Jean-François Lisée waves to an excited but skeptical crowd at an Equality Party event on Monday morning in Westmount.
By now you’ve heard the news announced this morning that Jean-François Lisée, the Quebec minister responsible for anglophones, has pulled a reverse Richard Holden and quit his party and cushy job to join the resurrected Equality Party as its only current MNA.
While surprising to some, and certainly a gutsy move to go from being in the government to being a one-man party, the move comes as much less of a surprise to people who have followed Lisée and his actions over the past few months.
From his appearances at anglophone events to his secret meetings with important figures in the anglophone community, Lisée became fast friends with key people in the community. And though they were very skeptical of what he had to say as the official turd polisher of the Parti Québécois, the mood changed significantly in the past few weeks. Some anglo leaders started to speak of Lisée as the one good guy at the PQ.
As anglos became more comfortable with Lisée, the other side became less so. Lisée’s thinly-veiled attacks on fellow minister Diane de Courcy (responsible for language policy) certainly didn’t earn him too many friends, nor did his suggestion that the STM be bilingual. His public comments earned the minister a lemon prize from language group Impératif français.
According to people with knowledge of PQ cabinet discussions, Lisée was even more disagreeable behind closed doors, questioning language policies, pleading for the party to kill Bill 14 and even questioning some of the fundamentals of Bill 101.
His views don’t represent a complete reversal of position. Lisée was famously responsible for a speech Lucien Bouchard gave at the Centaur Theatre saying anglos are an important part of Quebec. The speech, and statements contained in it, were not universally accepted among his colleagues.
It remains to be seen just how militant Lisée will be on the other side. Will he call for the repeal of the Quebec language charter and all special protections for the French language? So far, all he’s said is that he wants both languages to be equally protected in Quebec (he said something similar at the CBC’s recent Living English event, though to the guffaws of the crowd). He also said the fight for French isn’t over, and that he will work hard to ensure language equality in other provinces as well. (I guess that means he’s a federalist now too?)
The other question is whether Premier Pauline Marois will replace Lisée. Clearly he’s no longer a minister. Will she name someone else as minister responsible for anglophones, or will she decide not to, for fear that someone else might be turned to the dark side?
With Lisée’s defection, the National Assembly is left with 53 PQ members, 50 Liberals (including speaker Jacques Chagnon), 19 CAQ members, the two Québec solidaire MNAs and Lisée’s Equality Parti/Parti Égalité. It doesn’t shift the balance of power, but it does make things tougher for the PQ.