Quebec political parties take positions on key issues before winter session

When MNAs return to Quebec City on Feb. 9, they'll face issues that could distinguish their parties from one another in ways not seen since the Couillard government took office.

Liberals, Parti Québécois face critical moments that will further define them

Will Quebecers finally reap the rewards after almost two years of unpopular and painful austerity measures? (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

When MNAs return to Quebec City on Feb. 9, they'll face issues that could distinguish their parties from one another in ways not seen since the Couillard government took office.

Let's take a look at some of the key issues to watch in the winter session:

1. Post-austerity budget

Quebec public sector workers held rotating walkouts for months over budget cuts and contracts. (Pascal Poinlane/Radio-Canada)

Will Quebecers finally reap the rewards after almost two years of unpopular and painful austerity measures? When Finance Minister Carlos Leitao tables the budget, people will judge whether it was all worth it.

We already got a sneak peek in the fall's economic update. The government reinvested $80 million in schools in underprivileged neighbourhoods. If the books are in order, as promised, where else will Philippe Couillard's government invest, and will it keep a commitment to start lowering taxes?

2. Anglophone education rights

School boards have expressed about Bill 86, which would eliminate elected school boards. (Radio-Canada)

English-speaking rights advocates say Bill 86, which would abolish school board elections, cuts to the heart of their community and threatens one of their few remaining institutions.

The education minister sees it differently and says he is putting more power over schools in the hands of parents.

The legality of those changes could end up in the courts.

Advocacy groups for Quebec's English speakers are mulling over legal action because they believe the proposed changes violate their constitutional rights.

Anglophone voices will be front and centre at committee hearings this session.

3. Opposition parties try to gain traction

Parti Québécois Leader Pierre Karl Péladeau took over the party last May. (Clement Allard/The Canadian Press)

A year ago, Pierre Karl Péladeau was seen as his party's saviour.

But by May, it will have been a year since Péladeau took over as leader, and — despite the Couillard government's unpopular austerity measures — Péladeau has not been able to lead his party to a breakthrough in polls yet.

Nor has the party gained traction opposing the government's agenda, with the exception of Parti Québécois health critic Diane Lamarre, who takes on Health Minister Gaétan Barrette regularly in Question Period and in committee.

Now people will watch to see how the PQ tries to define itself through issues directly affecting Quebecers, rather than through the star power of its leader.

4. Coalition Avenir Québec soul-searching

François Legault leads the CAQ. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

They changed their logo and colours before the holidays and are billing themselves as the only "nationalist party" in the National Assembly.

Will it be enough to distinguish the third party from the governing Liberals, who are squeezing out leader François Legault's party with policies the CAQ can get behind and welcoming its disaffected members with open arms

5. Health reform one year later

Close to 130 medical staff at St. Mary's Hospital have signed a letter denouncing an administrative decision to revoke their colleague's right to perform potentially life-saving surgery. (CBC)

One of the biggest overhauls to the health care system got underway a year ago.

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette promised that by eliminating a whole layer of bureaucracy and centralizing decision-making power, Quebecers would get better care.

Has it worked?

Many in the medical community do not believe the centralization of services — with more than 1,000 job cuts in administration — is benefiting patients.

The recent revelations about Mark Blandford, 73, – an ER patient who died after being refused vascular surgery at St. Mary's Hospital because the vascular surgeon's right to conduct an emergency operation had been revoked by his administration – has put the spotlight back on Barrette's health reform.

6. Fallout from Val-d'Or scandal

Bianca Moushoun spoke to Radio-Canada about alleged police abuse against aboriginal women.

The stories of alleged police abuse against aboriginal women in Val-D'Or rocked the Couillard government last fall.

Montreal's police force is investigating the allegations. Once that investigation is over, people will be looking to Quebec City to see how the government responds.

The province has already provided Val-d'Or with more money for support services in the wake of the allegations.

But community leaders also want the government to launch an independent inquiry into the allegations, something Aboriginal Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley is hesitant to do, given the looming national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Cabinet makeover?

Now that the budget is balanced, don't be surprised if Premier Philippe Couillard shuffles his cabinet.

Some new faces would help the government turn the page on its unpopular austerity agenda of the past 20 months and start the next chapter of its agenda with a fresh image.


Ryan Hicks is in his final year as a law student at McGill University and is a former Quebec political correspondent for the CBC. In 2018, he won the Amnesty International Media Award for his reporting from Guatemala about the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States.