Quebec Weekly News: December 22, 2023

Quebec Weekly New: An overview of the weekly news and updates coming out of Quebec for the week of December 15-22, 2023.​ Written by Félix Lachance.

Links with a loan-shark company: Stéphane Le Bouyonnec cleared by higher employment office

The higher employment office in the Legault government has cleared Stéphane Le Bouyonnec, current Deputy Minister of Cybersecurity, of ongoing associations with a usurious lending company Finabanx. Following an affidavit by Le Bouyonnec, the government ruled he has had no connection or financial interest in Finabanx since October 2019. His alleged ongoing ties with the company had sparked an investigation led by the Secretary-General. Le Bouyonnec, former president of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), had to resign from the CAQ and withdraw from the 2018 elections upon it being discovered that he was heading a company involved in high-interest private lending, a practice banned in Québec. He was later allowed by the CAQ to re-enter public service, first as associate secretary-general and subsequently as deputy minister.

New draft regulation: anonymization of personal information

The government has pre-published a draft regulation on the anonymization of personal information in the Gazette officielle du Quebec. This draft regulation is aimed at public bodies and businesses that wish to anonymize personal information to use it, as the case may be, for purposes of public interest or serious and legitimate purposes. It will provide a better framework for these practices and, by the same means, significantly reduce the risks of re-identification associated with anonymization.

Information security - The Quebec government takes action to protect government infrastructures and systems

After the recent adoption of Bill No. 38, Québec’s Minister of Cybersecurity and Digital Technology, Éric Caire, has announced new requirements for the province’s public bodies to protect governmental infrastructure and systems. All public bodies must now conduct risk assessments for the usage of surveillance and telecommunication equipment made by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., Ltd., and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co., Ltd. Additionally, public bodies are not permitted to install or use equipment acquired after December 21, 2023, from these manufacturers. The new requirements aim to mitigate risks to Québec’s cybersecurity infrastructure. Caire asserted that information security must be an absolute priority for Québec’s government departments and public bodies. He further stated that the government will not hesitate to enforce additional measures if necessary.

Proposed settlement on the table for FSE-CSQ

The Québec government and the Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement (FSE-CSQ) are nearing an agreement after a night of negotiations. A proposition regarding working conditions is now under review by the FSE-CSQ, which represents 60% of the teachers in Québec. It still doesn’t address wages, which will be settled centrally. However, the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) is maintaining its unlimited general strike after the Holidays, unsatisfied with the talks thus far. The FAE, which hasn’t yet entered the final phase of negotiations, insists it won’t concede without obtaining favourable terms, and will continue negotiations throughout the Holidays if necessary.

Bicha Ngo named new President and CEO of Investissement Quebec

Bicha Ngo, with more than 25 years of experience in finance and investments, including roles at HSBC, CIBC World Markets and Merrill Lynch, has been announced as the new CEO of Investissement Québec by Pierre Fitzgibbon, the Minister of Economy, Innovation, and Energy. She will be the first woman to lead a public company. Officially taking up office on February 1, 2024, Ngo is succeeding Guy LeBlanc, who will aid in the transition. Ngo was selected for her robust skills in financing, leadership and comprehensive understanding of Quebec’s economic landscape.

Quebec City's public transit system: a tramway could be the solution, says CDPQ Infra

The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec’s infrastructure unit (CDPQ Infra) will explore the best transportation system for Québec, starting in January and concluding in June 2024, with a tramway possibly being the proposed solution. The six-month process, commissioned by the government following the withdrawal of the project from Québec City’s control in November, will involve collaboration with a consulting firm selected via a tender process involving international firms. Throughout the project, meetings will be held with identified stakeholders, while the project governance will comprise a strategic advisory committee, consisting of Quebec’s Minister of Transport, the mayors of Quebec and Lévis, and the president of CDPQ Infra.

Quebec Bridge: Quebec City’s mayor wants a settlement "as soon as possible", following a proposed agreement submitted to CN by Ottawa

Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand is urging for a swift resolution in negotiations between the federal government and Canadian National (CN) regarding the maintenance and possible purchase of the Quebec Bridge by the government. Federal Minister Jean-Yves Duclos reportedly submitted a proposal to CN’s CEO, Tracy Robinson, which he believes is beneficial for all parties. Expressing the urgency for an effective agreement, Marchand emphasized that Quebec’s residents are frustrated and eager for the bridge renovations to commence. While negotiations continue, the mayor expressed disbelief that the potential deal could be delayed any further by CN.

Negotiations: FIQ calls for the appointment of a conciliator

The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), the Quebec nurses’ union, has requested the Ministry of Labour appoint a conciliator to assist with its negotiations with the government, citing “too slow progress” in discussions. After over a year of negotiation and more than 75 meetings, significant disagreements remain on issues including overtime management, staffing ratios, and compensation. FIQ President Julie Bouchard expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s lack of compromise and claimed its proposals do not meet the needs of healthcare professionals, particularly in terms of work stability and predictability. The union is calling for a conciliator appointment “as soon as possible,” and is prepared to continue negotiations over the holiday period.

Tuition fees for Canadian students: McGill to offset the increase

McGill University will compensate a significant portion of the tuition fee increase mandated by the Legault government for students from other Canadian provinces registering at the institution. The Quebec government’s decision to increase fees from CAD 9,000 to CAD 12,000 for non-Quebec students studying at English-speaking universities led McGill to declare that it will take “all necessary steps” to maintain its mission of excellence. The university has launched a CAD 3,000 scholarship to offset the fee increase for certain undergraduate programs. The scholarship reduces the recently raised tuition amount to a level close to the 2023-2024 academic year fees. McGill estimates that 80% of Canadian students studying there will be eligible for this scholarship. Besides increasing tuition fees, the Quebec government has made funding for McGill and Concordia universities conditional on the Francisation of 80% of their non-Quebec students.

Fall 2023 Parliamentary Session Review

The 2023 fall parliamentary session in Quebec came to an end on Friday, December 8. It was “not an easy session“, according to Premier François Legault. Several political debacles undermined the government’s session. Nonetheless, it advanced its legislative agenda, sometimes with a gag order. Here’s a roundup of autumn 2023.

Bills enacted

Adoption of Bill 15, An Act to make the health and social services system more efficient

The Quebec government has enacted a law aimed at making the healthcare and social services systems more efficient, following a 240-hour review at the National Assembly. The bill, introduced in March this year, is a part of the Health Plan initiated by Health Minister Christian Dubé. The new law focuses on four key areas:

  1. Better access to care, health services, and social services across all Quebec regions. An equitable distribution of resources will speed up wait times, including for surgeries and specialist consultations. Patients will know their place on waiting lists and have the option to seek care in another region or from private healthcare for unreasonable wait times.
  2. Coordinating services are offered through Santé Québec. The government body will ensure predictability, accessibility, efficiency, and longevity of the health network. It will also be responsible for human resources, yielding smoother employee transfers and payroll processes.
  3. Improving patient experience. The law introduces the positions of a national commissioner for complaints and service quality and a national inspector of services. Local board representation will be enhanced to better hear patient voices.
  4. Returning to local management. Each installation will be overseen by a local manager, ensuring more accessible and accountable supervision.

 

The law is targeted at providing the government with the necessary tools to continue the changes initiated earlier, enabling more equitable healthcare access throughout Quebec.

Adoption of Bill no. 23, An Act to amend mainly the Education Act and to enact the Act respecting the National Institute for Excellence in Education

The Quebec government has enacted a second school governance reform, Bill 23, with 76 votes in favour and 29 against. Led by Education Minister Bernard Drainville, this new law, which has sparked mixed reactions, grants the minister powers to appoint the heads of school service centers, veto their decisions, or dismiss them. In addition, the minister can govern ongoing teacher training, a move criticized by unions as undermining teacher autonomy.

The law seeks to improve data access within the school network, ensuring that students’ academic records follow them throughout their educational journey. A newly created National Institute of Excellence in Education will guide schools towards evidence-based pedagogical practices. The law also refocuses the Higher Council of Education exclusively on higher education.

Trade unions, during consultations last June, expressed concerns about the potential lack of independence of the institute as its members will be government-appointed. Despite the opposition, Minister Drainville vowed to “resist resistance to change”. The new law has been studied during ongoing negotiations for a new collective agreement for the public sector.

Adoption of Bill no. 22, An Act respecting expropriation

The Quebec National Assembly has passed a bill to reform the Expropriation Act, a law that had not been substantially reviewed for over 40 years. The changes, coming into effect 30 days after approval, provide a definition and application of market value replacing the principle of value to the owner, and aligning with practices in other Canadian administrations. Key improvements include predictability in acquisition costs, reduced expropriation processes, and limiting speculative maneuvers.

This transformation resulted from collaboration among deputies of various parties, municipal actors, and civil society organizations and response to longstanding demands of cities for such a reform.

The revised Expropriation Act applies only to new expropriation requests made after its enforcement. Several ministries and agencies, including the Ministry of Transportation and Sustainable Mobility, the Quebec Infrastructure Corporation, the Quebec Housing Corporation, and Hydro-Quebec, can resort to this law in their operations. The bill was developed consulting a task group set up by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing involving several municipalities and municipal organizations.

Adoption of Bill no. 29, An Act to protect consumers against programmed obsolescence and to promote the durability, repairability and maintenance of goods

The National Assembly of Quebec has unanimously passed Bill 29, championed by Minister of Justice Simon Jolin-Barrette. This innovative law combats planned obsolescence and promotes the durability, reparability, and maintenance of goods. From the enforcement date, trading goods with deliberately limited operational lifespans will be prohibited. The bill strengthens consumers’ rights and includes ‘lemon’ measures to protect consumers against severely defective automobiles, allowing contracts to be cancelled or their prices reduced.

The bill also mandates the provision of spare parts, repair services, and necessary information for the maintenance or repair of goods for a reasonable period. Consumers can select their preferred repair services. It introduces operating guarantees to ‘good’ working products, ranging from fridges to tablets. Defective goods within the guarantee period will be repaired free of charge.

Quebec becomes the first state in America to legislate against planned obsolescence, the second worldwide after France. It is also the first Canadian province to introduce a ‘lemon’ law for automobiles. The regulations carry substantial financial sanctions to ensure legal compliance. The law also mandates the creation of universal charger standards.

Adoption of Bill 39, An Act to amend the Municipal Taxation Act and other legislative provisions

Minister of Municipal Affairs Andrée Laforest has introduced Bill 39 to modernize Quebec’s municipal tax system by diversifying municipal revenue sources. This project is part of a new partnership based on joint commitments and common goals, representing a first in Quebec’s history. The proposed measures will give municipalities more fiscal and housing powers to increase their financial autonomy by providing more flexibility to adjust to local realities and diversifying their income.

The bill will facilitate sustainable land development by granting municipalities fiscal levers for better land management and the use of tax tools to support municipal efforts in the energy transition. Moreover, it will improve access to housing by enhancing the capacity of local municipalities to implement rental housing assistance programs. The measures will also help ensure the equity and effectiveness of the municipal tax system and continue to support businesses struggling due to economic conditions.

One of the bill’s key provisions includes Prime Minister François Legault’s commitment to share a percentage point growth in the QST (Quebec Sales Tax) revenue with municipalities which is expected to guarantee hundreds of millions in annual funds to the municipalities, reaching an estimated 1 billion by 2030. Between 2020 and 2024, a total of 826 million dollars will have been transferred to the municipalities.

Adoption of Bill no. 40, An Act to reform municipal courts and improve the efficiency, accessibility, and performance of the justice system

Quebec’s Justice Minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, has introduced Bill 40 to reform municipal courts and enhance the efficiency, accessibility, and performance of the justice system. The bill, discussed alongside parliamentary assistant Kariane Bourassa, aims for more agile, efficient municipal court structures, and a simpler, faster process for appealing parking tickets.

The reform proposes greater autonomy and flexibility for municipal courts in implementing new projects, appointing Chief Municipal Judges amongst current judges to bring about more efficiency. Municipal judges would work full-time, hence covering the whole province, both in person and remotely, according to the needs.

A new monetary administrative sanctions (SAP) regime would be implemented in some municipalities, replacing municipal judges with administrative decision-makers in contested parking cases. This aims to provide a simpler, faster, and more flexible procedure for citizens to defend their rights.

The SAP regime allows a modern, more accessible justice to the Quebec population, frees up municipal judges to focus on more serious criminal and penal cases, and aligns court conveniences with citizen schedules for hearings, either in-person, via videoconference or written submission.

Bills tabled

Tabling of Bill No. 37, An Act respecting the Commissioner for Children’s Welfare and Rights

Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant introduced a bill at the National Assembly proposing the creation of a Children’s Well-being and Rights Commissioner in Québec. This is intended to respond to the first recommendation from the Special Commission on Children’s Rights and Youth Protection, which recommended an entirely independent body devoted solely to children’s well-being, promotion, and rights respect. As per the bill, the Commissioner would focus on children aged 0-17 and adults aged 18-25 who have been under the Youth Protection Director’s care or under surveillance as per the Youth Criminal Justice Act. There are also plans to appoint an Associate Commissioner for Indigenous children, tasked with ensuring that the needs of First Nations and Inuit children are taken into consideration. This initiative aligns with the Quebec government’s commitment to strengthen care and services for troubled youth based on the Laurent Commission’s recommendations. The implementation occurs in three stages, and establishing the Commissioner is a priority in the ongoing transformation phase.

Tabling of Bill No. 41, An Act to enact the Act respecting the environmental performance of buildings and to amend various provisions respecting the energy transition

The Quebec government has proposed an ambitious law aimed at enhancing the environmental performance of new and existing buildings to expedite their decarbonization in the fight against climate change. Proposed by Environment Minister Benoit Charette, the law will establish new standards for environmental performance reporting that will gradually tighten over the years.

For new buildings, the law paves the way for a high-performance building standard, including stringent criteria related to energy efficiency and carbon footprint. The standard, developed with stakeholders and initially proposed voluntarily, promotes sustainable mobility through the integration of facilities, with rigorous parameters on peak demand reduction.

Moreover, it recognizes the Minister’s role in coordinating the government’s actions towards energy transition and grants the needed authority to regulate the energy efficiency of buildings. The law also plans to unite the two main driving forces of Quebec’s climate and energy transitions: The Master Plan in Energy Transition, Innovation, and Efficiency, and the Green Economy 2030 Implementation Plan, both now under the Environment Ministry’s purview.

Altogether, the implementation of this legislation would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lighten the load on Hydro-Quebec at peak periods, and save building owners money thanks to improved energy efficiency.

Tabling of Bill no. 42, An Act to prevent and combat psychological harassment and sexual violence in the workplace

Quebec’s Minister of Labor, Jean Boulet, has presented Bill 42 to the National Assembly of Quebec, focusing on the prevention and combat against psychological harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. Bill 42 aims to create a healthier, respectful, and safer work environment through administrative measures such as extending the employer’s obligation to prevent and cease harassment to all parties including clients and suppliers, protecting employees against retaliatory actions after reporting psychological harassment, prohibiting clauses of amnesty related to physical and psychological violence, and increasing the claim period for workplace injuries resulting from sexual violence from six months to two years, among others.

In addition, the bill mandates harassment-related training for arbitrators and introduces the option for the administrative labour tribunal to impose punitive damages in cases where the employer is personally responsible for the harassment. It also proposes disqualification from certain roles in the construction sector for those with criminal offences related to sexual assaults. Furthermore, Boulet announced the establishment of a specialized team on sexual violence at the Labor Administrative Tribunal.

Highlights of the parliamentary session

Green Economy transition
 
The CAQ government made numerous green economy announcements during the fall, following up on its Plan for a Green Economy 2030. Quebec announced a strategy that calls for the implementation of more than 116 public charging stations across the province by 2030. Several multinationals have announced their arrival in the province. Northvolt will invest $7 billion to build a battery cell mega-plant, which could create 4,000 jobs. A $4 billion electrolyzer project by TES Canada will be financed entirely by the private sector. It will be powered mainly from its own wind and solar farm in the Mauricie region. Ultium CAM, a limited partnership between General Motors (GM) and POSCO Future M, will build a battery materials production plant in Bécancour, a project estimated at over $600 million and which will create 200 jobs. Quebec is positioning itself as a leader in economic transition, thanks to its expertise, natural resources and a government that favors the development of the green economy.
 
CAQ’s fall in the polls
 
The CAQ is no longer leading in the polls. And this for the second consecutive poll. The Parti Québécois has taken the lead. Several factors were involved: the twists and turns of the third highway link in Quebec City, the 30% increase in MNAs’ salaries, an $8 million subsidy to bring the Los Angeles Kings to Quebec City, amid negotiations with the public sector and at a time when community organizations were complaining about a lack of funding… The latest Léger poll showed the PQ with 31% of voting intentions (+5 points since October), with the CAQ dropping to second place at 25% (-5 points). Quebec Solidaire is third at 17% (+2), the Liberal Party is fourth at 14% (-1) and the Quebec Conservative Party is fifth at 11% (-1). This is the first time in five years of government that the CAQ has experienced such a situation. Much like the Jean-Talon by-election in the fall, voters are looking for an alternative to the CAQ and are turning to the PQ. Still, the next election is in three years. Enough time for the CAQ to get things right.
 
Public sector strikes
 
Strikes in the public sector marked the parliamentary session. The scale of mobilization was unprecedented in Quebec for some time. At the time of writing, the government and unions have yet to reach an agreement. The court of public opinion is still tilted in favour of the strikers. The government’s way out is proving difficult. The health and education networks are notably demanding better pay conditions and greater recognition for their profession. The momentum is right for them. In the wake of the pandemic, the public realized just how bad the state of the networks was, and how much the players in the system were carrying it at arm’s length. The government wants to review the organization of work, but the union monopoly prevents any changes in this respect, resulting in an inefficient network that is not evolving. The chicken or the egg?

Also in the news this week:

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