November 18, 2011

New Quebec party looks to the future

Francois Legault was once the go-to guy for a group of Quebec entrepreneurs putting together a charter air service from the remnants of a couple of failing companies.

Air Transat is now the third-biggest airline in Canada and a world leader in the charter-flight business.

So you might say Legault has experience in getting things off the ground, the most recent case being a political party, one he hopes will soar above what he deems to be Quebec's failing political culture.

It's been 24 years since Air Transat made its inaugural flight, and Legault, deliberately or not, chose the exact date of the airline's takeoff to launch Coalition Avenir Quebec (Coalition for the future of Quebec, or CAQ).

It was Legault's business savvy that caught the eye of former Parti Quebecois Premier Lucien Bouchard, who recruited him in 1998 to give his government more credibility with the province's growing francophone entrepreneurial class. He served as both health and education minister.

Legault left politics in 2009, although few observers figured he was gone for good, after taking a pass on a chance to lead the Parti Quebecois. Indeed, Legault soon began talking up a movement that he is convinced is needed to break a political impasse in Quebec politics.

The impasse he has in mind is the decades-old saw-off between a federalist party — in this case the Liberals, now in power since 2003 — and the secessionist party, meaning the Parti Quebecois. Since the Parti Quebecois's breakthrough in 1976, Quebec has alternated between separatist and federalist governments, with two divisive referendums on sovereignty (1980 and 1995) along the way.

Legault wants to bring to the political table a choice that does not entail an automatic showdown over Quebec's place in Canada. He says he accepts that Quebecers are not in the secessionist mood these days, so he's promised a moratorium on a referendum for at least 10 years.

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