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  • David Boudeweel-Lefebvre

Québec news in brief: May 2023 recap

Incredibly, the month of May is already behind us. And it's not just outside that the temperatures have warmed up: there's also been plenty of heated debate in Québec's political ecosystem over the past few weeks. Don't worry, we're here to recap all the key moments for you. Happy reading!

Michael Sabia to head Hydro-Québec

Michael Sabia, federal deputy minister of finance and a former senior executive at Bell Canada and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, has been appointed to head Québec's largest company. He will have the onerous task of reorienting Québec's hydroelectric giant as the province accelerates its efforts to electrify transportation and decarbonize its economy. Pragmatic and efficient, Michael Sabia is a bold choice who is sure to reassure the markets and the business community.

Polls: First grey clouds for the CAQ, a clearing for the PQ

The abandonment of the third Québec-Lévis highway link, a key promise of the party in power, has left its mark: a poll conducted a few days after the official announcement found that support for the Coalition avenir Québec had dropped to 36% across Québec, and to 26% in the capital region. Strangely enough, it's the Parti Québécois that is benefiting, now in second place at 22%, and ahead of the CAQ in the Québec City region. While the drop is far from brutal, and the CAQ remains at the top of voting intentions, this is the first significant drop in support for François Legault's team since 2018. Is this the start of something? Or just a temporary mood swing? As the saying goes: only time will tell.

Immigration thresholds

In the wake of the debate on immigration levels in Québec, Minister Christine Fréchette announced a potential increase: from 50,000 to 60,000 new permanent residents annually by 2027. The share of economic immigration would rise from 64% to 70% over the next three years. Accompanying this trial balloon was a new requirement that almost all economic migrants (skilled workers, investors, entrepreneurs) must speak French before arrival. The government is hoping to leverage the economic migrant stream to bolster the percentage of people speaking French in Québec. Even with an increase to 60,000 immigrants yearly, Québec's immigration levels will continue to remain below the rest of Canada, and will not alleviate the province's current labour shortage.

MNA salaries: An old debate resurfaces

Following the recommendations of a committee of former elected officials, the Québec government has tabled a bill, which if adopted, will increase the base remuneration of Québec elected officials by $30,000, to $131,766 a year (most MNAs earn more through ministerial or parliamentary duties). Some would say such a catch-up is necessary: since 2000, MNAs have received only inflation-based increases. This increase would make the National Assembly's elected officials the best paid in the country. What's more, as a result of this increase, pension fund expenses for elected officials will rise proportionately. While the majority CAQ government can easily pass the increase through the assembly, opposition parties could keep the issue in the news (and voters’ minds) with a prolonged debate. Québec solidaire has already proposed that any MNA salary increase should not be implemented until after the 2026 election.

Month of political conventions

For Québec's main political parties, May is traditionally the month in which they convene their members for important meetings. As for Québec's currently leaderless Liberal Party, pretenders to the throne had to be patient: the rules governing the next leadership race were not presented at the party's general council meeting, despite expectations that they would be. On the CAQ side, party activists took advantage of their annual convention to renew their support for François Legault, who won his confidence vote with a staggering 98% approval. Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, of the Parti Québécois, made a notable appearance at the Bloc Québécois convention, publicly affirming his support for Québec independence.

New bills: School reform, tourist accommodation, Conseil de la magistrature, and expropriations

Québec Education Minister Bernard Drainville took advantage of the month of May to table his long-awaited bill to make the provincial school system more efficient, though it received a lukewarm reception. Québec's minister of tourism tabled a piece of legislation aimed at tightening the regulation of platforms such as Airbnb, which have made headlines in recent months for illegal listings. Québec's minister of justice, Simon Jolin-Barrette, tabled a bill to better control the expenses of the Conseil de la magistrature, the body responsible for ethics, complaints and continuing education of judges appointed by the Québec government. Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault tabled a major bill to modify the expropriation regime, a long-standing demand of municipalities.


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