The CAQ: One Year Into Power
A Non-Exhaustive Analysis of the Provincial Government’s Achievements Since Coming Into Power
Whether you love them or hate them, François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec is inching towards completing their first year in office.
Their win effectively ended the decade-long pattern of alternating between Liberal and Parti Québecois governments, and they’re the first right-wing party elected in the province since the Union Nationale in 1970.
In the midst of controversy around secularism and the tightening of immigration and cannabis laws, other plans seemed to have fallen through the cracks.
So, what has the CAQ actually accomplished since coming into power?
The provincial government’s electoral platform had a plan to finally improve Quebec’s underperforming health system.
They promised to pour money into screening children under five years old for neurodevelopmental disorders, ensure every child has a family doctor, better access to care without appointments on weekends and evenings, more full-time nurses, and lower hospital parking fees.
For seniors, they aim to enforce a mandatory two baths a week policy for seniors’ homes and to double their meal budget.
As part of their health platform, the CAQ also promised to implement the most restrictive laws around cannabis in the country, bringing the legal age of consumption to 21 years old—while keeping alcohol and tobacco sales available to 18 year olds—and banning smoking marijuana in most public spaces.
Legault pointed to studies suggesting cannabis use can harm the developing brain, but others—like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—argue these laws would only push young people back into the arms of the black market, instead of giving them access to government-approved products.
When looking at the bills brought forward in the National Assembly, not many plans regarding the health sector seem to have been put in motion, but the CAQ has resumed its discussions around cannabis restrictions—known as Bill 2—in September. They plan on raising the legal age to possess and use recreational cannabis. They also plan on banning students from possessing any while on their campus.
The law also prohibits smoking cannabis “on public roads, on the grounds of enclosed spaces where smoking is currently prohibited, subject to certain exceptions, as well as in all other outdoor places that are open to the public, like parks, playgrounds, sports grounds and the grounds of day camps,” says the bill.
The prohibition against the Société québécoise du cannabis operating a cannabis retail outlet less than 250 metres from an educational institution will also be extended to all college and university-level institutions.
But, for now, 18-year-olds can still freely and legally light up as the bill is still in the works.
Legault said he wanted to be known as the “education premier.”
He campaigned on several ambitious plans, like offering free pre-kindergarten classes to all four-year-olds, regardless of their economic background, eliminating school boards, and ensuring elementary schools have two 20-minute recesses a day.
He also promised to create service centres run by school directors, teachers, and parents, offer more resources to schools like more teachers, speech therapists, and psychologists as well as subjecting each school to be built in an architecture competition.
Offering pre-kindergarten to all four-year-olds is still in the works. Right now, as these classes are only offered for “underprivileged areas,” the CAQ decided to bridge the gap and make sure everyone can benefit from pre-kindergarten. He aims to free up as many as 50,000 spots in daycares.
However, many schools say they don’t have enough resources for this change and aren’t confident such a radical change would be possible.
Legault said he would resign if this plan failed.
On Sept. 13, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge released a report saying the English Montreal School Board was dysfunctional and should be stripped of all its powers, due to irregularities in how they handle contracts and major internal conflict. The Montreal Gazette reported that Legault said the report “has nothing to do with the reform that is proposed, but maybe it is an additional argument saying that there’s something wrong.”
The CAQ’s budget put aside $4 billion over 10 years to renovate and build schools, with $1 billion for the extension of pre-kindergarten. Smaller amounts will go to everything from special-needs screening to extracurricular activities, field trips, and eyeglasses for students.
Identity has always been at the core of Quebec values and politics.
Quebecers are adamant about protecting the French language, and after years of talks of separating from Canada, the province clutches to its autonomy and desire to be recognized as a nation (though not a state). As well, the Quiet Revolution of the 60s—which brought the separation of the Catholic Church and government—cemented the value of secularism in the province’s collective consciousness.
The CAQ promised to pass a secularism law, limit immigration to “protect the French language,” to demand more autonomy from the federal government and to be recognized as a nation, more francization efforts, and to appoint a commissioner of French language.
One of the biggest and most controversial laws passed by the CAQ was a secularism law, formerly known as Bill 21, which effectively bars those wearing religious symbols from working in education or in the public sector, like judges or police officers.
Supporters of the secularism law claim it’s important to have complete neutrality while being in positions of authority and representing the province. But, the bill also prompted massive outcries of xenophobia and sexism as Muslim women wearing the hijab seem to be targeted by the law.
School boards spoke out against the law—and some said they would refuse to enforce it—but with the threat of being abolished, the boards finally complied.
There have been reports that Minister of Immigration, Diversity, and Inclusiveness Simon Jolin-Barrette plans to have his title changed to Minister of Immigration, Integration, and Francization, and there have been talks of Quebec ditching the notion of multiculturalism for interculturalism—which puts francophone culture at the centre while working to integrate minorities into a common culture. However, these talks are not new, and similar rhetorics have recently popped up in the European Union.
Tensions surrounding immigration have been on the rise in the last few years—with the United States’ crackdown at their southern border being a prime example—and Quebec is not immune.
A large part of the CAQ’s campaign was the promise to reduce immigration by 20 per cent a year, despite an increasingly alarming labour shortage in the province.
The CAQ also hopes to take over all immigration control from the federal government, impose values and language tests for all immigrants, and links immigrants’ permanent residency to their ability to pass such tests. However, the federal government would have to relinquish all control, which isn’t likely to happen.
Legault wants to reduce immigration under the pretext of “taking in less immigrants but taking better care of those we do have.” To do this, the CAQ would double the amount of money dedicated to teaching French to newcomers and assisting them with integration, and the province will spend $466 million on assistance for immigrants.
Those who are struggling with the labour shortage have been critical of this plan.
At the same time as Jolin-Barrette was handling Bill 21, he also was overseeing Bill 9—a proposal to reduce immigration by 10,000 people a year. The bill was passed into law June 16, but no French or values test was included as many members of the National Assembly were scratching their heads on how these tests would be conducted.
However, the province now has power to “accompany and verify” immigrants to assess their French skills and adherence to “democratic values,” though it’s unclear as to what this entails.
Passing Bill 9 also meant shredding about 16,000 applications from hopeful immigrants, telling them to reapply in the new system. This is being contested in court by immigration lawyers. But, it seems the CAQ stayed true to their promise as Quebec accepted 40 per cent less immigrants in the first half of 2019.
But, with business groups having implored the government to raise immigration to allow 60,000 immigrants a year due to labour shortages, these cuts run deep. And, fewer French immigrants have come into Canada since the CAQ came into power.
These changes seem counterintuitive to the spirit of Quebec’s immigration cuts—which Legault tried to justify by claiming that too many immigrants couldn’t find work and too few spoke French.
The climate crisis seems to be on the minds of most Canadians, with the federal government having declared a climate emergency and environmental issues put at the forefront of electoral discussions.
Legault, however, had very few promises surrounding Quebec’s fight against climate change during his campaign.
He promised to export more “clean” hydro energy and to clean up the Saint Lawrence River.
So far, Hydro-Québec reported a surplus in electricity sales and have hiked up their prices outside the province, though they haven’t necessarily been exporting more energy. An act pushing the government to comply with Quebec climate change-related obligations—like carbon emission limits—was introduced, but hasn’t been revisited since February.
Meanwhile, in November 2018, Montreal began massive sewage dumps into the Saint Lawrence River.
Everyone—especially Montrealers—knows being stuck in traffic just sucks.
Part of Legault’s platform was to invest $10 billion in infrastructure to alleviate traffic in the next 10 years, build a tramway, extend the Réseau express métropolitain light-rail, and build an above-ground metro line in Montreal.
The Quebec City tramway is now fully funded by all three levels of government and the project is underway.
The REM light-rail is also under construction. It includes a major line that runs from Deux-Montagnes to Montérégie, passing through downtown Montreal, and extending to the West Island and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport.
In March, the provincial government also adopted a plan to enable them to give more assistance and compensation to victims of disasters that threaten human safety—especially with flooding on the rise. These general compensation programs serve to improve the efficiency of compensation processes and allocate money for temporary housing, food, and clothes.
Being a businessman, Legault gained some footing with the promise of a booming economy.
As the school tax varies from region to region, something Legault deemed unfair and problematic, the premier said he would standardize the tax at its lowest level in all regions.
The CAQ also hopes to take over all income tax reports from the federal government and have Revenue Québec handle all taxes—which the federal government isn’t likely to agree to—along with bringing high-speed internet and better cellular phone coverage around the province, and to create “innovation zones” for new technology and industries.
To bring in extra revenue, the party also promised to export more hydro electricity to other Canadian provinces and the United States.
The CAQ came through on their school tax reduction promises, which homeowners will benefit from.
Montreal’s school tax used to be at $0.17832 per $100 of evaluation, and has been reduced to $0.15035. It is set to fall to $0.1054 in the next four years.
The government promises to give back the losses back to school boards and Finance Minister Eric Girard said it would not impact the financing of school boards or the quality of education—but many working in education don’t trust this.
The government released the province’s fifth-straight balanced budget, with spending set at $113 billion, 4.7 per cent more than the previous year. The budget shows increased spending on health and education, with plans to boost home care and seniors’ homes, schools, pre-kindergarten, and more care for special needs kids—but specific plans remain ambiguous.There are also reductions in property tax rates and boosts in family allowances.
Quebec’s revenue is set to grow to $116 billion, with the surplus going into the province’s debt repayment fund.
Legault’s government also set aside $1 billion to help keep SNC-Lavalin executives in Montreal following their corruption and bribery scandals in Libya.
Despite the promising budget, Quebec’s own-source revenue will only grow by 0.6 per cent in 2019-2020.
In order to keep a balanced budget, the province will rely on an increase of 6.5 per cent in federal transfers, including a 12 per cent increase in equalization—the money Ottawa redistributes to poorer provinces.