Quebec Weekly News – February 12, 2024

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Increased use of solar power in Quebec is "inevitable", says Fitzgibbon

Quebec’s Minister of the Economy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, declares that the use of solar energy is likely to increase in Quebec to complement the energy mix, raising the possibility of using the Green Fund to support this transition. One study indicates that Quebec could generate significant electricity from solar panels. However, current subsidies are not sufficiently stimulating solar adoption, a situation that could change with the consideration of new financial incentives. The QLP is calling for subsidies, while the Parti Québécois supports increased financial support for renewable energy. Québec solidaire also recommends subsidies, while suggesting that energy consumption be tackled. Even so, a rise in electricity prices seems inevitable, albeit politically limited for the time being. Hydro-Québec plans to revise its rates, which could influence the future of solar power in the province.

870 million for the Olympic Stadium's new roof and technical ring

The Quebec government plans to invest $870 million to replace the roof and technical ring of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The new roof will be fixed and rigid, yet lightweight and durable, and will feature a wide translucent glass edge to let in daylight. The existing concrete technical ring will also be replaced by a curved steel tube to match the stadium’s architecture. Construction of the new structure is expected to take around four years, with completion scheduled for 2027. The work is expected to generate some $1.5 billion in economic spin-offs over 10 years. The government has ruled out the idea of demolishing the stadium, which is the only amphitheatre capable of seating more than 50,000 people in Quebec, due to the high cost associated with this option.

Teacher morale: FAE "worried" about the future

The president of the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), Mélanie Hubert, expresses concern about the future after the 2023 unlimited general strike (GGI). Although some FAE-affiliated unions have accepted an agreement in principle with Quebec City, many teachers are bitter and frustrated that their demands have not been fully met. Ms. Hubert acknowledges that the employer side was very tenacious during negotiations, and that the agreement reached is not as favorable as they would have liked. Some unions rejected the agreement, and those who accepted it did so by a slim majority. Despite this, the FAE will continue to fight to lighten the load on teachers and defend public schools. Mme Hubert believes it is still too early to draw conclusions from the strike, but stresses that the struggle was necessary to demand concrete improvements. The agreement in principle will be officially ratified on Wednesday by the FAE Federation Council.

Northvolt: the virtues of a BAPE assessment

The Quebec government is in a hurry to push ahead with Swedish firm Northvolt’s battery component plant project, but revelations about the project’s environmental effects and exemption from BAPE assessment have sparked public concern and growing distrust. Journalists have revealed information about regulatory changes and measures taken to speed up the plant construction process. While the project itself is widely supported for its importance to Quebec’s green economy, the lack of a full and open BAPE assessment and concerns about environmental impacts have fueled public discontent. The article points out that the BAPE is an important institution for assessing major projects and allowing citizens to express their concerns and expectations, and that its absence in this specific case risks compromising social acceptance of the project. It also points out that proper upstream planning generally speeds up the project realization process in the long term.

Public transit: Geneviève Guilbault to launch performance audits

Quebec Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault will soon be launching performance audits to assess the financial management of the province’s transit companies. A mandate will be entrusted to the firm Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton as of February 12. Each transit authority, including Montreal’s Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM), will be able to choose whether or not to participate in this exercise. The aim is to examine each company’s finances and identify underperforming activities between 2018 and 2023. Aspects to be assessed include administration costs versus operating expenses, driver productivity, operating costs per passenger-kilometre, human resources structure and number of internal hierarchical levels. The audit firm’s mandate will be for a maximum of one year. The STM, Montreal’s public transit company, is ready to collaborate and hopes to demonstrate its effectiveness. This initiative follows the Legault government’s efforts to gain a better insight into the finances of public transit companies.

State secularism: Quebec renews use of the notwithstanding clause

Quebec’s Minister of Secularism, Jean-François Roberge, has tabled a bill to renew for a further five years the notwithstanding clause, which protects the Secularism of the State Act from legal challenges under the Canadian Constitution. According to Roberge, the law adopted in 2019 preserves social peace and promotes living together. Bill 21 prohibits government employees in positions of authority, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols. The Parti libéral du Québec (QLP) opposes the use of the notwithstanding clause, while the Parti québécois (PQ) supports the government and wishes to broaden the scope of the law. Québec solidaire (QS) is in favor of challenging the law in court, but through the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Roberge also expressed his opposition to any attempt by the federal government to restrict the use of the notwithstanding clause by the provinces.

Canada leads the race for electric vehicle battery manufacturing, according to BloombergNEF

Canada has been ranked the best place in the world to establish a supply chain for lithium-ion batteries, dethroning China, according to a ranking published by BloombergNEF. This recognition is hailed by the Quebec battery industry as a victory. Canada surpasses China in terms of environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria, which are increasingly important to investors. Integration with the U.S. automotive industry and proximity to that market also played in Canada’s favor. The United States ranks third. The report also highlights Canada’s progress in manufacturing production and the presence of mineral resources. Government commitment, particularly financial, is also highlighted as a driving force behind the industry’s development. This ranking could attract new investors.

Repatriation of full immigration powers: A referendum is "not necessary", says Legault

Quebec Premier François Legault has declared that a referendum on the repatriation of full immigration powers to Quebec City is not necessary, as there is a consensus in Quebec on the issue. This statement follows earlier discussions on a possible sectoral referendum on immigration powers. During the election campaign, Legault had raised the idea of a referendum to force Ottawa’s hand, claiming that it was a matter of survival for the Quebec nation. However, the Prime Minister now believes that a majority of Quebecers support the repatriation of immigration powers, and that there are other ways to mobilize Quebecers on this issue. He points out that the demand for full powers mainly concerns temporary immigrants, including asylum seekers. While Legault maintains his demand for full immigration powers, he is taking a staple approach to negotiations with the federal government.

UMQ and FQM oppose end to popular financing of political parties

The presidents of Quebec’s two main municipal associations, the Union des municipalités du Québec (UMQ) and the Fédération québécoise des municipalités (FQM), have criticized the idea of ending popular financing of political parties, a suggestion made by Prime Minister François Legault. They believe it would undermine municipal democracy. The presidents of the associations, who have themselves contributed to the financing of the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), argue that donations from individuals are essential to enable new municipal candidates to make a name for themselves and compete with the established parties. Rather, they argue, the problem lies in the CAQ’s clumsy approach to soliciting donations, based on recently leaked messages. They point out that elected municipal officials participate in fundraising activities to learn about the government’s priorities for their municipality, not to obtain preferential treatment.

CAQ embarrassed by new fundraising activity

The Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) is facing controversy over a new fundraising activity. A couple whose daughter died in a car accident were invited to a CAQ fundraising event where they were able to meet Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault to discuss measures to improve road safety. The couple bought tickets at $100 each to have two minutes with the minister but were disappointed with the meeting. These revelations have sparked outrage among the opposition, who denounce the use of human distress for political ends. The opposition parties are demanding an apology from the CAQ and reimbursement for the couple. The Minister of Transport stated that the ministers were accessible without political contribution and that she had not received a request for a meeting from the couple prior to the event. The CAQ has temporarily stopped collecting donations from voters in response to the controversy.

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Quebec Weekly News: An overview of the weekly news and updates coming out of Quebec for the week of February 6-12, 2024.​ Written by Félix Lachance.

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