The Charest government was elected by a strong majority, winning 76 of the 125 seats, with 45 seats going to the Parti qubcois and the remaining four to the Action dm006fcratique du Qub0065c (ADQ).
The Liberal Party, it will be recalled, had unveiled its platform six months before the official launch of the election campaign. As most Quebeckers are only interested in politics during election campaigns, many voters were unfamiliar with the platforms contents. During the election campaign the Liberal leader said little about his true intentions, other than on the issue of municipal de-amalgamations, often the topic of reporters questions. The ADQ was left to explain the right-wing policies it was widely promoting, while the Liberals presented themselves as simply the party of change.
However, Quebeckers were soon to find that the Liberal Party had some very conservative ideas that challenged virtually all of the provinces policies and social gains. The Liberal Party is now following the same path as the Harris and Klein governments.
The Liberal government is reviewing all of its programs and policies with the assistance of a private firm that naturally is licking its lips at the extremely attractive business opportunities offered by public-private partnerships or outright privatization. Unions and community groups have been excluded from the process, of course.
A number of bills were introduced by the government ministers and MLAs, and adopted hastily, without consultation, in mid-December 2003. Here are a few examples:
- Bill 7 An Act to amend the Act respecting health services and social services Removes the hard-earned right to organize for staff in healthcare centres and intermediate resources. For precedents, we would have to go back to Duplessis Padlock Act in the 1950s!
- Bill 9 An Act respecting the consultation of citizens with respect to the territorial reorganization of certain municipalities Allows citizens of certain municipalities the right to vote on the changes imposed since 2000 in municipal territorial organization and establishes a set of consultative and transitional measures as well as intermunicipal obligations, etc.
- Bill 19 An Act to amend the Act respecting financial assistance for education expenses This bill contains various amendments. The total amount of financial assistance will first be granted in the form of a loan. Financial assistance in the form of a bursary will then be paid to the financial institution that granted the loan, to be applied to the repayment of a part of the loan.
- Bill 25 An Act respecting local health and social services network development agencies Proposes the creation of local health and social services network development agencies to succeed the regional boards within a given territory. Establishes an organizational model based on one or more local services networks managed by a single local body that will combine local community service centres, long-term care centres and hospitals, as well as family physicians, community organizations, social economy enterprises and private resources.
- Bill 30 An Act respecting bargaining units in the social affairs sector and amending the Act respecting the process of negotiation of the collective agreements in the public and parapublic sectors A new regime for union representation based on five classes of personnel, with only one association per institution to represent the workers in a particular class. No bargaining unit may include more than one class of personnel. The bill defines matters subject to bargaining at a local or regional level. Failing agreement, a mediator-arbitrator is empowered to choose any final offer by a party.
- Bill 31 An Act to amend the Labour Code Where an undertaking is transferred (i.e. contracted out), the employees collective agreement rights are not transferred, unless the main purpose of the transfer is to undermine an association of employees. A collective agreement is deemed to expire on the day the transfer becomes effective, although notice may be given within the following 30 days to negotiate a new collective agreement.
- Bill 32 An Act to amend the Act respecting childcare centres and childcare services as regards places giving entitlement to grants The $5 daily childcare contribution is increased to $7. The contribution may be indexed according to a method prescribed by regulation.
- Bill 33 An Act to amend the Charter of Ville de Montra006c This bill, which provides a procedure for altering borough boundaries, has implications for human resources management. The bill grants borough councils new powers in the negotiation of the collective agreements of officers and employees assigned to the boroughs.
- Bill 35 An Act to amend the Act respecting administrative justice and other legislative provisions Quebecs Administrative Tribunal and occupational injury board are combined in an Administrative Review Tribunal. Proceedings before the Tribunal shall be heard and determined by a single member who must be a solicitor or a notary, although the proceeding may, at the request of a party, be made a tripartite hearing with employer and union representatives advising the single member where the proceeding pertains to the existence of an employment injury other than a recurrence, relapse or aggravation. However, the employer and union representatives cannot act in a representative capacity before the Tribunal. In a proceeding before the social affairs or employment injuries division pertaining to a proceeding under section 65 of the old Workmens Compensation Act (computation of income replacement indemnity) or a similar proceeding under section 12 of the Act respecting indemnities for victims of asbestosis and silicosis in mines and quarries, the parties may be represented by the person of their choice other than a lawyer, but the Tribunal may exclude a representative who is not a lawyer from a proceeding if the Tribunal considers that the representative does not have the required competence.
Other bills are to come: Act respecting automobile insurance revision of the no-fault provision, reform of the Rg0069e des rentes du Qub0065c [Pension board], amendment of the Act respecting financial assistance for manpower training, etc.
The government is aware that its plans have created general discontent and negative reactions among community groups. Its strategy is, first, to break Quebecs major pressure groups, the unions. It is attempting to create chaos in these organizations and thereby prevent their membersand, in turn, the general populationfrom mobilizing against it.
If the government succeeds, it will have free rein to adopt unthinkable legislation that will turn Quebeckers into a source of cheap labour and push competitive bidding to outrageous limits. The government will become one great big Walmart.