The Quebec Liberals are refusing to co-operate with the Parti Québécois minority government's last-ditch effort to pass end-of-life legislation that would allow some terminally ill patients to request medically assisted euthanasia.
Passage of the bill, the first of its kind in Canada, is stalled with time running out for the PQ to hold a final vote before the National Assembly recesses for two weeks on Thursday evening.
The bill defines comprehensive palliative care for dying patients and allows some terminally ill adults to request a doctor's assistance to perform euthanasia under strict conditions and criteria.
Several groups, including the Quebec Bar Association, the College of Physicians, notaries and health-care professionals, signed a joint statement on Wednesday urging MNAs to pass the bill.
Premier Pauline Marois is expected to call an election before the session resumes on March 11. If the bill has not been passed by then, it will die and would have to be reintroduced after the election.
"The possibility of an election is real," PQ government House Leader Stéphane Bédard said, rejecting the possibility that the National Assembly could return in March to vote on the bill.
The Liberals are exercising the right of each MNA to speak on the final version of the bill before the vote. Nearly 40 Liberals and four Coalition Avenir Québec members have indicated they want to speak. Each member is allowed a maximum 10 minutes.
Mr. Bédard said that, after four years of debate, all members of the National Assembly have expressed their views, and the opposition parties have a responsibility to allow the legislation to pass.
In a news conference on Wednesday morning, Mr. Bédard offered to give Liberals the speaking time allotted to PQ members. He also asked the Liberals to consent to sitting in the afternoon and evening, but party Leader Philippe Couillard balked, saying Ms. Marois was to blame for the impasse because she wants to call an election before MNAs have had the opportunity to debate the issue properly and vote.
"We made an important concession here by limiting the time [of debate] to 10 minutes [per MNA]. Now, if Ms. Marois wants to call an election, let her call me and then we'll see what we can do," Mr. Couillard said.
The minister responsible for the end-of-life legislation, Véronique Hivon, pleaded with the Liberals to come to terms with her government. She said the debate on the controversial issue has always been non-partisan and should remain so.
"I really believe that there is still hope. … I know the people from all sides of the House. I know how committed they were," Ms. Hivon said. "I'm still hopeful that we will be able to pass this bill."
With an election call expected within two weeks, other important bills are certain to die. These include the secular charter, which would prohibit public servants from wearing overt religious symbols, and an immigration bill tabled this week that proposes major changes in the way Quebec selects newcomers. Other legislation, such as a moratorium on shale gas development in the highly populated St. Lawrence Valley, a major reform of the civil code and the creation of an inspector-general position in Montreal to oversee the awarding of municipal contracts, will also be placed on hold.