Quebec Weekly News – December 8, 2023

This week, MNAs were at the National Assembly for their last intensive sessions before the end of the year.

Sanction of Bill 38 - Cybersecurity & Digital Transformation

The National Assembly of Québec has adopted Bill No. 38 aimed at ensuring cybersecurity and accelerating the digital transformation of public administration. The provisions of the law will focus on the protection of state informational assets and unifying cyber defense. The bill also aims to provide important tools for the coherent governance of the state’s digital transformation, clearly identifying governmental priorities for public organizations and citizens. Eric Caire, Minister of Cybersecurity and Digital, emphasized the law’s significance, noting specific consultations held on November 21, 2023. The law will also allow the government to authorize the minister to implement pilot projects in these areas, reinforcing and standardizing information security practices. The minister will have the power to demand the removal of any software or other informational assets as determined.

Ethical issues - Deputy Minister of Cybersecurity and Digital Affairs Stéphane Le Bouyonnec should be suspended, believes the opposition

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.

Salary offer rejected - Legault says more generous increases in exchange for new powers

Quebec Premier, François Legault, after his new wage offer was rejected by the unions, indicated a willingness to provide more generous increases in return for greater management powers. He claimed the lack of improvement in the health and education sectors is due to the “rigidity” of collective agreements. His government tabled a new wage offer to 600 state employees, proposing a 12.7% wage increase in five years, which was instantaneously rejected as inadequate, leading to continuing protests. Legault stressed management powers could be achieved through union concessions. Despite the latest wage offer, it wasn’t declared as the final offer by Quebec. Recent financial statements hinted additional budgeting would necessitate borrowing, however, Legault assured the new offer, extra expenditure of one billion dollars per year, fits within the government finance framework. Strikes initiated by the unions continue, starting a wave of consecutive seven-day strikes.

Second poll puts PQ ahead

For the second time in two weeks, a Quebecor Media poll conducted by Léger has placed the Parti Québécois (PQ) ahead of the current governing body, Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ). Had an election taken place a few days ago, PQ would have secured 31% of popular votes, compared to CAQ’s 25%. Québec Solidaire was in third place with 17%, ahead of the Quebec Liberal Party with 14%, and the Quebec Conservative Party with 11%. The poll showed a 63% dissatisfaction rate with Prime Minister François Legault’s government, attributed mainly to an inability to improve health and education systems, MPs salary increase, and a subsidy to the LA Kings. The PQ’s support is fragile as sovereignty stands at 34%, and 47% want Quebec to sign the 1982 Canadian Constitution and be a regular province. The poll was conducted among 1040 Quebecers from 1st to 4th December.

Quebec Government wants to allow other cities to impose a tax to finance public transit

The Quebec government is looking to empower more cities to impose an additional car registration tax to better fund public transport, following requests by the cities of Québec and Lévis. Previously, only drivers in Montréal paid a surcharge, collected by Société d’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), to fund public transportation. This tax will also be imposed on drivers in North and South Montréal from 2024. Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault, who is in disputes with numerous transport societies and mayors struggling to finance public transport, did not comment on whether this was a viable solution. Last month, Guilbault announced that the government would cover 70% of the deficits of the province’s ten public transportation societies in 2024.

Strikes: QLP wants Legault to get involved in negotiations, but not the unions

The Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) is urging Premier François Legault to take a direct role in negotiations with public sector workers who are striking over the renewal of their collective agreements. The QLP criticized the government for its failure to reach an agreement with unions representing around 600,000 state employees, with situations leading to public service strikes. However, the unions consider such involvement from the premier at this stage to be premature. They argue it would be more beneficial for the government to first provide additional resources to its negotiators. Strikes were held in November, with further strikes planned from December 8 to 14. Meanwhile, ongoing strikes continue among teaching and health professionals. Quebec has stated willingness to increase its latest wage offer conditioned on the unions accepting more work organization flexibility.

Asylum seekers: "It's up to the other provinces to do their part," says Quebec

Quebec, the only province refusing participation in a new federal program to welcome 11,000 individuals from Haiti, Venezuela, and Colombia, argues it has already done its share. From November 2021 to October 2023, Quebec hosted 55% of all asylum-seekers who arrived in Canada. Last week, Haiti’s Migrant Consultation decried Quebec’s government’s refusal to join the new humanitarian path aimed at offering permanent residency to 11,000 Haitian, Venezuelan, and Colombian nationals already having family in Canada. The Immigration Minister, Christine Fréchette, defends Quebec’s stance by showing that a large proportion of the 118,000 asylum seekers Quebec has accepted from 2021 to 2023 originate from these three countries. She expects the other provinces to support the next 11,000 without Quebec’s participation. Quebec will demand a more equitable distribution of asylum seekers across the country, faster work permit issues, and a revision of tourist visa processes.

Bill 31 may not be sanctioned before the end of the parliamentary session

The sanction of Quebec’s Bill 31 on housing reform might be delayed until after the end of the parliamentary session, given time constraints at the National Assembly. The territorial planning committee had until Tuesday evening to finish reviewing two bills, including Bill 31 proposed by the Minister responsible for Housing, France-Élaine Duranceau, and Bill 39 on municipal taxation. With the parliamentary session ending on Friday, any legislation not adopted will have to wait until the assembly resumes on January 30. However, due to last-minute amendments to the bills and the amount of material left to assess, it is considered unlikely that all tasks will be completed on time. Despite the delays, Duranceau’s office remains hopeful that an agreement can be reached for the adoption of Bill 31 by Friday.

Angus Reid poll: Legault least popular Prime Minister in Canada

François Legault, the Premier of Quebec, has been ranked as the least popular provincial premier in Canada, according to an Angus Reid poll released Monday. His satisfaction rate has plummeted 16 points in three months to 31%. The survey revealed that 61% of Quebec residents are dissatisfied, and dissatisfaction is so high that 40% of respondents disapprove strongly of his performance. This slide in approval ratings started in the spring and got worse with the state employee strike and controversies surrounding measures taken by his government. By comparison, Saskatchewan’s Premier, Scott Moe, also in power since 2018, enjoys a 54% approval rate. The newly elected Premier of Manitoba, Wab Kinew, leads the ratings with 57%.

Polls: PSPP bets on independence, Legault takes responsibility for his downfall

Recent polls place the Parti Québécois (PQ) and its leader, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, ahead for the first time in a decade, indicating growing support for Québec independence. With 31% of the vote, surpassing François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) at 25%, the PQ continues its rise. Legault, accepting responsibility for the 63% dissatisfaction with the CAQ, identifies several factors contributing to this trend. Yet, while PQ’s popularity grows, support for sovereignty remains stagnant at 34%. Plamondon maintains his plan for a referendum on independence if PQ wins the first mandate, aiming to convince CAQ and QS sovereigntists to join his cause. Notably, despite PQ’s progress, a Léger poll suggests 47% of Quebecers would sign the current Canadian constitution, suggesting a potential obstacle to PQ’s independence project.

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