Photo: Francis Vachon Le Devoir
Isabelle Porter, Marie-Michèle Sioui, Alexandre Robillard, François Carabin
September 16, 2023
Prime Minister François Legault admitted in the spring to having made decisions that “disappointed” MPs and citizens. His government has resumed parliamentary work by relaunching delicate files. The CAQ troops are proposing two major reforms, in health and education, in the difficult context of negotiations with the public sector. The by-election in Jean-Talon on October 2 fuels tensions between the parties in the National Assembly. And in the polls, the star of the Coalition Avenir Québec is starting to fade. Will the new parliamentary session also cause disappointments?
The Drainville brand
The Minister of Education, Bernard Drainville, experienced his baptism of fire. He asked for help to alleviate the teacher shortage. Juggled with themes of non-binarity and transidentity. Received criticism about the heat in the classrooms – where pieces of the ceiling sometimes fell. The fall does not look any calmer: the elected official must conduct a detailed study of Bill 23, which presents his reform. The opposition to this proposal, which would have the effect of concentrating many powers in the hands of the minister, comes from several fronts. University professors see this as an attack on their freedom of teaching. School boards, a violation of the constitutional rights of the English-speaking community. A group of experts resigned en bloc after the presentation of the reform. Even the work carried out beforehand has sparked controversy. The minister's teams are working on amendments to the bill, but do not intend to modify its objectives. The minister wants to establish a culture of accountability in the network — he wants to appoint, and dismiss, if necessary, the directors general of school service centers. He also remains focused on the creation of the National Institute of Excellence in Education and calls for better access to data from Quebec schools. Its reform could also take another turn. Informed of cases of sexual misconduct in schools, Mr. Drainville said he was considering amending his bill to urgently address the problems identified in a devastating report he unveiled earlier this month. As for the directive he promised to implement to ban the use of cell phones in class in public schools, it is still awaited.
< b>This text is published via our Perspectives section.
The takeoff of the Santé Québec agency
Bill 15 on the Santé Québec agency has been under the microscope of parliamentarians for already a month in Quebec. But it was only this week that they tackled one of the most delicate aspects of the reform: the obligations of specialist doctors. If the reform is carried out, they will be more accountable to the medical director of their region. Thus, even if they are self-employed, the latter could force them to devote a certain number of hours of their week to this or that, failing which they would lose their right to practice in the region (this is what we call “special medical activities”, or “AMP” in the jargon). Even if this measure may seem like a declaration of war against doctors, the Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, is very confident and welcomes the “quality” of the exchanges he has with the Federation of Medical Specialists in parallel with what is happening in Parliament. Will MPs have time to study the 1180 articles of the bill within the timetable set by the minister? Christian Dubé wants the new agency to be operational from the spring… Opposition deputies have feared a gag order from the start, but decided to play the game anyway and reached the 200th article milestone this week. The minister repeats that Bill 15 will indirectly resolve a series of problems by giving “levers” to “managers”. But faced with waiting lists for surgery and elsewhere, the link between the two remains very intangible.
Cultural security recognized
Three years after the death of Joyce Echaquan, the Minister responsible for Relations with First Nations and Inuit, Ian Lafrenière, is leading the delicate issue of cultural security in health. With his Bill 32, he wants to force network employees to “take into account” the “cultural and historical realities” of Indigenous people “in any interaction with them.” ” It's difficult. It was tough. And personal in parts,” the minister said on Thursday, after two days of sometimes hectic consultations. He is against the exit of the College of Physicians, which has described its approach as “colonialist and paternalistic”. The leaders of the College arrived “giving me a moral lesson”, judges the elected official. “When I look at forced sterilizations, they have a role, a leadership: they cannot arrive by saying that they have nothing to do with it. » If the exercise that Mr. Lafrenière is carrying out is delicate, it is because the Legault government refuses to recognize the existence of systemic racism. For certain healthy groups and certain Indigenous representatives, this recognition is an essential condition in a process of cultural security. If it succeeds in legislating on the issue, Quebec will mark a first in Canada. Here as elsewhere in the country, the history between Aboriginal people and the health system is disastrous. Many Aboriginal people go to the hospital “reluctantly, late”: they “go to the emergency room and are stared at by the interview guy at the door, then by the auxiliary nurse, the nurse…” illustrates the surgeon Stanley Vollant. For this, among other things, Minister Lafrenière is staying the course. “I asked several people: should we stop? And the answer was no,” he attested. The consultations are now over, its teams must formulate amendments to the bill.
In search of energy
After years of having vast surpluses of electricity, Quebec is facing a brutal paradigm shift which continues to guide the action of the Minister of the Economy and Energy, Pierre Fitzgibbon. He recently indicated that Hydro-Québec's production might need to be doubled by adding 200 TWh to its capacity. The figure became clearer in the last year, before which additional needs were only estimated at “more than 100 TWh”. A bill that will reform the Hydro-Québec Act and the Energy Board Act is expected this fall. The objective is to modernize the supervision of electricity production. Mr Fitzgibbon raised the possibility of reviewing the pricing imposed on businesses. As for residential rates, Quebecers could be encouraged to be energy efficient through reduced rates associated with periods when demand is lower. It remains to be seen whether the provisions currently in force in Hydro-Québec's grid will be sufficient for this purpose. At the same time, negotiations are continuing with Newfoundland and Labrador for the renewal of the agreement which allows Hydro-Québec to purchase the production of the Churchill Falls power station, which expires in 2041. In the Atlantic province , where elections are planned by 2025, the stakes are high politically. Hydro-Québec is also examining the possibility of restarting the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant, but it is unlikely that its conclusions will be known this fall. A new call for tenders for wind energy could be launched in the next year. In another sector of the energy sector, the government must announce at the end of September a major investment from the Swedish company Northvolt, a manufacturer of battery cells, expected in Montérégie. Mr. Fitzgibbon described this project as the “biggest that Quebec has ever seen.”
The Fréchette reform put to the test
The time when it would have been “suicidal” for the French to raise immigration thresholds is far behind François Legault. Her Minister of Immigration, Christine Fréchette, did not wait to propose, in the spring, to increase the annual reception targets to 60,000 people by 2027. Since Tuesday, she has submitted this scenario for consultation in the framework of the commission on multi-year immigration planning. A plan B, which provides for maintaining the targets at their current level, is also on the table. But pressure from economic circles is already being felt. This week, the Quebec Employers' Council, the Federation of Quebec Chambers of Commerce and Quebec Manufacturers and Exporters, unsurprisingly, asked Minister Fréchette to opt for an upward scenario. Even the French language commissioner, Benoît Dubreuil, gave the green light to an increase in thresholds, provided that a sufficient proportion of economic immigrants chosen by Quebec use the language of Molière in public spaces and at work. Christine Fréchette will not be able to wait. At the end of the consultations, on September 28, it will have barely a month left to submit its immigration plan for 2024-2027. Then there are the temporary ones. Since the tabling of the new government immigration strategy, the opposition in Parliament has criticized the Coalition Avenir Québec for having forgotten the approximately 370,000 non-permanent residents who have temporarily taken up residence in Quebec. How can we integrate them despite the housing shortage? she asks. And how can we protect the French language if temporary workers and students have no language requirements to meet?
Negotiations with the public sector
The expected clash between public sector unions and the Legault government will be difficult to avoid this fall. “I still have concerns when I hear certain union leaders threaten a strike,” said Prime Minister François Legault on September 8, during his party’s caucus in Saguenay. Four days later, the unions carried out their threats. The common front, which represents 420,000 employees in the public and parapublic sectors, announced that it would consult its members starting Monday on a possible work stoppage, or even an indefinite general strike. The process will, however, drag on over time since the front has given itself until October 13 to probe the movement. Tension has been rising between the unions and the Legault government for months. The workers' collective agreement expired on March 31, 2022, and the two parties cannot agree, particularly on salary increases. Healthcare professionals (nurses, practical nurses, respiratory therapists, technical perfusionists), who are negotiating on their side, are also preparing for a coup and a test of popularity if they increase their pressure tactics. Already very mobilized before the pandemic, they are demanding an increase of more than 20%, which exceeds Quebecers' ability to pay, maintains François Legault. However, the Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, wants to launch his new Santé Québec agency next spring, and he will need new employment contracts to do so.
Rising cost of living
The government's economic update, scheduled for November as every year, will reveal whether the government is implementing measures to help the population cope with the shock of inflation, a subject on which it is closely followed daily by the opposition. The Minister of Finance, Eric Girard, has been repeating for several days that the disposable income of Quebecers has improved, but this week, he refrained from commenting on the situation from the point of view of purchasing power. Highlighting his role as “fiduciary” of public finances, the minister affirmed that his update would focus on the themes of housing, homelessness and adaptation to climate change. Although the exercise sometimes looks like a mini-budget, Mr. Girard said his update would be “more conventional.” Unlike his minister, who ruled out sending checks that would relieve the population, François Legault refused to cross this option off his list. Targeted groups, left behind until now, could receive financial support from the state. As for broader aid, Mr. Legault did not rule it out either. However, he linked it to the decisions of the Bank of Canada. After a pause 10 days ago, the central bank said it could decide to increase its key rate again due to a forecast of rising inflation. “The governments of each province have a responsibility to help citizens who are affected by the impacts of this increase in the interest rate,” declared the Prime Minister. Tuesday, the day Parliament returned to office, he defended himself against the crossfire from the Liberal Party of Quebec, Quebec Solidaire and the Parti Québécois, which urged him to act. Mr. Legault said that with his tax cuts and other credits, he returned the equivalent of $7.2 billion per year to the pockets of Quebecers.
With La Canadian Press