After a stunning defeat on Oct. 1, the Quebec Liberals handed over the reigns of power to the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) on Thursday.
Winning 74 of 125 seats at the National Assembly, the CAQ now form a majority government with leader François Legault officially becoming Quebec’s 42nd premier.
“This government is your government,” Legault said.
“We will work with all of our strength, with all of our heart for you.”
The Quebec Liberals, who governed for 13 of the last 15 years, will sit as the Official Opposition.
In the few weeks leading up to the changing of the guard, Legault has said his top priorities were health, education and the economy.
On Thursday afternoon, he unveiled his team of cabinet ministers tasked with meeting those objectives.
Legault faced a daunting task, having promised a small cabinet made up of 20 to 25 ministers. He also promised equal representation of men and women.
Of the 74 ministers elected under the CAQ banner, 28 are women and 46 are men.
In addition to gender parity, Legault has to ensure regional representation and a fair distribution of ministerial positions between returning and newly elected MNAs. Roughly two-thirds of CAQ MNAs are new to the legislature.
CAQ MNA Genviève Guilbault, who represents the Louis-Hébert riding, was the first cabinet member to be sworn in. She was named Deputy Premier, and public security minister, as well as the minister responsible for the Capitale-Nationale.
Simon Jolin-Barrette was named immigration, diversity and inclusion minister — a position that will come with significant challenges.
The CAQ’s proposal on decreasing immigration levels has already raised eyebrows in Ottawa, as has its proposed ban on religious symbols for certain civil servants in positions of authority.
Thousands took to the street in Montreal in a recent protest to denounce the proposed ban, but the CAQ has maintained its position, saying it intends to introduce legislation to that effect.
Legault has also said he would– if need be — introduce the notwithstanding clause to ensure the ban goes ahead.
Sonia LeBel was handed justice, status of women and Canadian relations, while Danielle McCann will handle health and social services.
Other important portfolios were distributed as follows:
- Jean-François Roberge Education Minister, with Olympic gold medalist Isabelle Charest named minister-delegate of education
- Pierre Fitzgibbon Economy Minister
- François Bonnardel Transport Minister
- Eric Girard Finance Minister
One notable surprise was that Legault did not name an Anglo affairs minister. Christopher Skeete, an Anglophone within the CAQ, was believed to be a shoe-in for the position. He nonetheless will be in charge of the Secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, as parliamentary secretary.
Following the swearing-in ceremony, Legault addressed the crowd, with an emotional tribute to his 89-year-old mother.
“Thank you mom,” he said. “You gave me everything.”
He also thanked his sons for inspiring him and his wife for making it all possible.
Legault then went on to outline the merits of his new cabinet.
When all was said and done, Legault made good on most of his promises, naming 26 ministers in all, 13 men and 13 women.
“Our cabinet reflects a fundamental value in Quebec, that of equality between men and women,” Legault said.
Legault campaigned on a promise of change and pointed out his team was made up of fresh faces.
“Except for Marguerite and myself, all ministers are occupying this position for the first time ever,” he said, adding he felt it was a strength and not a weakness.
“The Quebec government needs renewal.”
While the new cabinet ministers may be political rookies, Legault lauded their work experience, noting many had entrepreneurial and management backgrounds — qualities he sees as key to improving the province’s economy.
“We have an economic dream team,” Legault said.
— With files from Global’s Raquel Fletcher and La Presse Canadienne