MONTREAL — Quebec Premier François Legault delivered a nationalist speech to his party's youth wing on Sunday, capping off a weekend-long convention where he touted cohesion in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is not the time in Quebec to divide," Legault said. "It's time to defend our social cohesion."
Legault told the Coalition Avenir Quebec convention in the provincial capital that he sees the party as a fortress against the more radical elements of society, including those who oppose COVID-19 health measures and vaccines.
He answered his party members' questions during the event, but refused to speak to media on site.
Legault told party members that voters who elected the Coalition Avenir Quebec in 2018 voted for a nationalist party that would defend the province's French language and values.
"We are the party in Quebec who stands up for our nation," Legault said, adding that his party would be the nationalist party in the upcoming provincial election in 2022.
The premier has faced backlash recently from critics who accused him of telling Quebecers who to vote for in Monday's federal election, after he called the Liberals "dangerous" for Quebec and strongly suggested he would prefer a Conservative minority government.
Legault said his intention was not to tell Quebecers who to vote for, but said he wants Quebec to have more autonomy and power after describing himself as a nationalist.
He asked young party members to consider the fact that, according to him, three parties — the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens — would interfere in matters that fall under provincial purview.
"They want to interfere in our jurisdiction," Legault said.
Ahead of Monday's election, Legault said the federal parties have "bragged about intervening in a very important jurisdiction, health, which he said should be Quebec's responsibility."
He denounced the willingness of "certain parties" to offer Quebec money with conditions.
"The federal government must contribute to health care," Legault said, asking for an additional $6 billion annually to meet his province's needs. "What Quebec needs is not more officials in Ottawa, but more nurses in Quebec."
The youth convention's theme centred on pride in being a Quebecer.
Party members took positions in favour of the creation of a museum on Quebec's national history and the enhancement of heritage buildings.
They also advocated for the development of a syllabus on Quebec literature, more mental health services for young people and better treatment of municipal wastewater.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2021.
Jocelyne Richer, The Canadian Press