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PQ backpedals on daycare proposal mired by series of setbacks

Quebecois MLA Veronique Hivon announces her decision to resign as Public Health and Youth Protection minister because of her pregnancy Thursday, October 18, 2012 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

After only a month in power, the number of setbacks Premier Pauline Marois has faced continues to rise, which could have a lasting impact on the Parti Québécois minority government.

The resignation of a minister on Thursday for health reasons only added to the confusion created by a climbdown earlier in the day on a controversial proposal to extend language restrictions to daycare centres.

Véronique Hivon, one of the rising stars in the PQ government, announced she was stepping down from cabinet in order to bring a risky pregnancy to term.

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"The pregnancy involves serious health risks, and under medical advice I have been ordered to rest for at least a few months," said Ms. Hivon, the junior minister of public health and youth protection.

The resignation was the second setback of the day. The first: The minister responsible for the French Language Charter, Diane De Courcy, had to calm angry immigrant parents by backtracking on suggestions that they would be forced to send their children to French-speaking daycare centres.

Family Minister Nicole Léger, in an interview with The Canadian Press, said she wanted changes to the language law known as Bill 101 to include daycare centres, suggesting that the provisions of the law that restrict access to the English-language school system should also apply to daycare services. On Thursday, Ms. De Courcy said that would not happen.

"It is out of the question for us to enforce Bill 101 in daycare centres in the same way as it applies to elementary and secondary schools," she said. "Ms. Léger spoke about an element in the PQ program that concerns her [ministry]. There are lots of things in the program involving language and immigration. I will in due course recommend what will be the government choices."

In recent weeks, the PQ government has backtracked on several other policies, including a proposal to withdraw public funding for private schools if they failed to accept more students with learning difficulties. The government also backpedalled on an election promise to abolish the $200 health tax and abandoned well-publicized plans to demand more powers from Ottawa.

Despite being shaken by allegations at the Charbonneau Commission of corrupt party-financing schemes, the Liberals appear feisty heading into the fall session while in the midst of a race to choose a new leader at a convention to be held in March, 2013.

The Liberals accuse the PQ of improvising while embracing policies that divide Quebeckers and threaten to undermine the economy. Interim party leader Jean-Marc Fournier warned that the Liberals will vote against the PQ proposal to introduce two new tax brackets for high-income earners. The PQ said it will put the proposal to a vote when the National Assembly reconvenes at the end of October.

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"We've had improvisation after improvisation and it's tough for Quebeckers to believe in the professionalism of this government. And it's only been a month," Mr. Fournier said.

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