The Quebec National Assembly concluded its session on June 9, 2023. The CAQ government gave royal assent to several bills, following up on its election promises made last fall. From Quebecers' wallets to healthcare and education, many bills directly affect the population. The party's priorities have been brought back to the fore now that the pandemic is no longer an obstacle to its legislative agenda. The government has set the table for yet another major reform of Quebec's healthcare system and the government’s digital shift. It also succeeded in lowering the tax burden for taxpayers without cutting services. All in all, a very productive session. Here's an overview of the main bills given royal assent and under consideration following the National Assembly’s last session.
Bills Given Royal Assent
Bill 1: An Act to Limit the Indexation of Several Government Rates
With the royal assent of Bill 1 in December 2022, the government is limiting the maximum increase in certain government rates to 3% from January 1, 2023, to December 31, 2026. These include driver’s licenses, vehicle registration certificates, daycare rates, hospital parking rates, hunting and fishing licenses and immigrant screening applications. This is expected to result in a $1.1 billion shortfall in government revenues over time. This bill was part of the CAQ’s election promises, its anti-inflation shield, aimed at easing the tax burden on taxpayers in an inflationary context.
Bill 2: An Act to Cap the Rate of Indexation of Hydro-Québec's Domestic Distribution Rates and to Increase the Regulation of the Obligation to Distribute Electricity
Bill 2, which received royal assent in February 2023, caps the rate of price indexation of Hydro-Québec’s domestic distribution rates at 3%. The bill also amends the Régie de l’énergie Act to further regulate Hydro-Québec’s obligation to distribute electricity, in a context where a strong demand for electricity is expected in the coming years. Small and medium power rates, particularly for SMBs and institutions, have been fully indexed since April 1, 2023. This Bill was also part of the anti-inflation shield promise of the last campaign.
Bill 3: An Act Respecting Health and Social Services Information and Amending Various Legislative Provisions
Bill 3, spearheaded by Cybersecurity and Digital Minister Éric Caire, aims to make the health network more efficient by promoting a more fluid and secure flow of health and social services data. Health is the largest budget item in Quebec, accounting for $52 billion of the $110.3 billion in spending in the Quebec government’s 2023-2024 budget. With this legislation, data follows the patient rather than being attached to the health care facility. Sharing information allows managers to make decisions more efficiently. This law is the first step in the digital transformation of the health and social services network and the creation of digital health records for Quebec patients.
Bill 8: An Act to Improve the Efficiency and Accessibility of Justice, in particular by Promoting Mediation and Arbitration and by Simplifying Civil Procedure in the Court of Québec
The objective of this bill, introduced by Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, is to provide more efficient, accessible, faster, and less expensive justice services. It amends the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure by introducing new rules for litigation under $100,000, simplifying and accelerating the process before the courts. It also responds to a June 2021 Supreme Court of Canada decision regarding the monetary jurisdictional threshold of the Court of Quebec, which encroached on the jurisdiction of the Superior Court. The Court of Quebec will now have exclusive jurisdiction for disputes under $75,000, rather than the previous $85,000. The plaintiff will have a choice between the Court of Quebec and the Superior Court for disputes between $75,000 and $100,000. The bill will come into force on June 30, 2023.
Bill 10: An Act to Limit the Use of Personnel Placement Agencies and Independent Workers in the Health and Social Services Sector
Bill 10 aims to end the systematic use of private employment agencies and independent health personnel by 2026. Introduced by Health Minister Christian Dubé, it stipulates that health and social services organizations will no longer be able to use the services of placement agencies or independent labour, except in cases provided for by government regulation. The Ministry of Health will be able to authorize certain institutions to use this workforce “due to exceptional circumstances”. This workforce currently occupies the equivalent of 11,000 full-time jobs in the Quebec health network.
Introduced on March 28, 2023, this bill aims to regulate the employment of young workers. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of work-related injuries among young people, and more and more young people are working longer hours during their studies. The bill proposes a ban on work for people under the age of 14, with exceptions determined by regulation. In such cases, the employer must obtain the written consent of the parent or guardian. An employer who employs a child under the age of 14 must give the child written notice of termination within 30 days of the date on which the law comes into force. The schedule of the child entitled to work will be limited, and the employer will be obliged to consider the health and safety risks of the worker aged 16 and under, and to include them in his prevention program.
Bill 20: An Act to Establish the Blue Fund and to Amend Other Provisions
The purpose of this bill is to create the Blue Fund, dedicated to water, and to finance it in part through the fees charged for water use. This will ensure the protection, restoration, enhancement, and management of water resources. This was a promise of the CAQ in the last election campaign. Since 2010, companies taking water from Quebec have been paying royalties of approximately $3 million per year. With the royal assent of this bill, the fees would increase to $30 million per year. The bill also provides for improved access to information on water withdrawals, annual reporting on measures financed by the Fund, enabling powers for water use in water systems, and a mechanism to review regulatory practices related to water charges every five years. The Blue Fund will ultimately enable the government to fund measures required for the conservation and sustainable management of water.
Bill 24: An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Report of the Independent Advisory Committee on the Review of the Annual Indemnity of Members of the National Assembly
Bill 24 was criticized by the PQ and QS because it increased the annual base salary of MNAs by $30,000, while the various public service unions are negotiating with the government and cannot reach an agreement. According to the parties, this could increase the population’s cynicism towards elected officials. This bill follows several reports that were never implemented, the last of which was in 2013. An independent advisory committee tabled a new report on April 19, calling for a pay catch-up. The bill, consisting of two articles, increased the base salary of MNAs from $101,561 to $131,766. With certain expense allowances, they would receive $169,950 per year. MNAs’ salaries were indexed but have not been increased for 20 years before that. The salaries of other parliamentary positions, such as Premier, Minister and Leader of the Opposition have also been increased. The salary of Quebec MNAs is higher than their counterparts in other provinces, but lower than their federal counterparts.
Bills Under Consideration
Bill 15: An Act to Make the Health and Social Services System More Efficient
With this bill, Health Minister Christian Dubé aims to implement certain aspects of his Health Plan, a vast project to make Quebec’s health network more human and efficient. The organization of the health and social services network is reviewed to make it more efficient through various measures. Clinical and medical governance is reviewed to reduce waiting times for access to a doctor or surgery. New requirements for physicians to contribute to access to care in all regions are included. The bill requires the measurement of user satisfaction in the system and the creation of a National Complaints Commissioner to bring about a cultural change. The bill proposes the creation of Santé Québec, responsible for the operations of the network, while the Ministry of Health and Social Services will focus on policy. Santé Québec would become the sole employer of the network to promote greater efficiency. Several measures have already been put in place to implement the Plan, but this 300-page piece of legislation is the largest one under consideration to date.
Bill 23: An Act to Amend the Education Act and to Enact the National Institute of Excellence in Education Act
Despite the reform of school governance in the last legislature, which replaced school boards with school service centers, Education Minister Bernard Drainville has tabled a new bill on the issue. The minister would be able to appoint the heads of the school service centers and overrule their decisions if they do not comply with the government’s objections and directions. School service centers will be required to disclose more information faster, rather than the current monthly delays, which will be entered into a registry by a manager. The minister will also be able to fill a long-standing vacancy on the board of directors of a school center. Finally, the bill would create the National Institute for Excellence in Education, a body responsible for practical teaching and data collection.