Ronald Boisrond CUPE Staff

Québec is going to the polls in 2022, and all indications point to the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) coasting comfortably to an overwhelming victory this fall. The election of a government led by an unprecedented number of CAQ MNAs is of concern to labour organizations like CUPE, who represent workers in essential services.

Both before and during the pandemic, these workers were under severe strain due to budget cuts, lack of protective equipment, understaffing, harsh working conditions, chronic lack of recognition and the government’s reluctance to negotiate.

However, most Quebecers are satisfied with the CAQ according to major surveys, and the party could gain total power without having to share it during its second mandate. The most recent Léger polling from May pegged its support at 46%, 28 points over its closest rival, the Québec Liberal Party (QLP). The Conservative Party of Québec ranks third, followed by Québec solidaire (QS) and the Parti Québécois (PQ).

The CAQ currently has 54% support among Francophone voters, another sign that it is headed for a resounding victory in next fall’s election.

The 338Canada website is projecting that the CAQ will maintain its lead in its 74 current ridings, and could well increase its gains by approximately 30% during the election. If these projections hold true, this will mark a first in Québec  – in the National Assembly, 63 seats are required to form a majority government.

Premier François Legault’s televised daily press conferences during the pandemic possibly had some bearing on the trust that people currently have in him, despite the decrees and ministerial orders adopted during the pandemic until December 2022.

Furthermore, the CAQ has begun making inroads in electoral divisions that its adversaries have held. Last April, it won a by-election in the Marie-Victorin riding, which had been a Parti Québécois stronghold for close to 40 years.

As for the Québec Liberal Party, it could end up being hurt by the creation of two new provincial parties that are attempting to win over dissatisfied Anglophones, a segment of the electorate that has traditionally voted Liberal.

Back in 2018, the CAQ waged a campaign described as leaning “somewhat to the right”, but several unions, including CUPE, openly opposed the CAQ, as well as the Liberal Party that had the wear and tear associated with a lengthy stay in power.

The pandemic probably influenced the establishment of the CAQ’s ideological line and galvanized the premier’s popularity, but we hope it also forced him to acknowledge the importance of public services and public servants themselves.

It is worth remembering that during the health crisis, workers in the health and social services sectors were particularly affected because the government resorted to a series of decrees to keep services running, which resulted in the suspension of collective agreements. The CAQ had unilaterally given itself the power to impose new working conditions on already exhausted staff.

In 2021, public sector negotiations between the union common front and the Québec government lasted more than a year and a half. Workers in the health, education and social services sectors were demanding recognition of their work and improvements to wages and working conditions.

Furthermore, thousands of female workers have also had to deal with inexcusable delays by the government to pay them the money they were owed for the purpose of maintaining pay equity agreements.

While the CAQ was freeing up billions of dollars for infrastructure and concrete, workers in the field, who were worn-out and receiving little consideration, resigned in droves.

This worsened the acute labour shortage and once again undermined the quality of public services in Québec. In addition, the ground granted by the CAQ to the private sector continues to be a concern.

The Quebec Federation of Labor (la Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, or FTQ) has just launched the campaign “On en a plein notre CAsQue!” to publicize its priorities and those of Quebecers in view of the October 3rd election. The campaign paints a bleak picture of the CAQ government: undemocratic, anti-worker, arrogant, and out of touch with ordinary people. The FTQ notably polled the population who, contrary to voting intentions, said they were dissatisfied with the party’s record and want reinvestments in health, education and the environment.

The next public sector negotiations in 2023 will obviously be crucial to improving the quality of public services.

In the past few weeks, Québec’s major unions, as well as the FTQ, have noted a change in the government’s tune. Following the traditional meeting between the premier, the labour minister and union leaders on May 1st, International Workers’ Day, the latter indicated they were more optimistic than they were before.

“We hope that this change in tune is sincere and that if the CAQ is voted in as the next government this fall, it will consider unions as partners who contribute to the quality of public services, and not as adversaries,” said Patrick Gloutney, president of CUPE Québec.

Is François Legault’s change in tune conditioned by the coming election? We will see what his true intentions are once he has begun his second term – a term which, from all indications, will be in a majority government. Until then, workers must keep defending their values and demand that he makes real commitments to the services they care for.