Quebec Premier François Legault focused on a post-pandemic future as he outlined his government’s priorities from fixing the health care system to strengthening the French language in his inaugural speech on Tuesday after prorogating the province’s legislature. determined to.
The COVID-19 health crisis has been devastating – especially as it ripped through long-term care homes in a deadly first wave – and forced people to “fight for their lives”, he said. It has killed more than 11,400 Quebecers so far.
But Legault noted that the province handled the past 19 months with “audacity, perseverance and courage”. He said that with the introduction of vaccination and gradual easing of hygiene measures, the situation is improving after a long gap of one and a half years.
“I am more convinced than ever since the start of the pandemic that the worst is behind us,” Legault said. “I believe it is time to look to the future of Quebec.”
The government will end its pandemic-induced emergency once children aged five to 11 are vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. Legault said he expected that to happen by early 2022, although he acknowledged that the situation could change.
Legault was previously unclear about how he planned to lift the public health emergency, which has been renewed every 10 days since it was first declared in March 2020.
The declaration gives the government broad powers under Quebec’s Public Health Act, including the closure of places of assembly, limiting travel, entering into contracts and “ordering any other measure necessary to protect the health of the population”. is included.
Opposition parties and civil liberties groups have criticized the continuing state of emergency, saying there needs to be more debate about what specific emergency powers are still needed to fight the pandemic.
In his address, Legault said he wants to focus on fixing the health care system. He pointed to the accelerated training and hiring of 9,400 orders last year to correct immediate staffing shortages in long-term care homes as examples of positive change.
“We have been able to change things in Quebec,” he said.
The premier said he also wants to change how work is organized in the health network and to ensure all Quebecers have access to a family doctor. He said Quebec should also focus on offering better home care for senior citizens.
According to Legault, when it comes to the lack of resources and health care workers in the public system, the government seeks to reduce dependence on private agencies to fill the gaps.
In addition to the health care system, Quebec needs to focus on its youth, he said. This includes adding thousands of spaces to daycare and creating an action plan for mental health later this fall. The government will also implement further recommendations of the Laurent Commission, which investigated deficiencies in youth protection services.
Citing the rise of work-from-home due to the pandemic, Legault said his government would also prioritize its plan to offer high-speed internet in all regions.
The premier, who brought his party to power with a clear majority for the first time in 2018, says his government’s priorities are still the same as before the outbreak of COVID-19. This included protecting the French language and culture, as well as demanding greater control over immigration into the province.
Quebec would also continue to move on the Legault government’s secularism law, known as Bill 21. The law, which prohibits some public sector employees from wearing religious symbols on the job, is currently being challenged in court.
Legault has argued that the law enjoys widespread support – although it has also been criticized both inside and outside the province – and said his government will continue to fight for it.
Opposition parties’ reaction
Addressing reporters after the speech, Liberal Leader Dominic Anglade said the address was something new and only touched lightly on some of the most important issues for Quebecers, such as climate change and the cost of living.
“It took 53 minutes for Mr Legault to speak about climate change and the environment once in his speech,” she said. “Forty-five minutes. That lets you know what priority he gives to the issue.”
English-speaking Quebecers were the best-served minority in Canada, after what they also called Legault’s message patronizing Anglophones.
“We are proud of that,” Legault said. “Schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, media – Canada’s francophone minority dreams of mastering so many institutions.”
Engeld accused Legault of not taking into account the concerns raised during recent hearings over the proposed French language reform.
“The English community in Quebec needs to be told how well they are treated right now? I think the English community wants to know how they can build a stronger Quebec together than everyone else,” she said.
Angled also called the speech an exercise in marketing, to which Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of Quebec Solidaire agreed.
“What we heard is a list of election promises,” he said, “most of them are old promises – just rebranded.”
Legault’s speech comes after prorogation was announced on 7 October, which shortened the previous session. It stopped working on all bills before the National Assembly, but the government could bring back legislation it deems necessary and pick up where it left off.
Less than a year is left for the next provincial election. Quebecers heads to the polls on October 3, 2022.
–With files from ‘Granthshala News’ Raquel Fletcher, Annabelle Olivier and The Canadian Press