Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’ first 100 days in power have been marked by embarrassments, flip-flops and disappointments. But despite the awkward handling of several unexpected situations, the Parti Québécois minority government appears confident it can stay in power for some time. The Charbonneau Commission into corruption may create havoc for the Liberals and give Ms. Marois enough time to redeem herself – or further damage her chances at re-election.
A budget that was adopted – by one vote – sets out an aggressive plan to control spending and achieve a zero-deficit. It was welcomed by business leaders and the financial community.
The PQ moved to halt university tuition increases , immediately restoring peace on the campuses after months of demonstrations and social unrest.
A plan to improve the $7-a-day daycare program by creating 28,000 new spaces.
New laws to remove collusion and influence-peddling in the awarding of government contracts. Maximum political donations were set at $100.
The government backed down from introducing a retroactive tax on capital gains and dividends after a public outcry over the PQ’s lack of transparency. It failed to completely abolish the $200 health tax as promised during the campaign. It also backed down on a commitment to spend public funds to boost support for Quebec sovereignty.
Contrary to what was promised, several government services will be slashed because of budget cuts, including legal aid and low-income housing. The so-called heritage block of cheap hydro-electricity, which was supposed to remain frozen, will increase with the rate of inflation.
The government backed down on its plan to review the province’s generous funding of the private-school system.
A weaker language law than the one promised failed to include the PQ commitment to extend to English-language colleges the same restrictions applied to elementary and secondary schools. The restriction prohibits francophone and allophone students from attending English-language schools. The PQ also abandoned a plan to extend the language law to daycare centres.
Players to watch
Martine Ouellet, minister of natural resources, is responsible for keeping the mining boom alive as part of the Northern Development plan. Mining companies are nervously awaiting her proposals to increase royalties that are expected to boost revenues for the province.
Pierre Duchesne, minister of higher education, is preparing an important forum in February on the future of universities. Mr. Duchesne doesn’t have the money to increase funding at levels demanded by university rectors. And he faces an equally demanding challenge in meeting student demands for major changes in the way universities are managed. Failure to reach an acceptable solution could seriously harm the Marois government’s credibility.
As the projected front-runner in the race to become Quebec Liberal Party leader next March, Philippe Couillard could face the daunting task of rebuilding a party crippled by allegations of corruption that threatens to emerge from the Charbonneau inquiry when public hearings resume on January 21, 2013.
CAQ Leader François Legault holds the balance of power and could become the major power broker in the PQ’s efforts to avoid an election in 2013. Should his party become more popular in public opinion polls, he may be tempted to seek an early election, which would leave it up to the Liberals to determine the PQ’s fate.