Two years after his election, the population of Quebec is overwhelmingly satisfied with the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government led by François Legault. Nationalist and pragmatic, the Premier has won over his audience.
Never has a government in Quebec fulfilled so many electoral promises so quickly. 71% of the 250 CAQ promises have already been fulfilled (fully or in part) according to the Laval University’s Polimetre. The Government reformed school boards and Investissement Québec, reduced school taxes and parking fees in hospitals, invested heavily in education and health, in addition to taking action on the issue of secularism and religious symbols. However, some flagship commitments are slow to be realized, while others are at risk due to the current pandemic.
Rough times are on the horizon with the continuing challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, the hole the pandemic has created in public finances, as well as the legislative and political congestion created due to the shuttering of the National Assembly for the duration of the pandemic crisis.
The second wave of COVID-19 is more difficult to manage than the first
Dealing with the COVID-19 crisis is currently creating frustrations with citizens, businesses, employees, parents, teachers, nurses, and virtually all other members of the economy and province.
After the first wave, the Premier surprised many by replacing the Minister of Health and Social Services, Danielle McCann, and her deputy minister with an experienced manager from the private sector, Christian Dubé. Minister Dubé is also supported by a new deputy minister and new assistant deputy ministers with political experience. Although motivated and able to manage major challenges, the Minister of Health and Social Services (MSSS) will have to steer the largest boat within the government.
Minister Dubé had a few months to do his homework, but the health network remains precarious due to the shortage of manpower, despite the massive arrival of patient attendants. Minister Dubé and the managers of the CI(U)SSS must now deliver.
As is often the case during a crisis, there have been certain inconsistencies in the decision-making process by the public health directorate and the government which has been raised by commentators. Mandatory health measures will be more specific in the second wave but will be applied to the detriment of clarity. Communicating these measures will be quite a challenge! Still, a recent Léger survey shows that more than 84% of Québécois think governments should make it mandatory to wear masks or face coverings in all indoor public spaces.
The impact of COVID-19 on public finances will weigh heavily
After having made several expensive electoral commitments with the backing of a significant budget surplus, but the continuing pandemic is obviously weighing down Quebec’s public finances. At the Ministry of Finance, we know that the public accounts will not return to balance or surplus for several years. The end result is that many election commitments could be delayed or abandoned. We know that the government will spend scarce dollars to stimulate the economy, but how, where, and critically how much, are still up for debate.
The political and legislative funnel
With the management of COVID-19 and limited financial resources, the government will have difficult choices to make. It wants to pass the new Bill 66 to speed up 181 infrastructure projects and table its long-awaited plan for a green economy, not to mention the tabling of the Bill 101 reform, as well as the occupational health and safety reform.
We must also add negotiations with the unions and the issues that emerge daily in the news which require long-term follow-ups to this long list. Not to mention the tabling of the Laurent Commission report on the DYP, the public consultations on the expansion of medically assisted dying, regional air transport, and all the ongoing orders of initiatives.
With the Premier, his Ministers, and with the input of caucus, the government will be forced to make difficult decisions on which bills and major reforms they will choose to tackle and which will have to wait for better days.
In this context, companies, professional associations, and other groups will have to be strategic and nimble to capture the Government’s attention and to successfully promote their projects. Failure to adapt the language and approach to your issues in a way that reflects the new realities at the National Assembly will significantly hinder your chances of success.
A coalition of recruits that work
In many ways, the most difficult road for the CAQ government is ahead. With the management of the second wave of COVID-19, more limited financial resources, and the 2022 general election on the horizon. Fortunately, the Premier can count on solid rookie ministers: Sonia Lebel, Éric Girard, Christian Dubé and Geneviève Guilbault who have stood out since the election. The government is a bit at risk, but at 48% in the polls, it has a lot of leeway. Its electoral base has been strong, stable, and established in essentially all regions since the fall of 2017. The coming months will allow us to see if François Legault’s plane will start its descent as we have seen in other jurisdictions, or if it will continue with little turbulence towards re-election.