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How François Legault found the sweet spot of Quebec politics

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François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec party, waves to supporters after a Sept. 4 campaign stop in Laval. Quebeckers will decide on Oct. 3 whether the CAQ governs the province for another four years.Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press

A decade ago, François Legault was at loose ends.

He had quit the Parti Québécois and its fading dream of independence. His comfortable life of tennis and lunches on Laurier Ave. in the posh francophone enclave of Outremont was wearing thin.

He wanted back into the action, where he had spent most of his life: teenage language activist, co-founder of an airline worth hundreds of millions of dollars, cabinet minister by his early forties.

Now, in 2011, he saw an opportunity that would take all his life experience, business savvy and political cunning to seize: He would form a new party, neither separatist nor especially attached to Canada, focused on defending Quebec’s identity and making the province richer.

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A promising idea, yes, but he was starting from scratch. Figures from across the political and media landscape report being courted by the upstart Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) in those days, and turning it down.

The historian Éric Bédard was one of them. He had worked as a speechwriter for Mr. Legault in his PQ days, and still nurtured the sovereigntist flame.

When his old boss offered him a job, he teased: If you’ve given up on independence, why not just become leader of the Quebec Liberals, the old federalist adversary?

Instead of laughing, Mr. Legault fixed him with an earnest look. “The Liberal brand is no good any more,” he said.

Vintage Legault, his former colleague thought: A pragmatist almost to a fault, impatient for results, an adept reader of the public mood, he rejected the idea of leading the Liberals not because they were the enemy, but because they weren’t selling. (A spokesperson for Mr. Legault called the story false.)

“That’s him,” said Mr. Bédard recently. “He’s a marketing guy.”

Mr. Legault votes in L’Assomption, Que., on Sept. 25.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

A little more than 10 years later, Quebeckers are certainly buying what Mr. Legault is selling.

Since winning a majority government in 2018, he has soared to unprecedented approval ratings and built his party into a political machine expected to easily win the provincial election on Oct. 3.

He is not only the best-liked Premier in a generation, but the most consequential. (The Globe and Mail spoke to friends and former colleagues of Mr. Legault, who declined an interview request for this story.)

Although Mr. Legault is a man of the centre right, he is a big-state conservative with an expansive vision of the Quebec government’s authority, over the courts, over minorities and over individual choices.

That ideology was on display in his first term, as he pushed through restrictions on religious symbols and the use of English in public life while aggressively steering Quebec through the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With his folksy “mon oncle” persona, Quebec-first attitude and domineering leadership style – and through a combination of conviction and opportunistic guile – he has found the sweet spot of Quebec politics.


Mr. Legault speaks at a Sept. 22 leaders’ debate with Dominique Anglade of the Liberals, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon of the Parti Québécois, co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of Québec Solidaire and Éric Duhaime of the Conservatives.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press


François Legault may have sold many brands over the years, but he comes by his nationalism honestly. The man who presided over his mother’s 1956 wedding to the small-town postmaster Lucien Legault was none other than her great-uncle Lionel Groulx. The priest and historian of French Canada made it his life’s work to advance a story of heroic francophone survival in the face of British conquest and assimilation’s insidious pull.

Young François’s upbringing in the Montreal suburb of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue did nothing to disabuse him of the belief that the Québécois had a distinct destiny.

Born in 1957, his boyhood snowball fights were with neighbouring anglo kids, he writes in his 2013 autobiography.

When the 16-year-old was setting off for CEGEP – the province’s new secular college system – he petitioned unsuccessfully to have a French-language institution opened on Montreal’s heavily anglophone West Island. In the end, he was forced to ride the commuter train to school, but got his revenge by provocatively thumbing through the separatist newspaper Le Jour while surrounded by readers of The Gazette.

Times were changing fast, for the future premier and the province: When the Parti Québécois was elected in 1976, a few months after Mr. Legault’s 19th birthday, they promptly brought in legislation requiring businesses to allow employees to work in French, opening a range of careers to francophones who had been largely unable to climb the English corporate ladder.

After graduating from the prestigious HEC business school, Mr. Legault went to work for the accounting firm Clarkson Gordon, epitome of Canada’s WASP establishment. The province was witnessing the growth of a parallel, French-speaking business firmament, led by entrepreneurs and buttressed by the state in the form of investments by government and public pension funds, which would eventually be known as Quebec Inc. It was in this world that Mr. Legault made his mark.

Air Transat’s Philippe Sureau and Jean-Marc Eustache leave the airline’s annual general meeting in Toronto in 2007.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

While working for the struggling airline Quebecair in the mid-1980s, he met two other hard-driving young businessmen and decided to start the company that would become Air Transat. The partners were impressed by Mr. Legault’s facility with numbers – “He was a boy who could count,” said Philippe Sureau, one of the co-founders – and by his cocksure ambition.

In the era before Quebec’s Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, when the province rapidly modernized, there was an expression to describe a certain instinctive francophone humility: né pour un petit pain. Born to be a small fry, essentially. “He wasn’t that,” said Mr. Legault’s former colleague. “He thought he was a winner.”

Transat would grow to be a winner, too, thanks to a leg up from the Quebec state, and the massive quasi-governmental apparatus it had erected since the 1960s to help local business. The company first went public with the help of a program designed by PQ finance minister Jacques Parizeau that let taxpayers deduct the cost of buying shares in homegrown companies.

In the rocky early days, a $4-million investment from a massive capital pool created by the province’s biggest labour group and the provincial government in the early 1980s kept Transat liquid.

When the company was targeted by a hostile takeover attempt in the 1990s, it was the Caisse de dépôt et placement, a public pension fund and a key private equity backer for Quebec Inc., that helped design a poison-pill defence.

Despite his conservative leanings in other areas, Mr. Legault has often praised Quebec’s economic model, which prioritizes strong safety-net programs, such as universal daycare and prescription drug insurance, along with heavy state investment in the economy. No wonder he feels that way: From the CEGEP system to language laws to corporate aid, the Quebec government made Mr. Legault who he is.


Mr. Legault waits in line with his wife, Isabelle Brais, at the polls in L’Assomption on Sept. 25. Twenty-five years earlier, Mr. Legault’s exit from Air Transat made them wealthy and allowed them to buy a large Montreal mansion.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press


In 1997, Mr. Legault abruptly quit Air Transat and sold off his shares, after a disagreement with his other co-founder, Jean-Marc Eustache, over expansion plans in France. The postmaster’s son was now a wealthy man, and he started to live like it. He and his wife, Isabelle Brais, bought an eight-bedroom mansion in Outremont. He skied, played tennis, and became a bit of a wine connoisseur.

That life of ease made an awkward fit in an unsettled Quebec. The province had narrowly voted No in the independence referendum of 1995, and a PQ government led by Yes leader Lucien Bouchard presided over a reeling economy and embittered body politic.

At least since scandalizing the anglo salarymen with his choice of commuter-train newspaper, Mr. Legault had been drawn to the sovereigntist movement. He held his convictions close to his chest while running Transat – Mr. Sureau says he had no idea how Mr. Legault voted in their years working together – but when politics came calling, there was no question of whose colours he would wear.

The call finally came from Bouchard adviser Jean-François Lisée, who was hunting for business-minded candidates to bolster the party’s economic credentials in the coming election.

Mr. Legault may have been a sober-sided corporate accountant, but when it came time to win a seat in the fall 1998 campaign, he was also happy to fuel the fire of linguistic tension. During a speech to his riding association, attended by the former journalist and onetime federal Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser, the future Premier told the audience that he had grown up surrounded by anglophones in Montreal’s West Island, “and I hate them as much as you do.”

“Here was a millionaire business executive speaking to a rural and small-town audience and saying, rather awkwardly, ‘Hey I’m just like you,’ ” Mr. Fraser recalled recently. (A spokesperson said Mr. Legault remembers talking about a rivalry between English- and French-speaking hockey teams in his hometown, adding that in Mr. Legault’s youth it was almost impossible to be served in French at the local mall.)

The boy who could count was not intimidated by the financial consequences of Quebec independence, as some of his comrades were. He authored a prospective Year One budget for a sovereign Quebec, and was impatient for a third referendum, according to several former colleagues.

He was also impatient for power. When Lucien Bouchard resigned as premier in 2001, Mr. Legault, then education minister, was regarded within the Parti Québécois government as a “solid second-line player,” Mr. Lisée said. That didn’t stop him from seriously considering a bid for leader. The night of Mr. Bouchard’s resignation, Mr. Legault rented an entire restaurant on the Grande Allée in Quebec City to discuss his chances, said Pascal Bérubé, a PQ member of the National Assembly who was then on Mr. Legault’s staff.

Premier Lucien Bouchard wipes away tears before his resignation speech in Quebec City in 2001.Didier Debusschere/Reuters

In his pursuit of power, Mr. Legault was highly sensitive to critical media coverage, often charting his course according to the headlines of the day, said Mr. Bédard, who recently wrote an essay for l’Inconvénient magazine about his time working with Mr. Legault.

A common-enough story in politics, maybe, but Mr. Legault was motivated to placate the press in part by his self-conception as a “pragmatist” who disdained abstract ideas and could find a grand synthesis to any problem.

One recurring issue that Mr. Legault dismissed on those grounds was the “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities. Some parties, notably the conservative Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), won support by calling for restrictions on religious practices in the name of secularism.

At the time, Mr. Legault took little interest in the subject. His obsession in politics, he has often said, is to see Quebec close its wealth gap with Ontario. He seemed to feel “contempt” for the more romantic kind of nationalists who fought for ethereal Quebec values, said Mr. Bédard. “For him, it was almost a nationalism of losers – of lamentation.”

Increasingly, the Parti Québécois also seemed to be a party of losers. By 2009, it had been in opposition for six years. In June of that year, he resigned from the National Assembly and began his second short-lived retirement.


CAQ supporters celebrate in Quebec City on Oct. 1, 2018, the election night that brought Mr. Legault to the premiership. He had run twice before as CAQ leader before that, in 2012 and 2014.Chris Wattie/Reuters


Of course, the politics bug hadn’t left his system yet. One of the people he asked for advice was the political scientist and former president of the ADQ, Guy Laforest. The academic offered a little lesson in Quebec’s political history, doubling as a cautionary tale.

Despite their ups and downs, the Liberals had been the province’s dominant party for a century, he said. Two new parties had sprung up to challenge their hegemony in that time: Maurice Duplessis’s Union Nationale in the 1930s and René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois in the 1960s.

As Mr. Laforest saw it, those parties had succeeded by presenting themselves as defenders of Quebec identity and thus dominating the traditional bleu side of the spectrum. His own upstart ADQ had erred by trying to defeat the Liberals on economic grounds first, where the rouge side was seen as stronger. “What I told him is that, if there’s one thing to learn from the history of the ADQ, it was to implant yourself in the nationalist, autonomist terrain,” said Mr. Laforest.

It was unintuitive advice for a hard-headed businessman who found the province’s fiery conversation about religion and immigration tedious, if not distasteful. Nevertheless, Mr. Legault would eventually heed that advice.

In his first two elections as leader of the CAQ, in 2012 and 2014, Mr. Legault presented the party as an alternative to the old trench warfare of sovereigntist against federalist, and vowed to focus on making Quebec more prosperous with bread-and-butter policies. His 2013 autobiography, Cap sur un Québec gagnant (On course for a winning Quebec), laid out a plan to make the province an export-driven innovation economy. Identity issues took a back seat – and Mr. Legault watched as the Liberals and PQ traded power again, as they had since the 1970s.

People protest against Bill 21 outside Mr. Legault’s Montreal office in 2020.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

2018 would be different. The CAQ made a decisive bid for the conservative, nationalist bleu vote, proposing lower levels of immigration and a Quebec “values” tests for newcomers – and won a majority. Mr. Legault would not waste this crack at real, national power.

His first major piece of legislation, Bill 21, tackled a subject he had expressed contempt for just a few short years earlier. It bans civil servants in positions of “coercive” authority, such as teachers and police officers, from wearing visible religious symbols.

Those who had worked with Mr. Legault in his earlier incarnation as a managerial numbers-cruncher were puzzled. “Either he was converted,” said Mr. Bédard, “or there was a bit of opportunism.”

Passing a law about the religious attire of individuals may have been a strategic manoeuvre by Mr. Legault. But it was permitted by a political culture that gives Quebec governments wider latitude to legislate on areas of life considered sacrosanct in other parts of the country.

The francophone sense of embattlement in North America produces a tendency to see the state as a natural protector of the French language and a certain idea of Quebec culture, said Francine Pelletier, a filmmaker and political analyst.

“We defend the Gaulois village.“

Mr. Legault gets a COVID-19 booster from Kenza Kias in Montreal this past August.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The pandemic swallowed the rest of Mr. Legault’s policy agenda for the next two years, but brought the province into intimate contact with Legault the man – and Quebec liked what it saw.

The Premier’s plain way of speaking and reassuring manner were piped into millions of living rooms daily during COVID-19 briefings, and no amount of horrifying news could dampen viewers’ affection for the deep voice and furrowed brow delivering it. An extraordinary 94 per cent of Quebeckers said they were satisfied with his performance in one March, 2020, Leger poll.

The heights of his popularity were all the more striking because of the unusual burdens Mr. Legault placed on Quebeckers in the name of public health. Twice he imposed a nighttime curfew that had no parallel in Canada, and for months at a time in the lockdown winters, it was illegal for most people to enter another person’s home.

With political capital to burn and the opposition splintered between four viable parties, Mr. Legault could do just about anything he wanted. Rather than turning to his long-cherished project of unleashing Quebec’s economic animal spirits, however, the Premier embraced another identity issue, this one closer to his heart.

People take part in an anti-Bill-96 protest in Montreal this past May.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Bill 96, passed this spring, is designed to strengthen the place of French in Quebec by limiting the use of English in medium-sized businesses, the courts, colleges, and the delivery of government services. Again, from a political perspective, Mr. Legault’s issue was well-chosen. Not only did the framing reprise his childhood snowball fights with anglophones, it responded to the belief among 75 per cent of francophones that French is in danger, said Mario Polèse, professor emeritus at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique.

The rise of English as the global lingua franca – which Quebeckers confront every time they fire up YouTube or Netflix – has helped revive perennial anxiety about the viability of a small French-speaking society in a vast English-speaking continent. So has the cold, hard data from Statistics Canada, released on the eve of the election campaign, showing the share of francophones gradually declining in Quebec.

He may have set aside the dream of sovereignty, but Mr. Legault has no particular love for Canada. When asked about the possibility of an independence referendum last year, he simply said there is no path to victory. When prodded to say what he appreciates about the country, he once responded: equalization payments, some social programs and a few good hockey teams.

Ever the skillful marketer, Mr. Legault has steered the province toward a position it finds comfortable: turned inward, within Canada, defended by a strong, paternal state.

“Quebeckers are fine being between the two chairs,” said Jean-François Lisée, the former Bouchard adviser (and later Parti Québécois leader).

“The PQ always tries to pull them onto the Quebec chair, the Liberals always try to pull them onto the Canada chair. He says, ‘No, you’re fine right here!’ Quebeckers say, ‘Finally someone understands me!’ ”

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10 Must-Read Novels About Asian American Politics

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In Ryan Wong’s daring and generous debut novel, Which Side Are You On, Columbia University student Reed informs his parents that he’s dropping out of college and dedicating himself to grassroots organizing—for the past few months, he’s been protesting the killing of an unarmed Black man by an Asian American police officer. He’s adamant to learn everything he can about his Korean mother’s involvement in a Black-Korean coalition in the 1980s, so that he may use it to impress his other activist friends and fuel their current work. But the stories recounted by his mother and the discussions they engender—all carefully laid out in electric, and occasionally heartrending, dialogue between mother and son—start to affect Reed’s clear-cut views, revealing to him the many difficulties of organizing across cultures, and hinting at the importance of empathy and humanity in the effort to fully understand one’s community.

You might not know that “Asian American” is a relatively new term, only about fifty years old. You likely don’t know the term was coined by student leftists to join a coalition of Chicano, Black, and American Indian movements on Bay Area campuses in 1968. You might not think of Asian American Pacific Islanders as political as all, and this is largely because that history has largely been ignored or erased in favor of the tame, assimilationist “model minority” narrative.

Today, as we face intense anti-Asian violence, ongoing U.S. militarism in Asia, rapidly shifting migration patterns, and a crisis of American racial identity, it might help us to examine the political nature of Asian America through some of its most compelling narratives. Here’s a selection of ten novels that expand upon, challenge, and imagine futures for this young identity. They’re stories of rebels and revolutionaries, organizers and outsiders taking histories into their own hands.

1. I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita

This sprawling, 700+ page epic pays tribute to the Asian American Movement that defined this new identity. It was written decades later, but has all of the humor, bite, hope, and surrealism you might expect from a novel of vignettes set in the Bay Area of the 1960s and ’70s—scenes of Black Panthers and young Asian American radicals in a hotel room in Chinatown, of an Alcatraz Island takeover, of free folk concerts in Golden Gate Park, and, of course, of the demonstrations to save that hotbed of organizing and elder care and arts making, the I Hotel.

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2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The narrator of this novel talks to you, but the “you” of it is an ambiguous American who is in Lahore, Pakistan, for unknown reasons—to befriend the narrator, to kill him, or both. Like the confessor in Camus’s The Fall, we get a frank and revealing series of tales, but instead of the existential angst of the judge we have the racial existentialism of the man trying to belong in a world that won’t have him. It’s a reminder that often fundamentalists scorn the very systems in which they once came close to belonging.

3. Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

Can a novel about Japanese war atrocities in the Philippines be funny? An early scene has protagonist Vince watching a maudlin drama on the airplane back to the Philippines (which he left for the U.S. 13 years before) about a convent during the Japanese invasion. To speak about the unspeakable, you may need the absurdities that pop culture makes possible, the distance of humor. The Manila of Leche is a hazy hell, but also one full of pathos and heart, and it leads Vince exactly where he needs to go.

4. Guerrillas by V. S. Naipaul

What would the Asian diaspora in the Americas be without Naipaul’s Trinidad, which he left to attend Oxford only to revisit again and again in his writing? Guerrillas takes place on an unnamed island on the eve of revolution. Naipaul is one of the original problematic faves—his sexual politics are horrifying, his view of revolution condescending. Yet he’s one of the greats at showing the extreme bifurcations that colonialism and diaspora perform on the human mind, whether the white liberal’s paternalism or the would-be revolutionary’s deluded egoism.

5. Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn

This isn’t an “Asian American” story in the usual sense, but America’s presence is like a long shadow, a bogeyman, an uninvited dinner guest in this kaleidoscopic story of 1950s Manila. In other words, American stories happen anywhere America’s military and political presence rule, and their tacit condoning of the rise of an unnamed dictator and his glamorous first lady form the story’s backdrop. Hagedorn’s sentences bite and her scenes steam with heat as you follow this network of characters asking what they’ll do with their new-found “independence.”

6. Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee

This novel is often remembered as a portrait of a son and his working immigrant father. But it’s also a novel of politics, where some of the most tender and dynamic moments are between the narrator, Henry Park, and the city councilman John Kwang, who he’s assigned to spy on. John is charismatic and idealistic, a foil to Henry’s mercenary pragmatism. One of the crucial plot points revolves around a Korean money circle, or ggeh, one of the main ways Korean businesses survive, but to the U.S. state looks like money laundering. The novel asks what it means to succeed in a country designed to destroy you, to be loyal to people sent to undo you.

7. America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan

Somewhere between novel and autobiography, America Is in the Heart has all the sweep, heroism, and tragedy of the old epics. We follow the narrator, also named Carlos, from his youth in the Philippines to the fields of California to the canneries of Alaska, where, witnessing the brutality against Filipinos by police, bosses, and business owners, he becomes radicalized. He joins socialist and communist groups, organizes with unions, and publishes poetry and essays on his experiences, the culmination of which is this monumental book.

8. The Winged Seed by Li-Young Lee

Lee’s father was jailed under the regime of President Sukarno in Indonesia. That traumatic event shows up in Lee’s poetry and is a central feature of this poem-novel-memoir-myth of his family’s migration story. The book is called a “remembrance” and it reads like a dream, or, often, a nightmare, as the ravages of persecution and exile, of otherness and violence, manifest within and between Lee’s family members. History and displacement haunt this prose, every sentence drops like a stone, and the smallest moment sends you reeling to the past.

9. Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

Dense yet sprawling, this experimental book traces Korean independence martyr Yu Gwansun through the stories of other mythic women martyrs in history. Cha was a visual artist, writer, and performer—a brilliant polymath who was murdered just as this book was published. Dictee shows what a book can be, that it’s capacious enough to contain photographs, verse, myth, and anything else the writer needs to assemble in order to speak about a fractured history.

10. The Hanging on Union Square by H. T. Hsiang

It’s not hard to see why Hsiang had trouble finding a publisher for this oddball novel that reads something like a screenplay or a novel-in-verse but without the respective plot or lyricism that usually accompanies those forms. But he had the foresight to self-publish it in 1935, and it’s a good thing he did, because he offers a portrait of the vibrant and rough life in Greenwich Village through the eyes of Mr. Nut, who becomes politicized by the grind of the down-and-outs. He seems compelled by some manic force, conveyed through the novel’s prose—a heady mix of bohemianism and radicalism pushing the lines forward.

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Justin Trudeau says he’s ‘absolutely serene and confident’ he made right decision to invoke Emergencies Act

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ended his testimony at the inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act on Friday by saying politics had nothing to do with his government’s decision to invoke the legislation.

“My motivation was entirely about ensuring the safety of Canadians,” he said just before 4 p.m. ET in response to a question from government lawyer Brian Gover.

“My secondary motivation was making sure Canadians continue to have confidence in their institutions and society’s ability to function and enforce the rule of law when it’s not being respected. Politics was not the motivation at all in the invocation of the Emergencies Act.”

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Commissioner Paul Rouleau then asked the lawyers for various stakeholders if they had any other questions. When they said they did not, Mr. Rouleau thanked Mr. Trudeau for his testimony, which began just after 9:30 a.m. ET.

“Well, Prime Minister, I am very pleased to be able to tell you we have completed our work for the day with you,” he said.

Earlier Friday, Mr. Trudeau said the threats to Canada’s national security from last winter’s convoy protests were both economic and violent, and before he invoked the Emergencies Act the premiers were unable to suggest any alternative to using the sweeping powers to end the protracted demonstrations.

The Prime Minister was the final witness to testify at the inquiry studying the act’s use. Mr. Trudeau made the ultimate decision to invoke the never-before-used act on his own on Feb. 14, with the goal of ending protests that gridlocked the capital and jammed several border crossings across Canada.

“I am absolutely, absolutely serene and confident that I made the right choice,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Senior Political Reporter Marieke Walsh, Marsha McLeod and Deputy Ottawa Bureau Chief Bill Curry

 

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‘Bad humour’ and short fuses: How politicians’ texts played out at the Emergencies Act inquiry

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The public inquiry investigating the federal government’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act in February has seen a huge number of documents that otherwise would never see the light of day — including politicians’ private texts exposing some embarrassing, and enlightening, conversations.

Politics is a profession prone to carefully crafted statements and rhetoric, so the text messages offered rare insights into the thought process of many key politicians — and a glimpse at tensions between governments.

Here are some of the stand-out text exchanges from the past few weeks.

‘Screwed the pooch’

According to text messages that Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Jason Kenney wrote, the then-premier of Alberta accused the federal government of not caring about the Canada-United States border closure in Coutts, Alta.

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Around dawn on Feb. 14, the RCMP arrested more than a dozen Coutts protesters and seized a cache of weapons, body armour and ammunition — just hours before the Emergencies Act was invoked.

Anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators gather as a truck convoy blocks the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta. on Feb. 1, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

According to the messages LeBlanc shared with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino three days earlier, Kenney accused the federal government of leaving the provinces holding the bag on protest enforcement.

The texts were brought up during Mendicino’s testimony and were in documents released by the inquiry this week.

In the texts attributed to Kenney, he also complained about the federal decision to decline Alberta’s request for military equipment that could help remove protesters’ vehicles.

One message said — in an apparent reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — that “your guy has really screwed the pooch.”

“Speaking of bonkers,” Alghabra wrote in his text exchange with LeBlanc and Mendicino, apparently in reference to some of Kenney’s texts.

“Totally,” LeBlanc replied.

Ontario’s Sylvia Jones gives a cold response

The commission also got a glimpse of a testy call between Mendicino and Ontario’s solicitor general at the time, Sylvia Jones, about how to handle last winter’s convoy protests. Their conversation apparently included some colourful language.

Mendicino’s chief of staff Mike Jones and Samantha Khalil, director of issues management at the Prime Minister’s Office, discussed wanting Jones at the table during trilateral meetings.

“Can have my boss reach out again [to Sylvia Jones] but last call got pretty frosty at the end when [Mendicino] was saying we need the province to get back to us with their plan,” wrote Jones.

“‘I don’t take edicts from you, you’re not my f–king boss,” the staffer continued, describing Jones’ response.

‘Tanks’ text was a joke – Lametti

Mendicino was party to more than one text conversation that came up during the inquiry. One exchange with Justice Minister David Lametti generated some controversy during the inquiry hearings.

In that text exchange, Lametti told Mendicino he needed to “get the police to move” and secure support from the Canadian Armed Forces, if necessary.

“How many tanks are you asking for,” Mendicino wrote back.

“I just wanna ask Anita how many we’ve got on hand,” he added, referring to Defence Minister Anita Anand.

“I reckon one will do!” Lametti texted back.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was party to more than one text conversation that came up during the inquiry. In this one from Feb. 2, he and Justice Minister David Lametti joked about calling in the Canadian Armed Forces. (Public Order Emergency Commission exhibit)

During his testimony at the inquiry, Lametti said he wasn’t calling for the deployment of the army and described the exchange as banter with a colleague and a friend.

“There will be occasional attempts at bad humour,” he said.

Lametti calls Ottawa police chief ‘incompetent’

A separate exchange of texts between Lametti and Mendicino appeared during Lametti’s testimony.

In those messages, Lametti shared some criticism of former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, who resigned during the occupation of the city’s downtown streets last winter.

“They just need to exercise it and do their job,” texted Mendicino, referring to the Ottawa Police Service’s authority to enforce the law.

“I was stunned by the lack of a multilayered plan,” Lametti responded. “Sloly is incompetent.”

While Lametti said he’d now soften his language about Sloly, he told the inquiry he had to move out of his Ottawa residence during the protest to avoid harassment.

“I was frustrated, I have to admit,” he said. “It is frank.”

Trudeau, Blair take aim at Ford

During a private call with then-Ottawa mayor Jim Watson in early February, Trudeau accused Ontario Premier Doug Ford of hiding from his responsibilities as the streets of the nation’s capital were gridlocked by the protest.

 

Text messages between Emergency Prepadreness Minister Bill Blair and his chief of staff were entered into evidence at the Emergencies Act inquiry on Monday. (Public Order Emergency Commission exhibit)

 

The inquiry had access to a readout of that call — which is not an exact transcript of the conversation.

“Doug Ford has been hiding from his responsibility on it for political reasons, as you highlighted,” Trudeau said.

“Important we don’t let them get away from that.”

The prime minister wasn’t alone in criticizing Ford. Text messages from Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair to his chief of staff also shared a few choice words about the premier.

“I am embarrassed for my former profession. And worried for my government which is being made to look weak and ineffective,” Blair, a former Toronto police chief, said in a text message.

“I can’t believe that I’m hoping Doug Ford will save us.”

Government ‘is losing … confidence in OPS’

Politicians weren’t the only ones seeing their private text exchanges aired in public.

A text message from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki released to the inquiry said the federal government was already losing confidence in the Ottawa police just one week into the massive protest.

The Feb. 5 texts were between Lucki — who was in a meeting with federal ministers at the time — and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique.

Text messages between RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique were also brought up during the inquiry. Lucki’s texts are in blue. (POEC)

“Trying to calm them down, but not easy when they see cranes, structures, horses bouncing castles in downtown Ottawa,” she wrote.

She also provided insight into the government’s thinking at the time, adding that she or Carrique might be called in if the government invoked the Emergencies Act.

“Between you and I only, (Government of Canada) is losing (or) lost confidence in OPS, we gotta get to safe action (or) enforcement,” Lucki texted Carrique.

‘Friendly fire’

In one text exchange with Mendicino’s chief of staff, Serge Arpin, who was chief of staff to Mayor Watson, criticized Blair for saying the lack of enforcement was “somewhat inexplicable.”

“But it is friendly fire from you guys – don’t kid yourself,” Arpin wrote.

In a separate text in the same exchange, Arpin told Mike Jones that the RCMP was “lying to you flat out” about the police resources available.

Arpin told the inquiry that comment was the product of exasperation.

“Extraordinary frustration of having to tell the mayor that our residents who are now onto day 14 or 13 of the demonstration and we’re not seeing any meaningful progress in terms of additional bodies on the ground assisting [the Ottawa Police Service] with the operation,” he testified.

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