Quebec Weekly News: January 26, 2024

Welcome to Capital Hill Group's Quebec Weekly Newsletter - by Félix Lachance.

Possible opening to private production: Miles and miles of power lines to be built

By 2035, Hydro-Québec plans to increase its electricity production by 60 TWh, requiring the construction of almost 5,000 km of high-voltage lines across the province. A bill could also open the way for the private sector to generate and sell electricity, requiring the construction of their high-voltage lines. These developments will have a major visual impact on the Quebec landscape and raise questions of social acceptability. Experts are concerned about the lack of an energy efficiency strategy and fear the implications of privatizing Hydro-Québec. The new infrastructures are estimated to cost between $45 and $50 billion.

Caquist caucus meeting: François Legault wants fewer "distractions"

Quebec Premier François Legault, in calling for unity within his party, aspires to fewer “distractions” and a refocusing on priorities such as health and education. At a caucus meeting in Sherbrooke, he urged MPs to focus on the CAQ’s core orientations and ignore past controversies. Legault reaffirmed the government’s commitment to improving working conditions in key sectors and allayed concerns about the potential privatization of the energy sector. On the other hand, persistent concerns about the solicitation of political contributions by an MP in exchange for official meetings were raised. Finally, the Minister of Education called for a brake on the arrival of asylum seekers to ease the burden on the education system, while Simon Jolin-Barrette, Minister of Justice, announced the appointment of 15 new judges to combat judicial backlogs, calling the move historic.

Girard casts doubt on a return to balanced budgets in 2027

Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard is casting doubt on the possibility of returning to a balanced budget in 2027, following a bonus offer to public sector unions that could cost $11 billion annually, $2 billion more than previously forecast. This comes against a difficult economic backdrop marked by a slowdown and strikes. Spending will increase in key sectors such as health and education. Girard remains optimistic that interest rates will remain stable in the short term. He also announced an extension for the 2021 tax return, linked to one-off assistance. For its part, the QLP, through the voice of its interim leader Marc Tanguay, considers the postponement of a balanced budget a “monumental failure” and accuses the Legault government of losing control of public finances.

21 cities interested in Elections Québec's pilot project for Internet voting

While the implementation of such a system does not guarantee a significant increase in voter turnout, the objective is to facilitate access to voting. The pilot will enable 10% of electors in these cities to vote online. Three companies, Scytl, Smartmatic and Voatz, have submitted proposals following a call for tenders. The chosen supplier will be announced before the summer of 2023, and Elections Québec will cover all costs. However, the project is not scheduled for the 2026 provincial elections.

Daniel Zizian, special advisor to the PM: Legault hires a long-time friend

François Legault, Quebec’s premier, has appointed 50-year-old friend and former collaborator Daniel Zizian as special advisor – a role recently freed up in his cabinet. Zizian, 66, had previously served as Legault’s chief of staff under the Bouchard government, retiring in 2022 after heading various institutions including the Quebec Employers’ Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Prior to that, he was active in the political and educational fields, notably working with Pierre-Marc Johnson and as Deputy Secretary General of HEC Montréal. This hire marks an infrequent change in Legault’s team since his election in 2018.

Opposition to Northvolt could discourage other investors, fears Fitzgibbon

Pierre Fitzgibbon, Quebec’s Minister of Economy, is concerned that opposition to Northvolt’s Montérégie battery plant project is damaging Quebec’s reputation with foreign investors. The Swedish firm halted work on the project after a request for an injunction to halt deforestation on the site was filed. Fitzgibbon deplores the hostility against Northvolt and fears it will deter further investment, calling into question Quebec’s welcome. He assures us that environmental rules are respected despite the absence of a BAPE assessment, affirming that Northvolt follows rigorous values. He stresses the need to respect procedures without over-simplifying the debate. The hearing on the CQDE injunction was held the following Tuesday. The judge took the case under deliberation.

Healthcare workers: "Collusion" between private agencies in a call for tenders

Three healthcare personnel placement agencies in Quebec are suspected of collusion in a government call for tenders, according to the Autorité des marchés publics (AMP). The program was launched in December 2022 to cover eight million hours of annual work in the healthcare sector. The AMP could withdraw these agencies’ authorization to contract with the government. One agency owner admits collusion, claiming that another agency dictated prices submitted as part of a concerted strategy. Allegations of collusion led to suspending a recent tender due to complaints. The president of the Association of Private Employment Agencies advocates better supervision of agencies rather than their elimination by the end of 2026.

Ethics Commissioner: Opposition calls for inquiry into Caquist MNA Louis-Charles Thouin

The Quebec opposition is calling for an ethics inquiry into Caquist MNA Louis-Charles Thouin, who is suspected of improper political financing. He allegedly asked mayors to contribute financially to meet with the Minister of Transport, raising questions of legality and ethics. Québec solidaire MNA Vincent Marissal and the Liberals are urging the Ethics Commissioner to look into the matter. Minister Sonia LeBel would not comment on the legality of Thouin’s actions. Concerns have been raised about privileged access in return for donations, an approach already scrutinized by another Caquist MNA. The Ethics Commissioner confirms that the request is currently being analyzed.

Real estate: Restructuring at the Caisse de dépôt

The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) is restructuring by integrating its real estate subsidiaries Ivanhoe Cambridge and Otéra Capital directly into the organization, hoping to generate $100 million in efficiency gains. Ivanhoe Cambridge’s current president, Nathalie Palladitcheff, will leave at the end of April, and is being considered as a potential head of the new Santé Québec agency. The integration, which will take 18 to 24 months, will see the subsidiaries become investment groups within CDPQ, while retaining their brand names. Details of the jobs affected will be specified once the integration is complete. CDPQ CEO Charles Emond’s ambition is to unify the Caisse’s expertise for the benefit of depositors. A successor to Palladitcheff is expected to be appointed shortly, while Rana Ghorayeb will remain at the helm of Otéra Capital.

Foreign workers: Quebec "will have no choice" but to welcome more immigrants, says Tanguay

Marc Tanguay, interim leader of the Quebec Liberal Party (QLP), asserts that Quebec will have no choice but to welcome more immigrants to meet economic needs, despite the promises of the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) to reduce immigration thresholds. Criticizing current management, he stresses the urgent need to provide better support for the 500,000 temporary workers already in the workforce, and to increase Quebec’s intake capacity, in anticipation of the 1.6 million jobs that will need to be filled by 2031. The issue of immigration is heating up between Quebec’s political parties. The QLP also suggests that the CAQ’s poor immigration policies are putting pressure on public services, and is calling for a minister to be dedicated to SMEs, which are currently experiencing difficulties in the province.

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Quebec Weekly New: An overview of the weekly news and updates coming out of Quebec for the weeks from January 12 - 26, 2024.​ Written by Félix Lachance.

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