The return of Parliament in Quebec marks the second year that the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government is at the helm of the province. Premier François Legault and his team continue to enjoy popular support and a high satisfaction rate.

According to the most recent Léger survey published January 31, 2020, the CAQ received 42% of support, versus 23% for the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), 19% for the Parti Québecois (PQ), and 11% for Québec Solidaire (QS). Support for the CAQ is evident among francophones, at 51%, followed by the PQ at 22%, QS at 13% and the PLQ at 10%. The level of satisfaction with the government is at 60%. Premier Legault has often underlined the three priorities of his government: economy, education, and health. It’s now clear that these priorities have been dethroned by a new priority theme.

The Year of the Environment

In 2020, the environment will be at the heart of government action. This was confirmed last week when the CAQ MNAs gathered at the pre-session caucus. The government took advantage of this event to announce a reform of the deposit system which will target all plastic, glass and metal containers. The Premier’s announcement contained a very clear message: “The year 2020, for the CAQ government, will be the year of the environment.”

This reform is the first in a series of environmental announcements that the government will make. More information concerning the modernization of the recovery and recycling industry, which will have an impact on businesses, municipalities and sorting centres, will be presented in the first few weeks of the parliamentary session. In addition, the Electrification and Climate Change Plan, long-awaited by the environmental sector, will soon be revealed.

Budget Surplus

According to the last monthly report on financial operations, the Quebec government had a budgetary surplus of 3.7 billion dollars from the first seven months of the fiscal year. Given this positive economic situation, there is every reason to believe that the next budget announcement will be focused on the key priorities rather than a sprinkling of smaller initiatives. Investments dedicated to environmental projects, such as the electrification of transportation, and lowering the tax burden for citizens are likely. The CAQ has already announced a few targeted measures primarily for families with children, but a more general and significant announcement regarding lowering the tax burden has not yet occurred. Historically, the CAQ has been centre-right regarding fiscal matters.

Contract Negotiations

It is not only Quebec taxpayers and government Ministers who are eyeing the billions in budgetary surplus. The collective labour agreement of 400,000 Quebec government employees is expiring at the end of March 2020, contract negotiations are currently underway. At the end of 2019, an important gap between the union demands and the government offer was publicly disclosed. It is thus likely that the negotiation period will be tough. In the past, discussions have been drawn-out and do not result in their desired outcomes for the provincial government.

Data Security

The Quebec government has begun a vast transformation of the government’s digital programs to further protect sensitive data. Two bills have been tabled in the matter.

First, adopted in October 2019, Bill 14 lays out administrative principals and frameworks for digital transformation.

Secondly, Bill 37 creates a new centre for government acquisitions to replace the Quebec Centre of Shared Services (Centre des services partagées du Québec) and the data management entity called Infrastructure Technologique Québec. Both entities are currently under review by a parliamentary commission. It will not be a surprise if the government chooses to accelerate the pace and take a leadership role regarding data security.

Looking Ahead

The government is beginning this parliamentary session with a free hand, even more so given that two of the three opposition parties – the PLQ and the PQ – are in the middle of leadership races, which suggests that the energy they accord to parliamentary activities will be diluted.

In this context, the government should have the capacity to impose its priorities by summer 2020. It will likely keep its focus on the reforms already underway to make sure that they land efficiently despite the level of controversy that they may generate, including the reform of student immigrants, school boards, medically-assisted dying and/or the voting system.