#NewsMatters: The National Assembly Report
Debate to heat up as new National Assembly session begins
By Raquel Fletcher
The temperature is exceptionally frigid this year, but debate is about to heat up at the National Assembly with a new session reconvening this week, the last before the fall provincial election.
The top priority, of course, is managing the ongoing health crisis and rebuilding a health care system devastated by COVID-19. All four political parties will present their own ideas, which they hope will also attract voters.
Here is a breakdown of some of the hot topics MNAs will be debating this session.
Ventilation in schools
Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said improving ventilation in schools was one of the Coalition Avenir Québec government’s biggest failures throughout the pandemic.
“It was faster to invent, develop and distribute a vaccine worldwide against COVID-19 than (for) Jean-François Roberge to make sure Quebec's students breathe good quality air,” the politician said during a press conference last week.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade agreed ventilation is a priority for her party as well, but it’s also personal: she explained her own kids have had to wear mittens and toques in their classrooms because the only way for their school to ensure proper air circulation is to open the windows, even in the middle of winter.
Anglade also accused the CAQ of trying to create a diversion with its proposal to create a health contribution tax for the unvaccinated. Premier François Legault floated this idea during a press conference earlier this month but has since released no details about how the tax would be applied.
“When we look at the slippery slope that could entail for the universality of our health system, that worries me enormously,” Anglade said.
Rebuilding the health care system
Health Minister Christian Dubé will table a strategy to “rebuild” the health care system in February.
“We need a health network that is more efficient, more decentralized and more humane as much for patients as for people who work there,” said Legault. “This way, if there is a new wave, the network will be more solid, and it will be easier to get through it without resorting to confinement measures.”
Opposition parties have already put forth their own suggestions on how the province might accomplish this lofty goal.
The Liberal Party says the government needs to scrap plans to build a tunnel between Quebec City and Lévis and instead invest the $10 billion earmarked for the project into supporting frontline workers, catching up on delayed surgeries and reopening emergency rooms, as well as massive investments in mental health.
Québec Solidaire proposes $15 million for emergency funding for multilingual “vaccination brigades.” This money would allow community organizations to ramp up door-knocking efforts to reach Quebec’s most vulnerable populations who have not yet been vaccinated.
The Parti Québécois also unveiled its own 12 pillar plan that include popular initiatives that have been discussed in the past: ending the practice of forced over-time for nurses and legislating patient-caregiver ratios.
And don’t forget about Bill 96
Although public hearings wrapped up in October, the debate on Bill 96, the province’s proposed reform of the French language charter, is far from over. The National Assembly will continue its clause-by-clause study of the bill this session.
French Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette has reiterated on several occasions that the bill will not infringe on anglophone minority language rights, but the Quebec Community Groups Network has argued otherwise.
QCGN says the legislation aims to limit the definition of who is an English speaker (and thus, who has a right to English services) to those who’ve received an English education. The umbrella organization is also advocating for the bill to be amended to explicitly state that health services in English will not be restricted.
Raquel Fletcher is QCNA's News Matters columnist on provincial affairs