The new leader is getting a whirlwind of media attention that has been largely uncritical of his far-right comments and history.
While a step forward, the law is probably still two years away, and will be hotly contested.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Éric Duhaime has been the talk of the town ever since he traded his studio microphone for a podium.
The controversial radio host and past Rebel Media correspondent was recently elected as the new leader of the Conservative Party of Québec, currently unrepresented in the National Assembly, with an astounding 95% of ballots cast.
Since then, media outlets have been scrambling to host him for an interview.
On the first day of his leadership, Duhaime took to Facebook to publish a picture of his schedule, flaunting a number of interviews with some of the biggest names in Québec media.
These interviews more often than not featured a chummy, conversational tone between Duhaime and his interviewers, some of which have shared the air with Duhaime in the past.
Speaking to Nathalie Normandeau, an ex-cabinet minister who co-hosted a show with him from 2015 to 2016, Duhaime was showered with praise, with a guest host going as far as to describe him as “one of the best political analysts in Québec.”
Then, in conversation with Richard Martineau, Duhaime was given the opportunity to lay out his vision for a conservative, nationalist movement in Québec, all while denying his rhetoric attracts conspiracists and hateful elements.
His controversial stances on public health measures to address the ongoing pandemic were often discussed in these interviews. However, his history of making racist and inflammatory statements was ignored without exception.
On the air, Duhaime has expressed his belief that the Black community has "few heroes it can be proud of," compared sexual assault to car theft, denied the existence of systemic racism, and said that Islam seeks to "dominate the world," all the while downplaying Islamophobic hate crimes.
His time spent with Rebel Media was also overlooked.
As an employee of the far-right outlet from 2017 to 2018, Duhaime provided favourable coverage to French far-right politicians, peddled disinformation regarding a non-binding motion to condemn Islamophobia, and collaborated with Faith Goldy.
Duhaime (right) with Faith Goldy (left). Source: Youtube
This media tour culminated on Sunday with an appearance on Tout le monde en parle, the most popular talk show in the province.
In contrast with other interviewers, host Guy A. Lepage consistently challenged Duhaime’s views, even pushing him to walk back a past statement in which he advocated for a system where only those who pay taxes have the right to vote.
This did not stop Duhaime’s supporters from claiming “victory” on social media, all the while complaining about the unfair treatment reserved to their candidate.
Duhaime himself addressed the interview in a tweet, writing that “it is better to win in adversity than to win with the referee on your side,” a day after its airing.
Some worry that Duhaime’s name recognition, media savvy and populist rhetoric will help the fringe conservative party gain unprecedented momentum, particularly in light of widespread public discontent amidst a brutal third wave.
A spokesperson for Coalition sortons les radios poubelles (Coalition To Take Out Trash Radio), an organization seeking to raise awareness of hate speech on the air in Québec, spoke with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network under the pseudonym Étienne Lanthier. He believes granting a platform to Duhaime without discussing the stances he defended in the past is dangerous.
“The greatest risk is for Duhaime’s ideas to be trivialized, to become mainstream, and for the Overton window to shift rightwards towards the far-right ideas he has always defended.”
The Overton window refers to the scope of speech deemed acceptable in a given cultural setting.
Lanthier adds that mainstream journalists seem reluctant to shine a light on the role Duhaime - along with other populist media personalities - in spreading reactionary politics in Québec.
“We must hope that journalists will be interested in closely examining Duhaime’s ideas. Not just the ones he is whitewashing at the moment, but the ones he preached before he decided to run for the leadership of a political party.”
Since its foundation in 2009, the CPQ has faced an uphill battle connecting with Québec’s electorate. In 2018, only 1.46% of voters cast ballots in their favour, leaving them unrepresented in the National Assembly.
However, in only a few months, Duhaime’s candidacy attracted thousands of new supporters, which helped lift the PCQ’s membership from a few hundred members to 14,000.
Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), the party currently forming government, has about 11,000 members, though the two largest opposition parties, the Liberal Party and Parti Québécois, reportedly have 20,000 and 40,000 respectively.
Duhaime has also proven to be an efficient fundraiser capable of raising thousands of dollars with short notice.
His experience as a political advisor and as an advisor to the likes of Stockwell Day and Gilles Duceppe, makes this recent foray back into electoral politics all the more concerning.
‘His experience, formation and skills make him one of the most proficient communicators in Québec. He has the means and the capacity to mobilize and to convince people to support him,’ said Lanthier when asked about Duhaime’s odds of succeeding in Québec politics.
The next provincial election in Québec will take place on or before October 3, 2022.