Quebec Speech From the Throne: Integrity

The first installment of Quebec’s 40th Parliament is now in session. Quebec’s new Premier Pauline Marois delivered a speech from the throne that established zero tolerance for and a commitment to fight against corruption within the government. The theme: “Integrity”!

To this end, Bill 1 : Integrity in Public Contracts Act was tabled on November 1, 2012, to establish a process for audits to be conducted to ensure that companies seeking to enter into contracts with public bodies or municipalities meet the required conditions as regards to integrity.

Bill 2 : An Act to amend the Election Act in order to limit elector contributions to $100 and to revise public financing of political parties (government Bill) and Bill 190: An Act to amend the Election Act in order to reduce political party spending and the elector contribution limit in order to reduce political party spending and the elector contribution limit (private member's Bill) were also tabled to limit the annual contribution of individual electors to $100. This contribution may benefit only one political party, independent member or independent candidate. Bill 190 also limits the annual expenses of an authorized political party to two million dollars.

In addition, proposed legislation to establish fixed election dates was tabled on November 7, 2012 (Bill 3, An Act to amend the Election Act for the purpose of establishing fixed-date elections). The Bill will amend the Election Act to provide for the holding of a general election on a fixed date every four years on the last Monday of the month of September. If the Bill is enacted, the first general election following the end of the 40th Legislature should be held on September 26, 2016.

The government also intends,

To seek the legislative means to deal with elected officials who abuse their powers. These safeguards against corruption are manifested by proposed set limits on the number of terms a Quebec premier can serve. Also, a three-term limit for mayors of municipalities with more than 5,000 residents, after consulting with municipal officials and opposition parties is suggested. The government also seeks to create a new transport agency, with qualified engineers, to monitor public works projects.

The budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 is expected to be tabled on November 20, 2012, by Nicolas Marceau, Minister of Finance and Economy, with the goal of reducing government expenditures and stimulating private investments.

The health tax will also be changed, however, this change will occur later than originally planned. Quebecers will have to pay for the year 2012, the $200 health contribution. As for income tax, no changes will be applied in 2012. Starting in 2013, a new health contribution plan will be implemented. “The new health contribution will be gradual and therefore will respect the individual’s ability to contribute to the financing of our health care,” said Marceau.

In terms of income tax, it is expected that the government will add a new tax bracket, which will be at the rate of 25.75% for the portion of income exceeding $100,000. The new rate represents an increase of 1.75 percentage points to the current top marginal rate of 24%. This additional step will bring the combined marginal rate (federal and provincial) to 49.97%, a rate that will remain below the threshold of 50%.

As well, changes to the Charter of French Language are anticipated. The government intends to introduce new language policies to tighten Quebec’s Charter of the French Language and expand the use of French at work. Currently, in Quebec, section 46 of the Charter of the French language prohibits employers from making the obtaining of an employment or office dependent on knowledge, or a specific level of knowledge, of a language other than French, unless the nature of the duties requires such knowledge. If the latter is the case, the employer can invoke the argument that performance of the duties requires knowledge of a language other than French, but the employer will have the burden of proving that such is the case.

Moreover, an employer looking to fill an employment position, let alone an office, cannot systematically require knowledge of a language other than French. It is also up to the employer to ensure that any language prerequisite for a position or office is actually necessary for the accomplishment of the main duties of that position or office and that such prerequisite is clearly stated in the job posting.

As a result of the upcoming changes, bilingualism may not be allowed as a job requirement but a “nice to have” requirement.

Furthermore, the government announced they will not proceed with Bills regarding secularism in the public sector, or with the establishment on a Charter on Secularism that would limit religious headwear in public institutions, and the proposed Quebec citizenship that would make future immigrants pass a French test to run for public office. They will however hold public consultation to reach a balance.

Unfortunately, the opposition parties have stated that they will vote against the speech from the throne, and this divergence in position may very well trigger another election.

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Comments

  1. Did the Premier read the speech from the Throne? That would be very unusual – generally it is the representataive of the head of state, i.e. the Lieutenant Governor, who reads the speech, to say what his/her government plans to do. Of course the governing party writes the speech and it is approved by the Premier, but not delivered by the Premier anywhere else in the country. As a distinct society in so many ways, Quebec’s practice may vary (but not by enthroning an elected politician, I would have thought.)

    Term limits for politicians is a very bad idea. Let the electors decide when someone has been around too long or deserves punishment. They can be very good at that. Sometimes they prefer expertise, or just good behaviour.

    Legislation to fix the dates for elections needs to allow for dissolution of the assembly for want of confidence. Quebec’s legislation does this simply by providing that only the LG can dissolve the House before the statutory limit – it is not necessary to prescribe the circumstances in which this can be done, though some such legislation does so. (Compare Ontario’s Election Act s. 9(1).

    Quebec’s bill also allows for postponent of the late September election for one week if it is ‘not suitable’ (new s. 129.1). Ontario provides discretion to pick any day in the following week if the fixed date is ‘not suitable because it is a day of cultural or religious significance’.

    I see that Quebec has a ‘Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship’, who introduced this bill. Many provinces and the feds had someone with such a title in the middle of the past decade, but most such positions have disappeared (I think) as the taste for electoral reform has faded.

  2. Yes she did!

  3. Term limits for politicians is an idea that deserves some more public scrutiny. It might be a bad idea because it limits choice between experience and novelty. It might be a good idea because our political system may tend to favour the entrenched interests of those who hold power and also advantage them to the detriment of new ideas and new people. Having spent a couple of decades in retail politics I can see both sides, but I also think that terms limits in our political system is a legitmate idea that deserves some serious consideration.