected to reach as much as C$150 billion between 2023 and 2033. The list of potential projects includes a C$6.5 billion mega-tunnel between the provincial capital, Quebec City, and the suburb of Levis.

Legault has also committed to asking Hydro-Quebec, the state-owned electricity provider, to study the construction of new dams and to build 3,000 megawatts of wind power.

The premier’s key economic lieutenants, Finance Minister Eric Girard and Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon, were both re-elected.

Divided Opposition

The Liberal Party and the Parti Quebecois, which ruled the province’s politics from 1970 until 2018, both suffered historic setbacks.

Dominique Anglade’s Liberals won only one seat outside the Montreal region and sat fourth in the popular vote at 14.4%.

“Throughout the campaign, we hammered the message of bringing Quebecers together so that every voice can be heard,” she told supporters, referring to Legault’s divisive remarks on immigration during the campaign. “The work has only just begun. We have momentum.”

The Parti Quebecois, which twice held referendums on whether Quebec should seek independence from Canada, was nearly wiped out, winning only three seats despite garnering 14.6% of the vote. Quebec Solidaire, a left-leaning party, gained one more seat for a total of 11.

In a statement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he looked forward to working with Legault, “fostering the growth of the green economy, fighting climate change, finding solutions to labor shortages, making life more affordable, helping create new affordable housing, investing in infrastructure, and building a clean and prosperous future.”

(Updates final election standings in second paragraph)

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