François Legault 2024

The latest CAQ ad suggests, ‘Change what doesn’t work: your government’

Back from the holidays and down in the polls, the CAQ produced a partisan ad with some unintentional entertainment value, including echoes of Taylor Swift singing, “It’s me! Hi! I’m the problem, it’s me.”

Quebec’s National Assembly is back at work after a long holiday break and it’s likely going to be a combative parliamentary session as the CAQ government will try and defend its questionable record to opposition parties that will have their guns blazing now that they see the party in power is trending down.

After a long four-year honeymoon period where the CAQ and its leader François Legault appeared to do no wrong, enjoying often inexplicably sky-high popularity numbers, the bubble appears to have burst. Quebecers are angry, disillusioned and deeply worried about the cost of living, healthcare, education and housing — areas that don’t appear to remotely show any signs of resolution. And while some major reforms have recently been adapted, many questions remain about how they will be implemented. 

Historically, the CAQ has favoured a style of government that rushes through legislation and reforms with little consultation and even less explanation. Quebecers are rightfully concerned and critical. Historic province-wide strikes have eroded support for Legault, who, during the three-year pandemic, was able to govern with little to no opposition, and greatly benefited from that. Reality, however, has finally caught up to Premier Legault. And knowing he’s in hot water, some spin doctoring was promptly ordered. 

‘Change what doesn’t work: your government’ 

A few days after the CAQ held its party caucus in Sherbrooke, a partisan ad surfaced that was probably filmed while everyone had congregated at the same hotel. It isn’t the first time the CAQ government has produced a purely partisan ad paid for with our money. This one at least had some unintentional entertainment value.

The ad basically informs us that in 2024 “our government” will go back to what it essentially is, “the team of change.” We first see Premier François Legault, and then in succession ministers Bernard Drainville, Geneviève Guilbault, Christian Dubé and Sonia LeBel appear to tell us one by one that “more investments in education are coming,” that they “believe in better access to our healthcare system” and that “it’s time, now more than ever, to show you what we’re capable of doing.” 

Why didn’t you show us what you’re capable of doing before? Were you trying to pace yourselves? Holding back? 

Premier Legault then reappears in the ad to tell us, “This is what we were elected to do: change what doesn’t work.” The video ends with “Your government” which is a tagline the CAQ has used in several promotional campaigns in the past, but in this video, it awkwardly follows “Change what doesn’t work,” creating more than a few chuckles from many who pointed out that it practically appears to suggest that what isn’t working and needs changing is… “your government.”  Awkward pacing, to say the least. 

Regardless of the chuckle-worthy PR faux pas, and much more importantly, people were right to point out that the ad made them feel like they were in the middle of an election. It felt so much like aggressive political advertising that I almost had to remind myself that we’re a solid two-and-a-half years away from the next provincial campaign. 

The CAQ is clearly feeling the heat and trying to bounce back in the polls by promising action and change. The problem is that this is a government that’s already five years into governing, so the status quo it’s claiming to combat is… itself. If there’s inaction and a feeling of inertia, it can only point the finger back to the CAQ. If there’s a lack of change, once again, it can only blame the powers that be. That’s them. They’re the powers that be. This has echoes of Taylor Swift singing, “It’s me! Hi! I’m the problem, it’s me.” Telling voters that they need to vote for change is a tactic that works with a party aiming to form government, not one already firmly ensconced in a position of power for half a decade. 

Campaigns used before with mixed results

It’s not the first time that the CAQ has used these types of promotional campaigns meant to stir up emotions paid for with our money — without great success. Back in 2022, it had to apologize for running a Bill 96 campaign ad prematurely, congratulating itself for passing legislation that hadn’t yet been adopted by the National Assembly. As gaffes go, it was a tad presumptuous.

The ad was also heavily criticized by many legal experts, including constitutional lawyer Julius Grey, for containing a multitude of “falsehoods” on the controversial language law — primarily the government’s claim that it wouldn’t affect access to healthcare for English-speaking Quebecers. Constitutional law professor Frederic Berard referred to the ad at the time as “lying to people with public money.” Fast-forward two years and they weren’t wrong. Access to healthcare has indeed been impeded for English-speaking Quebecers in many documented cases, among many other concerns for the province’s linguistic minorities. There are currently six lawsuits against Bill 96 underway, most of them regarding access to healthcare in English, for people who have the legal right to it.

It’s clear from the promo video that the CAQ knows it’s on the hot seat as it’s seen its support plummet recently. It appears to now be using the rhetoric of “change” to re-inspire faith in the government. I’m not sure whether it will work. Voters traditionally have short memories, but five years in, most Quebecers have started to notice that — pandemic withstanding — this government has had a good chunk of time to make incremental and substantial changes in areas it promised it would make some improvements and where Quebecers say changes are most needed in: healthcare, education, housing, climate and cost of living.

Legault recently said he wants the government to “refocus” and named five priorities: education, health, the economy, the environment and Quebec identity. In the past five years, I’ve unfortunately seen far too much focus on divisive identity politics and far too little time spent on areas that affect all Quebecers profoundly. With two and a half years remaining on Legault’s second mandate and with opposition parties coming for him, it remains to be seen what the focus will be and whether any of these promised changes will materialize and be enough for the CAQ to regain momentum. ■

This article was originally published in the Feb. 2024 issue of Cult MTL.

Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis.