Home Business Nationalist Legault Wins Majority Government in Quebec Election

Nationalist Legault Wins Majority Government in Quebec Election

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(Bloomberg) — Premier Francois Legault has 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 was on his way to winning a majority of the 125 seats in the National Assembly, Radio-Canada projected shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m. Montreal time. Four other parties are also contending for seats.  

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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 in seats is not entirely indicative of the electorate’s mood in Canada’s second-largest province. Voters who opposed Legault’s CAQ have split their votes among four other parties, making him unbeatable. His popularity dropped during the five-week campaign, and he sometimes appeared irritable and slipped on hot-button topics such as immigration. 

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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 measures.

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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 from 1998 to 2009. He returned to political life in 2011 to give birth to 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. 

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. That includes a controversial 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.

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