Quebec Weekly News: January 19, 2024

Welcome to the Quebec Weekly News, by the Capital Hill Group. On the agenda: major healthcare tenders, Santé Québec Agency updates and Quebec government staff reshuffle.

1.5 billion to digitize Quebec's healthcare system: record amount for an IT project

Quebec is investing a record C$1.5 billion over 15 years to digitize its healthcare network, entrusting the project to American firm Epic Systems. The project includes the implementation of the Dossier de santé numérique (DSN) in two Centres intégrés universitaires de santé et de services sociaux (CIUSSS) at a cost of $533 million over 12 years, with full deployment scheduled for the end of 2025. The aim is to enable doctors and patients to access health records online, thus eliminating the transfer of paper records. The pilot project’s success will determine the system’s expansion throughout the network. This amount is the highest for an IT project in Quebec’s public sector, where cost overruns are commonplace.

Private healthcare agencies: $1 billion call for tenders blocked by AMP

Opposition parties in Quebec are calling for Stéphane Le Bouyonnec, a prominent figure close to François Legault, to be suspended while a government investigation is conducted into his links to an Ontario high-interest loan company, Finabanx. This activity is illegal in Quebec. Le Bouyonnec previously resigned as a candidate and president of the CAQ in 2018 due to his involvement with Finabanx. The company is accused of making dubious payments to repay a criminal debt. Amid these allegations, Le Bouyonnec was appointed to senior positions in the Quebec government in December 2020 and October 2023. The opposition parties argue that public servants should uphold high ethical standards and abide by Quebec’s laws.

Staff reshuffle: A game of musical chairs for Legault

The government of Quebec’s Premier François Legault is witnessing a shuffle of personnel rather than a significant overhaul after a year that has seen a dip in public support. Among key moves, Stéphane Gobeil, a close advisor and speechwriter for Legault, has been appointed the new director of strategic planning in the premier’s office, a critical role for setting and achieving government priorities. Pascale Breton, formerly in the same strategic planning role, has now become the chief of staff for the Minister of Families, Suzanne Roy. Alex Perreault, previously in Breton’s new position, is taking up the role of chief of staff for the Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette. Meanwhile, France-Élaine Duranceau, the Minister of Housing who faced controversy over a housing bill, will have Marie-Claude Lavigne as her new chief of staff. Other notable changes include the appointment of Simon Therrien-Denis, taking over as chief of staff for the Minister responsible for Social Services, and Sébastien Daviault who now leads the cabinet of the Justice Minister following Alexis Aubry’s departure.

Rio Tinto prepares major wind turbine project without Hydro-Québec

Rio Tinto is reportedly planning to develop a large wind farm in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region in order to meet its energy needs. The move mirrors the general trend among more and more industrial firms that are looking to produce their own power as a result of Hydro Québec’s inability to supply electricity to all industrial projects in the region. Industry insiders suggest Rio Tinto plans to generate several hundred MWs through wind energy, potentially between 700 and 1,000 MW, as it was left out of the allocation of energy blocks by the Legault government. The company’s production in Quebec requires 2,300 MW of electrical power, with a large proportion provided by its own hydroelectric power plants. At present, Rio Tinto is not one of the beneficiaries of the MWs that remain to be handed out.

Santé Québec team: call for candidates launched

The Quebec government has launched two calls for candidates to fill the roles of president and CEO or president and CEO, as well as members of the first board of directors of Santé Québec. The president and CEO will have the necessary flexibility to define and implement strategies for managing Santé Québec, as well as all healthcare and social services provided to Quebecers. They will be responsible for implementing the health plan submitted in March 2022. Candidates should possess significant management experience and essential leadership and communication skills. The government of Quebec is also looking for experienced and qualified people to serve on the board of directors who will work together with the CEO and his or her team to achieve Santé Québec’s mission. The publication of these call for candidates is another significant step in the implementation of the Law on the Governance of the Health and Social Service System and follows the creation of the transition committee last week.

CAQ fundraising activities under the microscope

The fundraising activities of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party have come under scrutiny after Radio-Canada revealed that some members of the party are using networking events to solicit donations, sometimes promising access to ministers in exchange. A citizen who contacted her local MP for help in presenting a dossier to the Finance Minister found out that she would have to donate $100 at a CAQ fundraising event to meet the Minister. One investigator said that this strategy of fundraising is one of those exposed by the Charbonneau Commission. Guidelines prohibiting the abuse of political power are in place but must be enforced, says Martine Valois, a professor of law. In response, the head of Québec’s Election Office, Éric Ferron, has said that networking is not an issue by itself, but access to members of political power during fundraising events needs to be carefully monitored to ensure accountability.

Top gun at Santé Québec to earn even more than expected

The annual salary of Santé Québec’s future president and CEO will be $652,050 for the first two years of his mandate, according to a ministerial decree published this week. In addition to an annual base salary of $567,000, the future executive will benefit from an additional 15% compensation for each of the first two years of his mandate. Details of the remuneration and other working conditions of the position have been made public, while the application period has been opened until March 1. The successful candidate will be expected to deliver a more efficient network to users and employees, and to implement a significant culture change, as well as possessing essential leadership and communication skills. This high-level appointment has been described as an exceptional challenge, given the stakes involved in the health crisis.

Increased temporary immigration on everyone's lips in Quebec City

The growing number of temporary immigrants to Quebec, including asylum seekers, temporary workers, and foreign students, is pushing the province towards a “tipping point”, according to Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette. This is prompting the Parti Québécois (PQ) to consider revising its permanent immigration targets. Since last December, Quebec has had more than 500,000 temporary immigrants. In the 2022 elections, the PQ had proposed an annual permanent immigration target of 35,000 new arrivals, lower than that of the Coalition avenir Québec (50,000), the Liberal Party and Québec solidaire (over 60,000 each). This spring, the PQ will present a document detailing its vision of immigration, which may propose revised permanent immigration thresholds. The federal Liberal government intends to tighten the admission of international students to relieve pressure on the housing market.

Québec City: Mayor Bruno Marchand to seek second term

Bruno Marchand, the 51-year-old mayor of Quebec, is seeking re-election in 2025 despite facing challenges in 2023. His political journey has seen ups and downs; he won the mayoralty by a slender margin in 2021, his satisfaction rating soaring to 67% in 2022 before plummeting to 47% towards the end of the year. The tramway project, inherited from his predecessor Régis Labeaume, has been a dominant and contentious part of his term, drawing significant media attention. Marchand aims to refocus his administration on improving citizens’ quality of life and other key issues, moving beyond the tramway debates that have overshadowed his agenda. He envisions a positive shift, with attention to security, economic development, and sustainability. Known for advocating active transportation, he emphasizes the need for courageous decisions regarding public space distribution between cars, bicycles, and pedestrians.

Unions divided over government offers

Plusieurs syndicats du secteur public québécois ont été appelés à voter jeudi sur les dernières offres du gouvernement. La Fédération de la Santé du Québec (FSQ-CSQ), affiliée au Front commun, a rejeté l’offre sectorielle qui lui avait été proposée. Les membres de la FSQ-CSQ ont en effet refusé à 98% l’offre du gouvernement, jugée insuffisante et représentant un recul à la table. Le syndicat de l’enseignement de l’Estrie a, quant à lui, accepté l’offre du gouvernement avec un taux d’approbation de 50,5%. Le Syndicat de l’enseignement de la région de Laval a rejeté à 68% la proposition du gouvernement. Le résultat du vote de l’Alliance des profs de Montréal est encore attendu.

Also in the news this week:

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Welcome to the Quebec Weekly News, by the Capital Hill Group. On the agenda: major healthcare tenders, Santé Québec Agency updates and Quebec government staff reshuffle.

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