Seventy-four Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) members were sworn in as MNAs at the National Assembly Tuesday afternoon.
One by one, returning members and the 51 new members of the National Assembly pledged allegiance to Queen Elizabeth and to the people of Quebec.
When Claire Samson, the MNA for Iberville, stepped onto the podium, she went off script.
“Last time we were only a handful of members, now look at this,” she said to premier-designate François Legault, who was standing by her side.
“Imagine how it will be next time,” he replied cheekily, eliciting laughter in the room.
“What a beautiful team we have,” Legault said. “When I founded the CAQ, I used to say, ‘We will see.’ Well today, we are seeing.
“If we were elected in such great numbers, it’s because we are close to Quebecers’ needs. I ask you to stay close to Quebecers,” he said to his MNAs.
Legault also described how proud he was of forming a government whose party has more female MNAs than any other party. There will also be a record number of female MNAs in the National Assembly this year.
But it hasn’t all been laughter and celebration since Legault won the election on Oct 1.
Even before officially taking power, Legault has already caused controversy and butted heads with the federal government on a couple of notable issues.
One of those issues is the CAQ’s proposal to ban religious symbols.
The proposed ban would bar certain state employees — including teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.
Legault has gone as far as saying he would invoke the notwithstanding clause in order to uphold his proposal.
The controversial plan has sparked protests in Montreal and led to accusations from teachers that the CAQ is trying to create a problem where none exists.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also voiced his unease with the idea, saying he is “not of the opinion that the state should be able to tell a woman what she can wear, nor what she cannot wear.”
The second issue is the CAQ’s proposal to raise the legal age to consume cannabis to 21.
Trudeau has said the incoming Quebec government’s plan to raise the legal age could leave an opening for organized crime.
The prime minister explained that increasing the legal age could undermine one of the federal cannabis law’s key aims: eliminating the black market.
However, those issues were set aside on Tuesday as Legault focused on a message of unity.
“Before being premier, I am an MNA of my riding, L’Assomption,” he said. “Just like you, I represent every citizen. I speak on their behalf, on behalf of children, seniors, families, the sick, the most needy. And also, like you, I also speak on behalf of PQ, Liberal and Quebec solidaire voters. They didn’t vote for me but they live in my riding.”
Legault went on to encourage his MNAs to take the same approach.
“We have to be conscious of that, it forces us to elevate ourselves above partisan interests in the superior interest of Quebec and our citizens. You are now MNAs. It’s a great responsibility and I invite you to wear with honour and humility this exceptional privilege.”
— With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise, Raquel Fletcher and the Canadian Press.