Tom Mulcair: Why a St-Hilaire candidacy for the CAQ would be big news

There have been indications the former Longueuil mayor and Bloc MP will probably run for Coalition Avenir Québec in Sherbrooke riding.

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Summer weather has finally arrived and, a bit like blackflies, the political class will be making its presence felt in the last few weeks of the spring session.

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Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade has had to deal with a spate of announcements from some of her more senior MNAs that they won’t be running again. With the notable exception of the superb Paule Robitaille (a real loss), the departing cohort have done their bit and none of these departures was unexpected.

In fact, under more normal circumstances in the past, many would have already stepped down. Lise Thériault, for example, announced way back in August of last year that she was not going to be seeking re-election.

A few years ago, she would have been able to take her full departure allowance (two months of salary per year served to a maximum of 12 months) and go off into the sunset. That would have allowed Anglade to fight and win a byelection, giving a bit of a boost to the Liberals.

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Unfortunately for the Liberal leader, after a series of resignations a few years ago where MNAs were given this package only to go and immediately run federally, for example, the rules were tightened. You no longer get the allowance if you quit before the end of your term. That has kept many of them hanging around until after their best-before date.

Honest people don’t get rich in politics and no one should begrudge this type of transition bonus. Problem is, these rules now make it hard to recruit new blood during a mandate, because no one steps down. This kind of mass departure at the end of a term will become more common.

Recruitment has been chugging along for all parties. It’s interesting to note that the Parti Québécois, despite very low polling numbers, is still attracting good candidates, as with Pierre Nantel during the recent Marie-Victorin byelection.

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Manon Massé has decided to run again, and that is very good news for Quebec solidaire and its leader/spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. She is deeply experienced and universally respected. She’ll never sell out to the oil and gas sector!

On the Coalition Avenir Québec side, it’s going to be interesting to watch Caroline St-Hilaire. We were longtime colleagues (and frequent jousting adversaries) on the political debate show La Joute on LCN. She, the firebrand sovereignist anti-multiculturalista, me the anglo federalist …

Our debates were raucous and loads of fun. We’ve known each other since our time together in the House of Commons. She and her spouse Maka Kotto were Bloc Québécois MPs. St-Hilaire went on to become mayor of Longueuil. Kotto went on to become Quebec’s minister of culture and communications.

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Both are ardent and consistent about their sovereignist convictions.

When it was announced, last week, that St-Hilaire would be emceeing the big CAQ pre-election convention, it caught my eye.

Now word has been coming out that she will probably be the star candidate for the CAQ in Sherbrooke riding, won by Quebec solidaire in 2018.

That would be really big news.

Legault’s CAQ is replete with former péquistes (starting with himself) who no longer identify as sovereignist.

St-Hilaire has never renounced her beliefs (and never would).

By going so strongly after Sherbrooke riding, Legault is also showing that he doesn’t just want to win, he wants to run the table.

But would St-Hilaire be willing to play by Legault’s public version of the CAQ rule book?

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Prior to the 2018 campaign, Legault laid out his game plan: go after more autonomy on language, culture and immigration. A step by step approach to … what exactly?

Legault’s unspoken answer appears to be an independent Quebec. If St-Hilaire runs for him, I can only conclude that it will be because he’s convinced her of that.

Tom Mulcair, a former leader of the federal NDP, served as minister of the environment in the Quebec Liberal government of Jean Charest. 

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