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Quebec's Premier Pauline Marois speaks during her inaugural speech at the National Assembly in Quebec City on October 31, 2012. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/REUTERS)
Quebec's Premier Pauline Marois speaks during her inaugural speech at the National Assembly in Quebec City on October 31, 2012. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/REUTERS)

Marois talks tough on corruption, fiscal restraint in inaugural speech Add to ...

The Parti Québécois government is proposing a new law to break the “scourge” of corruption and is promising tighter management of the public purse in the cash-strapped province.

In the inaugural speech delivered on Wednesday, Premier Pauline Marois reassured the international financial community that despite the PQ’s commitments to improve social programs, the government will eliminate the deficit in 2014 and impose strict spending limits to meet its target.

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“In the coming months, I will meet American decision makers to promote our interest, mainly economic interests,” Ms. Marois said, an indication that the government will impose austerity measures if needed in reaction to concerns raised by American credit rating agencies.

The Premier also confirmed that a new language law will be tabled to “preserve the place of French as the common public language”; reiterated her party’s commitment to sovereignty, without specifying how her minority government will achieve it; and promised to set up the province’s own firearms registry using the data currently held under court order by the federal government.

On the issue of corruption, the Marois government promised that “as of now it will be zero tolerance.” Ms. Marois said that as of Thursday, Bill 1 dealing with the issue will be tabled in the National Assembly. It is designed to ensure that companies demonstrate the highest standards of honesty and integrity before bidding on municipal and provincial contracts.

A new agency will be created to oversee the planning, awarding and inspections of all Ministry of Transportation contracts. But the government is still grappling with how to remove mayors from office if they are being investigated for criminal activities. “We are still searching for legislative means,” Ms. Marois said in the wake of serious allegations of corruption involving the mayors of such cities as Montreal, Laval and Mascouche.

Another bill will be tabled to restore integrity in the financing of political parties, aimed at eliminating influence peddling. The bill will also call for provincial elections at fixed dates and limit to three the number of mandates a mayor of a town of more than 5,000 people can run for office.

The government’s response to the stunning revelations at the Charbonneau commission on corruption in the construction industry was matched only by its desire to appease concerns over the province’s economy. Revenues aren’t keeping up with expenditures and the situation will soon become “untenable” if nothing is done, Ms. Marois said.

“I have asked the Ministry of Finance to evaluate all the options before us whether it be a ministerial declaration, an economic statement and if necessary the preparation of a budget this fall,” the Premier said.

The opposition parties accused Ms. Marois of improvising, and attacked her inability to be more specific. “It is clear Ms. Marois doesn’t know what to do,” said Liberal Opposition Leader Jean-Marc Fournier. “The business community will certainly not be reassured by this speech.”

The National Assembly will be asked to vote on new fiscal and budgetary measures, including the introduction of two new tax brackets for high-income earners to partially pay for the exemption of the $200-a-year health tax for low-income earners.

The opposition parties said outright they will vote against the government’s fiscal plan.

But the PQ government warned that if its plan is defeated in the National Assembly, it will be considered a non-confidence vote and plunge the province into another election.

“The decision will be up them,” said Marie Barette, the Premier’s spokeswoman.

The PQ is convinced that the opposition is bluffing, noting that the Liberals are without a permanent leader and the Coalition Avenir Québec has little money and would not dare to provoke another election only two months after the last vote.

In some ways, the Marois government appears willing to follow in the footsteps of the former Liberal government. It will set up a ministerial task force to promote specific private investment projects focussing on the transportation and energy sectors.

A northern development secretariat will be created to oversee the Liberals’ Plan Nord. And the PQ government will continue to support free-trade talks between Canada and the European Community, adding that it was also “working on an international trade plan” aimed at increasing exports and attracting foreign investors – a long-time Liberal priority.

Despite a sluggish economy and lower revenues, Ms. Marois reiterated her commitment to improve social programs, without giving any indication, aside from an increase in mining royalties,where new revenues will come from to support the initiatives.

Ms. Marois said the number of daycare spaces, family doctors and health-care services will be improved. A task force has been set up to examine the benefits of creating a “loss of autonomy” insurance for the elderly, as well a radical shift away from long-term care facilities to more homecare services.

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