Quebec Weekly News: December 15, 2023

This week, MNAs were in their ridings. The autumn legislative session is over.

Quebec enacts bill to make the health and social services system more efficient

The Quebec government has enacted a historic bill to make its health and social services system more efficient. Health Minister Christian Dubé, Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant, and Sonia Bélanger, the minister responsible for Seniors and Associate Health Minister announced this step, aimed at transforming the health and social services network for citizens’ benefit. The bill facilitates better access to healthcare with shorter waiting times through improved coordination. The new legislation, Santé Québec, will streamline operations and clinical resourcing across the province. It will also be the sole network employer, overseeing recruitment and retainment practices. New provisions ensure patient-centric services with enhanced complaint processes and localized representation. Additional emphasis is on healthcare management at the ground level with direct accountability from hired managers. This move aligns with the Health Plan presented by Minister Dubé in March 2022.

Dubé expects to see the benefits of his healthcare reform as early as summer 2024

Quebec’s Health Minister, Christian Dubé, expects the benefits of his health reform to be felt by summer 2024. The main advantages, including a singular employer and increased mobility, will materialize during the summer and autumn. Bill 15, passed on Sunday, profoundly reforms Quebec’s health system by assigning management tasks to a newly established single employer, Santé Québec. Recruitment for the Director General of Santé Québec will begin in early January, with the selected individual starting in March or April. During the summer, a transition committee will plan network restructuring for the autumn, addressing employee implications and dividing the ministry into two entities. Dubé hinted that if Santé Québec were already operational, it would be easier to combat emergency room overcrowding.

Unlimited general strike: a return to class on Monday is "unrealistic".

Mélanie Hubert, president of the Fédération Autonome de l’Enseignement (FAE), dismissed hopes of a swift end to the general strike impacting 40% of Quebec’s schools, countering Prime Minister François Legault’s optimistic outlook. She described the ongoing negotiations as fluctuating, with proposals frequently dismissed the day after they are heard. Hubert also raised concerns that even if an agreement is reached, educators will need time to prepare to return to classrooms. Notably, the FAE and government need to reckon with the strike’s impact on tenure and conditions set out in collective agreements. While negotiations are progressing, the Quebec government’s refusal to commit to creating new classes for students with unique challenges remains a sticking point.

Mass admission of foreign students: limiting population aging through immigration

The Legault government in Quebec aims to combat population aging by welcoming a large number of foreign students, benefiting both the French language’s vitality and population demographics. As per the recently laid out immigration plan by Minister Christine Fréchette, Quebec will be incentivizing young individuals’ immigration, particularly graduates from Quebec under the Quebec Experience Programme (PEQ). The plan has no limit in admitting candidates who are to be admitted continuously. The plan targets admitting 6,500 French-speaking foreign student graduates in addition to about 50,000 new arrivals in 2024 and 2025. The scale of admissions has been growing, breaking the previous record with 10,663 admissions in 2022, up from 8,973 in 2021. The initiative is aimed at enhancing societal and linguistic vitality while addressing demographic challenges.

Excessive power centralization? Bernard Drainville's reform worries

Bill 23, aimed at reforming the education system in Quebec, has been enacted, granting new powers to Education Minister Bernard Drainville. Drainville now has the ability to appoint the directors of the province’s school service centres and overturn decisions with which he disagrees. Many are concerned about these new powers, warning that they could lead to a dogmatic educational system. The bill aims to improve access to student data online, create the National Institute for Excellence in Education, transform the Superior Council of Education, and impose continuous training for teachers. Critics, including Simon Viviers from Laval University, argue the bill centralizes power excessively and removes safeguards against potential poor decisions, thereby reducing diversity in the education ecosystem. Drainville, however, argues it will enhance network efficiency, aligning governmental direction with fieldwork and improving data access for students’ success.

Cities must cut spending before using new taxes, warns Legault

The Legault government in Quebec has granted additional taxation powers to municipalities but emphasizes that mayors should focus on reducing their expenses. Prime Minister Legault warns that Quebeckers are already overtaxed. The new measures include the ability for cities to implement a vehicle registration tax to support public transit, a tax on property value for unused or underutilized residences, and increased taxes on vacant land. The prime minister highlighted the need to manage municipal finances better before increasing the tax burden. The extended taxation powers aim to provide municipalities with increased financial flexibility, allowing them to adjust their income sources and target certain taxpayers for fairness. But Legault urges careful management and expense reduction to avoid overtaxing the citizens.

Minister Déry revises her announcement on tuition fees for non-Quebecers from top to bottom

Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education, Pascale Déry, is revising her controversial university tuition policy for out-of-province students. The new plan announces Bishop’s University will be exempt from reform, outlines softer fee increases for students from other parts of Canada, and introduces new funding prerequisites tied to French language learning. Out-of-province francophone students will be exempt from the announced increases. From 2025-26, 80% of new non-Quebec students in English-language courses will need to reach Level 5 in French by the end of their undergraduate degree. Funding for two universities (McGill and Concordia) is now linked to meeting French learning objectives. Additionally, out-of-province Canadian students will experience an increase in tuition fees from $8,992 to a minimum of $12,000. International students will pay a minimum fee of $20,000. The universities are resistant to these moves, fearing significant enrollment drops, financial losses, and challenging French competency targets.

Protecting Quebec's corporate headquarters - $58.3 million to support H2O Innovation's growth

The Quebec government and Investissement Québec are investing $58.3 million in the Quebec-based company H2O Innovation, a major supplier of water treatment solutions. The investment aims to retain the company’s headquarters and operations in Quebec. This comes as H2O Innovation was recently acquired by American investment firm Ember Infrastructure Management. Following the transaction, valued at $395 million, Investissement Québec has taken a stake in H2O Innovation, owning 13.98% of its equity. The Quebec government, through the Quebec Companies Growth Fund managed by Investissement Québec, is contributing $28.5 million to the investment.

Audit of transport companies: Guilbault moves from words to deeds

Quebec’s Transport Minister, Geneviève Guilbault, has initiated a bid for an independent performance audit of the province’s major transport companies and the Metropolitan Regional Transport Agency (ARTM). The audit aims to enhance the financial situation of these companies by improving operational efficiency and productivity. The service providers applying to conduct the audit require at least a decade of experience in enterprise restructuring. The deadline for submissions is January 10th, and the selected provider will then have 18 weeks to prepare a final report. Guilbault asserts that these audits are necessary to optimize and economize due to the large funds demanded to finance the deficits of public transportation organizations. The decision was met with criticism from some, who feared it could lead to service reductions and accused Guilbault of misdirecting blame.

Public Sector: Unifor, Steelworkers, Machinists and PSAC donate to strikers

Unifor, the Metalworkers’ Union, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada, traditionally private-sector unions, have donated to public-sector strikers in a somewhat rare gesture. Unifor has announced a donation of $72,000 in grocery gift cards, while the Machinists’ Union followed suit with a $65,000 check. These private-sector unions are supporting public-sector teachers associated with the Federation autonomes de l’enseignement (FAE), who have been striking since November 23. Earlier, the Metalworkers’ Union kickstarted the support with a $100,000 donation in the form of gift cards. Adding to this effort is The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which also announced a $100,000 donation to support the strikers in their bid for fair and equitable working conditions. These donations follow a strike held last spring by the federal employees’ union.

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