The art of the possible promise

The art of the possible promise

The art of the possible promise

Photo: Jacques Boissinot The Canadian Press Quebec Premier François Legault answering reporters' questions about 4-year-old kindergarten on Wednesday.

The leader of the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), François Legault, did not want to be caught again. He made 33 promises during the 2022 election campaign, up from 251 four years earlier, including the flagship promise to “deploy[y] a universal network of kindergartens accessible to all 4-year-olds”.

< p>“To the future prime minister, which of your campaign promises are you willing to make a commitment to step down if you don't keep it?” asked journalist Patrice Roy during the Great Leaders' Debate 2018 — after putting on his glasses and scanning the “very good question” of voter Jacques Audette, who had managed to find his way to the Maison de Radio-Canada.

“I'm glad you asked the question because, for me, I would only do politics for 4-year-old kindergarten, because we need to act early for children who have learning difficulties, disabilities attention span, dysphasia, dyslexia, autism,” Legault replied when his turn came. “So we're going to screen before 4 years old, then we're going to start providing services in 4-year-old kindergartens. None of the other parties can guarantee that all 4-year-olds are going to have services. The CAQ will do it,” he continued while pointing to his political opponents around him.

—Would you put your seat on the line?

—Yes, a- he confirmed.

Prime Minister François Legault admitted this week that the Quebec state would not be able to create all the kindergarten classes it wanted by the end of the year, as he promised hand on heart in 2018, and this , mainly due to the shortage of premises and staff in the education network. “No one is obligated to the impossible,” he said, citing the advice of his wife, Isabelle Brais.

Laval University political science professor Thierry Giasson seen by screen interposed a “contriated” politician. “I haven't often heard politicians use this expression, 'At the impossible, no one is obliged'”, he remarked in an exchange with Le Devoir. “Mr. Legault hit before he was hit. […] He was able to frame the reality, the context, provide explanations and determine the next steps. There, the framing that is presented is: the context does not allow us to deliver the promise,” explains the political communication specialist. “From a communication point of view, it's a pretty impeccable strategy,” he adds, going so far as to describe the members of Mr. Legault's communications team as “masters of framing”. p>

Certain members of the CAQ consulted by Le Devoirhowever, fear hearing about it for years from opposition parties.

“Obstacles facing executive power can […] be subject to a form of instrumentalization, allowing to 'avoid blame' while justifying the abandonment of the promise”, write European researchers Isabelle Guinaudeau and Simon Persico in a scholarly article, while emphasizing that election promises “raise hopes that live up to the disappointments that sanction [those] not kept”.

François Legault wrote a new page — “breaking a promise, offering explanations” — in the “big book” on the exercise of power of a “new kind” prime minister, which he may insert after the one beginning with “making a mistake, presenting apologies,” smiles his ex-political adviser Pascal Mailhot.

But was the CAQ knowingly promising the impossible when it said it could offer 4-year-old kindergarten everywhere in Quebec within five years? No, he replies. “We believed in it”, assures the editor of the CAQ electoral platform (2018) then director of strategic planning at the Prime Minister's Office (2018-2022). “With the limited means of a second opposition,” he clarifies.

Unnecessarily detailed promise

It is “perilous” for an opposition political party to put forward “such complex commitments”, says Mr. Mailhot, who now serves as vice-president at the Tact agency.

François Legault's team took full measure of the challenges posed by the lack of space and staff in schools only after taking over from the State. Civil servants sensitized the government to the space problem, then to the personnel problem… and COVID-19 hit. And the CAQ found itself trapped.

Curiously, the CAQ seems to have offered more than what voters asked for by committing to set up more than 2,500 kindergarten classes for 4-year-olds across Quebec.

Resistance was strong. The outcry from other political parties, starting with the Parti Québécois, which feared the dismantling of the network of childcare centers (CPE) in favor of 4-year-old kindergartens, did not help.

< p>For Québec solidaire co-spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the 4-year-old kindergarten project is neither more nor less than an “obsession of the Prime Minister”. “A badly put together, unrealistic project whose failure was foreseeable,” he tweeted, stinging the close guard of the head of government.

“To oppose 4-year-old kindergarten for Quebec children as the opposition does, it's shameful. Especially for so-called progressives. Rejoicing in the difficulties encountered in setting them up is even worse,” replied Special Adviser Stéphane Gobeil behind his white tiger avatar.

That said, parents disappointed with the slowness of the kindergarten construction 4-year-olds can console themselves by thinking of the “few intellectuals”, according to Mr. Legault, shocked by the pure and simple abandonment of the CAQ's promise to dust off the voting system.

The population can- She still believe politicians' promises? “Yes, because politicians deliver on their promises. All the studies show it, ”replies tit for tat Professor Thierry Giasson. Moreover, the CAQ government had fulfilled 80% of its 251 promises in whole or in part, according to the Polimètre Legault, which had been developed by the Center for the Analysis of Public Policies at Laval University in order to follow the situation. evolution of the electoral promises made by the CAQ. “Political speech means something. If you don't deliver on your promises, you can't be re-elected. So there is an obsession with delivery,” adds Mr. Giasson.

Talk to Pascal Mailhot.