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Legault stands firm on immigration, secularism in outline of CAQ priorities

Click to play video 'Premier-designate Legault promises to build a stronger Quebec within Canada' Premier-designate Legault promises to build a stronger Quebec within Canada
WATCH: In his first press conference since his election, premier-elect François Legault vowed to deliver on his campaign promises. As Elysia Bryan-Baynes reports, that includes reducing the number of immigrants welcomed in Quebec and his plan to ban religious symbols among authority figures in the province – Oct 2, 2018

Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) Leader François Legault held his first official press conference as premier-designate in Quebec City on Tuesday.

Legault began by noting his party’s historic win, marking the first time in nearly 50 years that neither the Parti Québécois nor the Liberals will be in power.

READ MORE: François Legault leads Coalition Avenir Québec to majority as Liberals ousted from power

Legault said he created the CAQ six-and-a-half years ago to move away from the polarizing politics of sovereignty versus federalism to focus on building bridges.

“I think yesterday we began to bring Quebecers together,” he said Tuesday, adding that his goal was to have Quebecers work together to help the province advance.

After thanking Quebecers for their trust and support, Legault quickly got down to business, listing the economy, education and health as the top three priorities for his government.

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Economy

On the economic front, Legault said making sure Quebecers are financially secure is a top concern.

“I want to put in place concrete measures to quickly put back money into Quebecer’s wallets,” he said.

Legault also intends on reexamining the role of Investissement Québec — a company established under an act passed by the National Assembly in 1998 to promote investment in Quebec. He says Investissement Québec needs to do more when it comes to helping businesses get off the ground and create good-paying jobs.

Legault also expressed a need for the province to diversify and strengthen its exports.

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READ MORE: A historic vote in Quebec for every party, a tougher provincial puzzle for Trudeau

Legault said he was expecting to meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland about the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

A discussion with the federal government about the new trade pact and its impact on local farmers is high on Legault’s to-do list.

Legault says he has not been briefed about the deal but is not ruling out any options in response. The deal has been denounced by Quebec dairy farmers.

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Education

The CAQ made several promises on the education front and on Tuesday, Legault said providing early screening for children with learning disabilities is paramount, as is ensuring adequate services are in place.

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READ MORE: Here are five key promises made by the CAQ

Developing a plan to renovate the province’s crumbling schools is also on the premier-designate’s agenda.

“We need to offer beautiful schools to our children as quickly as possible,” Legault said.

Health

The new government’s first order of business will be to enter into discussions with general practitioners to find a way to improve access to family doctors and nurses to ensure first-line care.

Revamping the province’s long-term care homes for seniors, known as CHSLDs, is also on Legault’s to-do list.

“We have to ensure that we offer services with dignity,” he said of his party’s plan to improve care for seniors.

Legault said he felt confident in his party’s ability “to deliver the merchandise and keep our promises.”

Immigration, identity and secularism

When pressed on issues relating to immigration, identity and secularism, Legault stood firm.

He reiterated his party’s commitment to reducing the number of immigrants to the province from 50,000 to 40,000 for 2019.

“What I would like to do as soon as possible, is to make sure that we have a good integration for each new immigrant — including learning French, including the recognition of diplomas.”

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Legault also told reporters the party was committed to promoting secularism.

“We want to have a transition period. We want to offer jobs in offices for the people who want to keep wearing a religious sign but it’s important for us that all people in an authority position don’t wear a religious sign.”

Legault said he was even prepared to invoke the notwithstanding clause to ensure public officials in positions of authority do not wear religious symbols.

READ MORE: Quebec considers legal options as judge temporarily suspends face-covering law

The outgoing Couillard government’s law prohibiting public-sector workers from wearing face-covering garments already faces a legal challenge.

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Legault says his proposed ban on religious symbols for teachers, judges and police officers is important enough to override protections in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

He says the “vast majority” of Quebecers agree with his planned policy.

— With files from The Canadian Press