In the province that used to be the enfant terrible of the Canadian family, the coming year should unfold in a political climate that will be uncharacteristically calm – or just plain boring, for those who like their politics hot and spicy.
Suffice to say that the pundits, starved of substantial news to chew on, are pathetically reduced to speculating about Premier Philippe Couillard's coming cabinet reshuffle, an operation that will be as exciting as watching paint dry, given that no spectacular changes are expected.
In the spring, the Liberal government will present its first balanced budget, the result of harsh cuts in public services. In December, after months of labour unrest, the government bought peace with a tentative agreement that would grant generous raises to public-sector employees, enough to make union leaders forget about the devastated state of schools and hospitals.
The government's goal was to reach the magical "zero deficit" mark to gain enough room to manoeuvre to grant substantial tax reductions to taxpayers – read voters – in time for the next provincial election, in 2017.
There's still a mild degree of Trudeaumania lingering in Quebec, albeit on a much lower scale than in places such has Toronto, which it seems hasn't yet recovered from the ecstatic joy of seeing the Liberals back in power. After the Harper years, many Quebeckers quietly appreciate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's youthful charm and his sunny ways, and since the sovereigntist movement is in sharp decline, there is no ideological battle in sight with the federal government.
Still, there is a bone of contention building between Ottawa and the Quebec government. Last week, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau signalled the government will follow through on the previous Conservative government's intention to set up a national securities regulator that, in accordance with a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2011, would work in co-operation with the provinces, which are currently solely responsible for regulating securities.
This centralization is a long-held demand of Toronto's business elites, and old-timers will remember that this was also a project dear to Trudeau the Elder; Pierre Trudeau was willing to exchange a national, federally controlled securities regulator in return for granting various powers to the provinces.
So far, six provinces, including Ontario, have agreed with the federal plan, but Mr. Couillard has flatly said no. Two former provincial Liberal ministers, Monique Jérôme-Forget and Raymond Bachand, issued a stern reply to Mr. Morneau, arguing in an open letter that the current system works well and that both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have lauded Canada for its performance in protecting investors.
"It's a myth that a single regulator constitutes a barrier against fraud," says the letter, published in La Presse. "Haven't the Enron and the Madoff scandals happened in the United States? … The financial services industry, as well as the consumers, are well-served by the present association of provincial and territories regulators that work co-operatively. This structure respects the provincial jurisdictions while being flexible enough to accommodate our many various regional diversities."
This issue might drive a wedge between the federal government and Quebec's political class, but it isn't the kind of battle that will inflame the hearts and minds of the public at large.