Quebec’s Parliamentary Session: Priorities, Issues, Budget, and Highlights
Quebec’s parliamentary session started on November 29, 2022, and will end on June 9, 2023. The CAQ government is facing several issues, whether in health and education, but also with the negotiations of the public sector collective agreements. The government will present its budget on March 21, 2023, having promised tax cuts during the last election campaign in a context of rising inflation and interest rates.
Priorities & Issues
Education Minister Bernard Drainville will have to address four main issues: staff shortages, teacher-student ratios, access to network data and school obsolescence. Recently, the Minister admitted that the government would not be able to meet its goal of opening 2,600 4-year-old preschool classes by 2025-2026 as planned. Instead, that target will be pushed back to the 2029-2030 school year. The government underestimated the costs of building classrooms and the lack of available manpower.
Health Minister Christian Dubé has his work cut out for him, with the staff shortage, the health plan and the question of private agencies, the decompartmentalization of professional orders and the flexibility of collective agreements. The government has already introduced bills on health data and the use of private employment agencies. These bills would link health system data to patients and prohibit any health and social services organization from using independent labor except as prescribed by the government.
With one month to go before public sector collective agreements expire, Premier François Legault is calling for more “flexibility” in collective agreements to “change the way” the health-care network works, assuring that it is in no way a matter of “reducing the benefits” of nurses. The Premier is inviting the unions to participate in the discussion forums orchestrated by Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel, but the unions see them as a way for the government to buy time and get lost in the bigger picture. LeBel says she has submitted $700 million in proposals to the unions, including the deployment of education aides and additional pay and leave for nurses. She also says she is looking at a pay review for psychologists.
In his economic update last December, the Minister of Finance had already announced three measures to combat inflation: one-time assistance that was paid out at the end of the year, a refundable tax credit for seniors over 70, and a limit of 3% per year on the growth of certain government tariffs. M. Girard said that the early 2023 data, overall, is better than the government had anticipated. The Quebec government’s budget deficit was revised downward in this economic update. While it was $6.5 billion in the last budget forecast in March 2022, it is expected to be $5.2 billion by March 31, 2023.
The next budget should revise the Act to reduce the debt and establish the Generations Fund in the context of reducing the debt/GDP ratio. The government should finance its tax cuts promised during the last election campaign with the Generations Fund. This will be an opportunity to build a societal consensus on the use of the fund. It will also be important to monitor the government’s implementation of eco-taxation through incentives and penalties. The government wants to develop the battery industry and the sale of hydroelectricity, while the CEO of Hydro-Québec Sophie Brochu will be leaving her position next April. Finally, in response to the labor shortage, the government should introduce measures to encourage the retention of experienced workers in the labor market.
Highlights of the parliamentary session include:
March 21st: Budget Girard
March 13th: By-election in Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne
March 31st: Expiry of the collective agreements for state employees, medical federations, and ambulance drivers
April: Study of credits
By the end of spring: Santé Québec bill
June: Several provisions of Bill 96 come into force
June: Green Economy Plan Implementation Plan (2023-2028)