François Legault may have changed his separatist strategy but he hasn’t changed his stripes.

On Monday, as predicted, Legault romped to an easy victory. Now that he’s ensconced in his role as Premier for the next four years, it’s worth taking stock of the blatant intolerance that stoked his campaign and what it might mean for the future of Canada.

In the final days of the campaign when Legault’s numbers had begun softening, Radio-Canada decided to run an alarmist piece on the dangers of francophones learning English. It featured a retired mathematics professor who has been pushing similar theories since the 1980s. Despite the fact that he’s not a demographer, he was allowed to present his ideas about the perilous decline of French unchallenged by experts in the field. The result was a biased report, devoid of any journalistic counterbalance.

For example with mournful background music we are introduced to a mom (and former separatist candidate) who is concerned about the use of English on store signs and who emotes that her daughter has chosen to go to an English university!

In tweeting out the report, respected anchor Céline Galipeau asks the loaded question: "What do the different parties propose to deal with ‘the decline of French’", presenting that last assertion as unquestioned fact, despite the existence of analysis and data to the contrary.

As professor Sheila Das wrote in a brilliant opinion piece earlier this year: "Despite the overhyped fears in Quebec, English does not enter the brain like a language-eating parasite and erase native tongues."

During the campaign Legault associated immigrants with violence and extremism and "la chicane," a Quebec French word meaning "quarrel". He issued a half-hearted conditional apology then continued down the same path anyway, saying that people who don’t already speak French upon arrival threaten the social cohesiveness of Quebec and even stirred the pot with an important First Nations community (that one he did apologize for)…

Legault’s numbers were good enough for a solid majority thanks to a perfect split among opposition parties but he appeared not to be headed towards the super majority that he pleaded for at the beginning of the campaign.

Then, on the Wednesday before the vote, at a Chamber of commerce event in Montreal, Legault let fly with a looping reference to increased immigration as being "suicidal".

That galling statement had just hit the news when an even more egregious (and absolutely false) affirmation by his immigration minister, Jean Boulet, surfaced out of nowhere. That statement was so outrageous that it quickly swamped the Legault "suicidal" reference. Boulet had made it the week before, during a regional election debate on his home turf in the Trois-Rivières area. All the news services ran with the Boulet statement but you’ll look in vain to find out how it suddenly got put out there a week after it was uttered.


Boulet’s statement that "80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, do not work, do not speak French or do not adhere to the values of Quebec society" was as outrageous and hurtful as it was false.

It set off a five-alarm political firestorm that was a win-win for Legault.

He was off the hook for the now lesser evil of his "suicidal" comment and he benefited from his minister saying things that played to the prejudices and fears of many voters.

Legault said that Boulet would no longer be his immigration minister after the election but made it equally clear that he could let him back into cabinet.

By election night two things had happened: Legault’s numbers had gone back up and his rival on the right, Conservative Leader Éric Duhaime, saw his own support flatten. He’d been outdone on this front and wound up with zero seats.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade saw many of her traditional supporters, who’d been flirting with "Anglo rights" parties, return to the fold. That helped finesse her strong endgame into more seats than the other three opposition parties combined.

Fears of the "Louisianization" of French in Quebec are very widely shared and Legault used the term at his party convention during the run up to the campaign. It evokes a time when French would become folkloric in Quebec.

Back in the days of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown constitutional rounds, even Brian Mulroney had gotten in on the act and somehow managed to evoke Louisiana and banjos (!) in his arguments in favour of his proposals.

Beginning with the previous campaign in 2018, Legault has been arguing for the necessity for Quebec to control the "family reunification" category of immigrants. He will, in short order, be taking the fight on that issue to Ottawa.

Legault is a bean counter, he knows that his refusal to bring in the number of immigrants being requested by Quebec employers will have consequences.

Economically, Quebec businesses will remain hobbled by a severe labour shortage that is slowing growth.

Politically, it is inevitable that Quebec’s number of seats in the House of Commons will decrease as its proportion of total Canadian population declines.

Legault has an answer to that one as well. He wants to have his cake and eat it. Having created a situation where Quebec’s demographic weight has decreased, he now says he can’t believe that there’s not a way to guarantee Quebec a certain level of representation in the House of Commons. This harkens back to the Charlottetown Accord and the idea, in return for Senate reform, that Quebec would be guaranteed 25 per cent of the seats in the House, in perpetuity, irrespective of its actual percentage of Canada’s population.

Another "chicane" with Ottawa on the horizon…

Legault has never completely abandoned the goal of Quebec independence he fought so hard for throughout his time as a senior Parti Québécois minister. During this campaign, he dodged questions as to whether or not he’d vote "yes" in a referendum on separation. Legault has simply become more clever at pursuing that goal. It all goes back to a revealing interview he gave prior to the 2018 campaign.

In it he explains that achieving independence in one grand evening hasn’t worked out. He goes on to lay out a roadmap “to get there” that includes making demands and changes to language laws, cultural jurisdiction and…the family reunification category of immigration.

When Legault comes calling with those demands, Canadians will quickly learn about the weakness of the current federal government when dealing with these complex issues.

Legault has already brought in legislation (Bill 96) to restrict the equality of English before the courts in Quebec. Legault says he’s allowed to amend the BNA ACT unilaterally to remove language rights. Despite the fact that the 1982 constitution clearly requires a resolution from each House of Parliament in such a case, Trudeau and his ineffective Justice Minister David Lametti have refused to lift a finger to defend the Canadian constitution.

So too with regards to the rights of religious minorities who have come under attack with Bill 21. That is the law that saw a young Muslim woman in Western Quebec lose her teaching job because of her head scarf. Again, Trudeau has refused to take on Legault and the legal challenge to this discriminatory law is being led by community groups and individuals in a slow and difficult process because Trudeau refuses to do what only he has the power to do: refer the question directly to the Supreme Court.

Not content to just do no harm, Trudeau has his own proposed language legislation (Bill C-13) that could actually make it more difficult for Quebec anglophones to maintain their constitutionally guaranteed right to control and manage their own minority language school boards. Those English school boards have been attacked by Legault with a third law, Bill 40.

If that seems like a lot of attacks on minority rights, it’s because it is, but Legault continues to run circles around Trudeau and Lametti. When compared to towering figures of the past who have successfully taken on these existential questions, there now seems to be no rudder steering our ship of state when it comes to the constitution and equal rights for all Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

Now, more than ever, the future of this exceptional country of ours will be at stake if there’s no one in Ottawa capable of articulating an inclusive vision of Canada that takes on Legault’s small-minded views. It won’t be done by referendum in “one grand evening”, it’s being done bit by bit by someone with a plan who’s facing a government without a clue.

Tom Mulcair was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017