Montreal·Analysis

Quebec's National Assembly returns for packed fall session

Religious neutrality, health care and education reforms, and PKP — all eyes will be on the National Assembly this fall as the government reconvenes for the fall session.

5 things to watch at the fall sitting in Quebec City

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard in the National Assembly. The beginning of the fall session kicks off Tuesday, Sept. 15. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

A session filled with political positioning and controversial reforms to some of the province's most important services will greet MNAs as they arrive for the fall sitting at the National Assembly on Tuesday. 

Here are the top five things to watch for:

1) Pierre Karl Péladeau rebuilding the Parti Québécois

Will Pierre Karl Péladeau be able to restore the Parti Québécois AND hold on to his Quebecor majority shares? (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

If you spend any time on the newly minted leader's Facebook page (and if you're a political geek like me you probably have), you'll see the PQ leader continues to spend a lot of time on the road meeting with grassroots members.

After trying to motivate the party base through these visits, Péladeau plans on opening a sovereignty research institute by the end of the year to provide all the answers to questions about the viability of an independent Quebec.

The PQ also plans on mounting a training program for party supporters to help them better spread the sovereignty message.

At the National Assembly, Péladeau has doled out new jobs to his MNAs, shuffling his shadow cabinet. On that front, all eyes will be watching how Péladeau interacts and gets along with his troops, especially those longtime MNAs who also ran for the leadership or supported other leadership contenders.

2) Education reform bill

Students carry a mock papier-mache head of Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard at a demonstration against government cuts earlier this year. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

In the last budget, the Liberal government increased spending on schools by 0.2 per cent. When you factor in inflation, it amounts to a cut.

The move spurred significant protest from staff, parents and students at Quebec public schools.

But more changes are coming. Education Minister François Blais will table a bill this fall that aims to decentralize school board governance, abolish school board elections and give more power to parents.

3) Religious neutrality

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée announced the details of the religious neutrality bill in June. (CBC)

A committee will hear from different groups on the Liberal government's proposed religious neutrality bill. It's an attempt to put the debate over so-called secular values to bed after the divisive charter introduced by the former PQ government failed to pass.

Bill 62 would ban provincial employees from wearing religious face-coverings at work, as well as prevent people from covering their faces while receiving government services.

It doesn't go as far as the PQ's secular values charter, so you can expect the official opposition to attack the government from that angle.

4) Health reform: another closure motion?

Gaétan Barrette's plans for overhauling the health care system are being closely watched by Quebecers. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

Another installment of Health Minister Gaétan Barrette's overhaul of the health care system will make its way to the National Assembly this fall.

The new bill would end free IVF treatment for infertile couples, however tax credits would still be available.

In exchange for eliminating patient quotas for doctors, one of the most controversial measures of the bill, Barrette secured a deal with the family doctors federation that aims to see 85 per cent of Quebecers with a family doctor by 2017.

This fall, the bill continues through the second last legislative step before a final vote, a process which is taking a long time.

We may see another closure motion tabled by the government to expedite this bill's passage, followed by opposition cries that that the Liberals are being undemocratic.

5) The debate over PKP and his Quebecor shares

Pierre Karl Péladeau remains the controlling shareholder of Quebecor. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

If there is one thing the Liberals, Coalition Avenir Québec and Québec Solidaire can agree on, it's that the new leader of the PQ should put his shares in Quebecor in a blind trust.

They believe it's the only way to keep a firewall between Péladeau's life as a businessman and his new job as a politician.

But PKP is digging in his heels and refuses to do so.

On his Facebook page Sunday he wrote, "Selling the shares that my father left me, so that they probably end up in foreign hands, doesn't represent the values that my father also left me."

About the Author

Ryan Hicks is CBC's Quebec National Assembly correspondent. He has reported from Montreal, Winnipeg, Charlottetown and Ottawa - where he was a producer on Power & Politics in the Parliamentary Bureau.

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