Photo: Christine Muschi The Canadian Press “In 2024, particularly in the session which is beginning, we really want to refocus, to be able to concentrate on these five priorities,” declared François Legault on Wednesday in front of his deputies, listing education, health, the economy, the environment and the protection of Quebec identity.
After affirming that he wanted to refocus his government around the fundamental priorities of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), Prime Minister François Legault presented himself as the vector of change against a “status quo trio” formed by the oppositions in the National Assembly.
After a first day of caucus in a Sherbrooke hotel, Mr. Legault participated in an activist rally.
Just as he did in the morning when addressing his deputies, he reiterated his desire to refocus his government on the fundamental priorities of the CAQ, namely education, health, economy, the environment and the protection of Quebec identity.
“When we launched the CAQ, we said to ourselves: in these five areas, we need to make changes,” he declared while speaking. It's not easy to make changes, but that's why we were elected with two majority governments. »
Mr. Legault attributed his difficulties last year to the CAQ's desire to be a vector of change. “When I say that it is not easy to make changes, we saw it at the end of 2023,” he said.
He gave the example of the objections expressed by opposition parties to the reform of his Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, adopted in December.
“Do you know what we have in the National Assembly, in front of the rest of us ? Three parties which defend the status quo,” he said. What is being offered to Quebecers is the status quo trio or the change team. That’s the CAQ. »
Mr. Legault accused Québec solidaire and the Parti Québécois of opposing his decision to lower taxes. “We dared to lower taxes. We have people in front of us who didn't like it. »
In the morning, Mr. Legault, absent from the media radar for a month, explained to his deputies that he wanted to avoid further “distractions” by refocusing his government on the five priorities of the CAQ.
“We are going to wish each other a good political new year with, how should I put it, fewer distractions than in 2023, and return to our five priorities,” he said.
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The year 2023 was marked by the decline of the CAQ in voting intentions, which lost first place to the Parti Québécois following controversial decisions.
Despite Mr. Legault's wishes, the first days of 2024 have already provided distractions from the CAQ's priorities.
A CAQ MP, Sylvain Lévesque, is the target of an investigation by the Ethics Commissioner of the National Assembly. On Wednesday, an opposition party demanded a second one for another CAQ elected official, Louis-Charles Thouin.
Energy and batteries
The government's desire to allow companies to produce their own energy has also raised questions about the risks of weakening the position of Hydro-Québec's historic monopoly.
In his opening address to his deputies, Mr. Legault wanted to be reassuring on this subject. “There is no question of privatizing and denying the legacy of René Lévesque,” declared the Prime Minister.
On the sidelines of the caucus, the Minister of Economy, Innovation and Energy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, affirmed that the subject of private production would be addressed when he tabled an important bill this winter. “The public debate will take place only when the bill is going to be tabled. Right now, it’s speculation,” he stressed.
Mr. Fitzgibbon called it “criminal” that activists drove nails and iron bars into trees to disrupt the development of the land where Swedish company Northvolt's battery manufacturing plant will be built, on the South Shore of Montreal. “Sabotage is not allowed, it is not acceptable,” he said.
While the government is once again being called upon to submit this flagship government project to an environmental study, Mr. Fitzgibbon noted the current debates. “There is a social debate on this, it is correct that there is a debate. I think society must respond and the Ministry of the Environment [too]. »
On the subject of the renewal of collective agreements in the public sector, Mr. Legault reserved his comments, given that agreements in principle must still be approved by union members. “We have chosen to invest massively in working conditions, health and education,” he told his deputies.
Last fall, Mr. Legault made an unusual number of declarations during negotiations with the public sector, which stretched until the holiday season. “I want to be careful,” he said Wednesday to explain his reservation.
The president of the Treasury Board, Sonia LeBel, affirmed that discussions were continuing with the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec, which represents nurses in particular. “It’s going well, we’re moving forward, but we’re going to leave the discussions at the table,” she said.
Ms. LeBel was not worried to see that at least a third of the teaching unions affiliated with the Autonomous Education Federation are opposed to the agreement in principle reached with the government . “We take note of the votes as they come, it belongs to them,” she declared. We are not going to comment, we will let the members express themselves and we will take note of the decision. »
To regain lost support in the electorate, the CAQ is banking on the effects of two bills adopted at the end of last year in education and health, recalled the Prime Minister. “We remember that we ended the session by adopting two very important bills in health and education, that took courage,” said Mr. Legault. We didn't have much support from the opposition. »
The Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, affirmed that the effects of the reform would be felt by 2025 thanks to the creation of the Santé Québec agency. “When we tabled the Health Plan in 2022, I talked about a time horizon of 2025,” he said. But I tell you that every day, we will see small changes. My goal is to show success every week. »
After the adoption of his reform which created this agency responsible for managing the health network, in December, Mr. Dubé affirmed that the benefits would be felt next summer. “The big benefits – the single employer, the mobility that I’m talking about – will come during the summer and fall,” he declared.
After a holiday season marked by the overload of hospital emergency rooms, Mr. Dubé said he was encouraged to see a reduction in the spread of viruses in the most recent Public Health data.