Quebec premier-designate Pauline Marois is acting like a leader with a majority mandate, not the head of a fragile minority government, as she moves quickly to enact PQ policies dealing with language, culture and federal-provincial relations.
The Parti Québécois Leader will take full advantage of a Liberal opposition hobbled by the resignation of its leader, Jean Charest, vowing to make progress on the most controversial parts of her platform: abolishing planned university tuition fee hikes and Bill 78, a law restricting street demonstrations.
Calling language “the centre of my preoccupation,” Ms. Marois said the PQ government would also introduce legislation in the fall session to make controversial changes to the French Language Charter, known as Bill 101.
“Even as a minority government … Quebeckers can count on me to produce results,” Ms. Marois said during her first news conference as premier-designate Wednesday.
With a months-long leadership race ahead of them, the Liberals are unlikely to want to bring down the PQ any time soon. And the hearings of the Charbonneau commission into corruption in the construction industry are expected to create embarrassment for the Liberals.
This gives Ms. Marois some freedom to act aggressively in the early stages of her mandate, although she will need the co-operation of some of the opposition parties. She has also promised to stop outside interests from taking over Quebec companies in order to ensure that their head offices remain in the province and to scrap a $200 health tax on individual workers.
Ms. Marois stated that she still plans to demand new powers from Ottawa right away. A cabinet will be sworn in within the next two weeks, and the stage will be set to confront Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Ms. Marois said she had what she called a “cordial” conversation with Mr. Harper Wednesday. She added that her government would start with issues on which the Quebec National Assembly is unanimous.
The Prime Minister’s Office had a different interpretation, saying Mr. Harper “plans to join forces with the Quebec government to implement measures aimed at growing the Quebec economy, with each remaining within its respective jurisdictional boundaries.”
Provoking Ottawa in an effort to revive the nationalist sentiment could take many forms, including asking for control over employment insurance, the enforcement of Bill 101 in federally regulated companies and institutions and full jurisdiction over cultural and communications polices. Ms. Marois’s list will include 15 demands that outgoing Premier Jean Charest made in the 2008 federal election, as well those of her own party.
The changes to the language law will include measures to prohibit francophone and ethnic students from attending English-language CEGEPs. Quebec students are required to attend a tuition-free college for two years before university. The law will also reinforce the use of French in the workplace and retail businesses.
“I want to go as far as I could with the support of the opposition,” she said.
Being at the head of government will also be an important tool for the PQ as it attempts to build support among voters for the next election. The issue of corruption will be a big part of that.
Ms. Marois said she would move quickly to introduce legislation to bar any company with a criminal record from obtaining government contracts, which is aimed at several construction firms that received preferential treatment under the Liberals.
The PQ will team up with the Coalition Avenir Québec on specific files, but the third-place party said it would oppose a freeze on tuition hikes and toughening language laws.
CAQ Leader François Legault said he would be pleased to co-operate on issues such as the fight against corruption. He added that he rejects the PQ’s plan to stop all government employees from wearing visible religious symbols but would be open to such a ban for judges and police officers.
He said Ms. Marois would have to compromise on key elements in her platform to get CAQ support.
“Ms. Marois won’t be free to do what she wants,” he said at a news conference.
Mr. Legault said he was disappointed that his party got only 19 seats despite winning 27 per cent of the vote.
A political science professor at Laval University said the CAQ’s promises to reshape the provincial government were too drastic for many voters.
“By promising major upheaval, the party was perceived as going too far,” Réjean Pelletier said.
Voters “simply didn’t believe” promises such a family doctor for everyone within a year, he said.