In response to numerous allegations of favouritism, the Charest government has tabled legislation that would remove irregularities linked to perceived political patronage in the awarding of private daycare permits.
Some of the changes had already been announced last April following a political storm over what the opposition Parti Québécois referred to as influence peddling by Quebec Liberal Party supporters who had ties to former family minister Tony Tomassi.
The PQ revealed that several of Mr. Tomassi's riding association members had received lucrative, publicly funded daycare spaces. Revelations also pointed to individuals with no prior experience in operating daycare centres receiving permits after making contributions to the Quebec Liberal Party.
Mr. Tomassi resigned from cabinet 10 days after introducing changes that he hoped would quiet criticism over his handling of daycare services.
His resignation in May came after Premier Jean Charest revealed that Mr. Tomassi had made personal use of a gas company credit card belonging to the now bankrupt Montreal-based BCIA securities firm. The matter is currently under police investigation.
On Thursday, new Family Minister Yolande James took last spring's measures a step further by proposing a law that would give back to local communities the responsibility of awarding new daycare spaces.
"Our will is to work with the local communities," Ms. James said in announcing that spaces will be awarded by regional consultation committees made up of representatives of school boards, social service agencies, locally elected officials and non-profit daycare operators. "Our government is responding to a specific objective by acting with the maximum transparency."
The bill also cracks down on illegal daycare centres, imposes heavy fines on operators who charge parents more than the required $7-a-day per child for publicly funded spaces, and introduces background checks on the owners and even shareholders of companies that operate daycare centres to weed out pedophiles and other criminals.
The bill proposes to stop the development of new private daycare chains, but will allow those already in place to continue operating.
And the government wants to triple the total number of inspectors to 58, to exercise tighter control over daycare operations.
Recent media reports showed some private daycare owners were operating illegally, overcharging parents in centres that were often understaffed and in clear violation of provincial safety standards.
The Quebec association representing non-profit daycare centres applauded the measures but argued that, unless the government proceeds with its promise to create several thousand new spaces, the bill will have little impact.
"What good is it to set up regional committees to award daycare permits if there aren't any new spaces available to hand out," said the association's director-general Jean Robitaille. "In the 2008 election, the Liberals promised 15,000 news spaces and we're still waiting for them."
The group also urged the government to eliminate tax credits for anyone caught operating an illegal daycare centre and called for supervision of small family centres that care for six children or less.
Under Quebec's publicly funded $7-a-day daycare services, non-profit centres receive from the government $44 a day per child and private centres $39 a day per child. Those operating from their homes receive $21.50 a day per child.
The PQ said the government only made the announcement to rebuild its battered image, tainted by allegations of corruption in the awarding of government contracts. The opposition renewed calls for a full public inquiry into the construction industry and to examine alleged improprieties involving Liberal Party financing activities.
Recent news reports have alleged irregularities in the awarding of municipal contracts to construction entrepreneurs, fuelling PQ demands for a public inquiry.
The PQ is using allegations of corruption as a key theme in the Nov. 29 by-election in the Liberal riding of Kamouraska-Témiscouata, just east of Quebec City. Mr. Charest desperately wants to hold on to the seat to help his party rebound from its dismal showing in recent public-opinion polls.