From health care to climate change, here's what to expect from a stronger CAQ majority in Quebec

The Coalition Avenir Québec gets another four years to govern. Much of premier-designate François Legault's first four years in power were spent managing the COVID-19 pandemic. What are his priorities now?

With 2nd majority, François Legault can now turn attention from pandemic to other pressing issues

A man is standing in front of a bus
Coalition Avenir Québec Leader Francois Legault will stay on as the province's premier. His party will face challenges that include climate change, the cost of living and a battered health-care system. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The Coalition Avenir Québec has been returned to power for another four years in Quebec, with an even stronger majority than in its first mandate. 

Much of the CAQ's first four years in power were spent managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The party led by François Legault is now facing other major challenges — among them, fixing a battered health-care system, addressing an acute labour shortage and tackling climate change.

Near the top of its long list of election promises, the party says it wants to help Quebecers deal with inflation. 

Here are some things to keep an eye on as the CAQ gets set to begin its second mandate. 

Fixing health care

The pandemic exposed the fault lines in Quebec's ailing health-care system: Staff are overworked, emergency rooms are packed, and with a shortage of family doctors in many parts of the province, people are having a difficult time accessing basic primary care.

The CAQ has said it intends to fix the system, while not overtaxing health-care workers.

The party plans to help alleviate the problem of access to front-line care by building two privately run clinics, in Montreal's east end and in Quebec City, to provide access to basic round-the-clock emergency care, day surgery and other services, all of which would be reimbursed by public health insurance.

It also said it will improve working conditions for nurses and other health-care workers by eliminating mandatory overtime.

Two men are standing next to each other.
Three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, François Legault, left, appointed Christian Dubé, right, as health minister. Dubé is expected to stay on in that role. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The CAQ has backed away from a commitment made in its first mandate to provide each Quebecer with a family doctor. Instead, it's said it will focus on fixing the network to make sure anyone who needs front-line care can receive it as quickly as possible.

The government will look to fine-tune the new primary care portal, the Guichet d'accès à la première ligne (GAP), which helps pair patients with a nurse-practitioner or other appropriate health professional, to avoid having them spend hours waiting at the ER. 

It also wants to improve and increase home-care services, to allow more elderly or chronically ill people to stay at home longer. 

To address the health-care labour shortage, the party has promised to invest $400 million to train 5,000 more health-care workers, including an additional 660 physicians.

During its first mandate, the CAQ often blamed the health-care system's failings on the governments that preceded it. Now that it has a second mandate, that can no longer be its fall-back position. 

Pressure to act on climate change

Quebecers have elected the CAQ to a second majority despite the party's perceived weakness on environmental issues. 

The pressure to address that weakness will ramp up right away, with the province set to blow past its 2030 emissions target unless it changes course quickly.

A group of people are walking
Benoit Charette, centre, served as the CAQ's environment minister during its first mandate, and Chantal Rouleau, left, was the minister responsible for the Montreal region. They were forced to leave last month's climate march early due to people yelling insults at them and accusing the party of not taking environmental issues seriously. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The CAQ is banking heavily on the electrification of vehicles to deal with climate change. However, highway expansion projects and the contentious plan to build a "third link" — a tunnel under the St. Lawrence River connecting Quebec City to Lévis — have drummed up heavy criticism.

During the campaign, Legault said he'd ask Hydro-Québec to look into building more dams to generate the renewable energy the province needs to become carbon neutral by 2050. But there are doubts about the viability of that option.

Putting money in your pocket

Expect the new CAQ government to give Quebecers more cash to help cope with the rising cost of living.

Earlier this year, the government handed out $500 to everyone who makes $100,000 per year or less, with those who earn between $100,000 and $105,000 receiving slightly less money.

During the campaign, CAQ promised to give another $600 by year's end to Quebecers with an annual income of less than $50,000, and $400 to those earning between $50,000 and $100,000. 

It also promised an annual allowance of up to $2,000 for people aged 70 and up, retroactive to 2022.

It is committed to lowering the personal income tax rate by one percentage point for Quebecers in the bottom two tax brackets, starting next year. 

Immigration and the labour shortage

Protecting the French language is a priority for the CAQ, and the party has said in order to do that, it would limit the annual number of immigrants to 50,000. 

However, for months, business groups have clamoured for the government to allow more newcomers due to the acute labour shortage in multiple sectors.

Two men are sitting.
CAQ Leader François Legault, right, discussed business leaders' concerns about Quebec's labour shortage in an exchange with the president of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Michel Leblanc, last week. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

During its second term, the CAQ — which sees itself as a business-friendly party — will need to figure out how to balance its determination to limit immigration against the pressing needs of business owners to find people to hire.

In a speech to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce last week, Legault said his government would address the frustrations of the business community by making sure immigrants and temporary foreign workers better fit the labour market's needs and by pressing students to specialize in areas where there is a high demand. 

Child care and education

In the year leading up to this election, the CAQ announced a $3-billion plan to create space for another 37,000 children in public, subsidized daycares.

During the campaign, it built on that plan, promising another $1.4 billion over five years to convert private spots that are not subsidized, to make sure every Quebec family can access affordable child care.

The CAQ faced criticism in its first mandate for its child-care strategy, particularly a 2018 pledge to make government-funded pre-kindergarten classes for four-year-olds available across the province.

The number of pre-K classes has grown since that pledge was made, but the party has failed to deliver on its promise. Critics have accused the CAQ of focusing too much on getting four-year-olds into classrooms, instead of on expanding public daycare services.


Antoni Nerestant is a journalist at CBC Montreal.


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