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Opening speech, 41st Legislature Renewing our freedom to choose to improve our lives and society

Québec, May 21, 2014 – Québec Premier Philippe Couillard’s opening speech today described employment, the economy, and renewal as the main themes that will give Québec the freedom to make its choices. He outlined the priorities and objectives that will guide government action in the coming months and years.

“We have international-calibre leaders in large industries, ranging from aluminum to high technology to aerospace. We have abundant renewable energy and resources. Our creative minds walk the carpets of Cannes and the Oscars and are associated with the world’s great events. Our work force is competent, at times bilingual, even multilingual. Geographically and culturally, we are a bridge between Europe and North America. Québec has all the ingredients to be at the heart of a great movement in history. Our job is to liberate this potential and bring together our strengths in a true march toward prosperity,” said the Premier.

The underpinnings of political action

For the Premier, above all, trust must be returned to the relationship between elected officials, the government, and the public. Respect, dialogue, transparency, and integrity are the underpinnings upon which the government will rebuild this trust.

“The best defence against darkness is the light, transparency. The time for another change of culture has come. I want our government to be the first truly open one in the history of Québec. Citizens have the right to know. This is their house. This is their money,” emphasized the Premier.

He also noted that the Minister responsible for Access to Information and the Reform of Democratic Institutions has been given the mandate to review the laws and regulations affecting access to information and the disclosure of information on contracts, expenses, and commitments involving the state and its representatives.

Restarting the engines of our economy

“Statistics illustrate very well the challenge that we must overcome together. Québec accounts for 23% of the Canadian population, 20% of the country’s wealth creation, but 27% of the provinces’ spending. To balance the budget, we must increase government revenues and therefore support the growth of our economy. Our government will work to boost employment and the economy. Our goal is to have the Québec economy generate 250 000 jobs in five years. Accelerating investment in infrastructure, backing our sectors of excellence, and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises are all actions that will allow this target to be reached,” said the Premier.

The speech from the throne recognizes the role and importance of Montréal and the provincial capital in the economic development of Québec. It proposes renewed relations with municipalities. This would include the sharing of oil, gas, and mining royalties with local and Aboriginal communities, enabling them to collect and manage part of the wealth from their territory, to benefit training, job creation, and tourism promotion.

To stimulate economic recovery, the Premier confirmed that the Northern Plan would be restarted and that Québec’s first maritime strategy would be established. The new government is announcing energetic actions in several sectors, such as forestry, tourism, innovation, agricultural succession and renewal, and the fight against climate change.

Improving public finances

“We must free ourselves from the threat that prevents us from making the choices we want: if nothing is done, Québec’s deficit will surpass $5 billion in 2014-2015 and will be more than $7 billion in 2015-2016. This will not happen. To give ourselves the means to invest in sectors we care most about, to reduce the tax burden on families, and to decrease our debt, we must increase revenues and reduce the magnitude of our expenses. What would have been a good idea 15 years ago, what was necessary 10 years ago, is now urgent,” noted the Premier.

For the government, achieving a balanced budget remains an essential objective for 2015-2016. Once balanced, the budget can then provide room to manoeuvre. This will enable equal parts to be devoted to reimbursing the debt and reducing the tax burden on Quebecers, starting with the health tax. The Premier nonetheless asserted that more must be done.

As such, he announced the upcoming creation of a commission on taxation and a commission on the permanent review of government programs.

The mandate of the former will be to recommend changes to the tax system so that it remains fair but provides greater incentive to work, to be productive, to invest, and to create jobs. The commission will address both personal and corporate taxes. Its recommendations will be public, open to debate, and implemented progressively, starting with the 2015-2016 budget.

The program review commission will be permanent and will seek to establish a mechanism and especially a culture to permanently evaluate programs and methods in the public service. “Some programs will be deemed relevant, but lacking resources. Others will be reviewed in depth. Once again, these recommendations will be presented publicly. With this kind of change, consensus is difficult. The government will listen to different points of view, but will act clearly and decisively. In all cases, services for the most vulnerable people in our society and public security will receive special attention,” specified the Premier, Philippe Couillard.

A just and equitable society

“Québec is the North American society where inequalities are the least severe due to our efforts to redistribute collective prosperity. We know this: prosperity must be created and enhanced, and its continuity must be ensured,” said the Premier.

The government is therefore announcing the upcoming launch of several initiatives in health, social services, education, and family assistance. Among these initiatives, the health and education bureaucracies will be reduced in order to reinvest in services. In health, the government plans to open 50 clinics with service seven days a week; make access to scan, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance exams free in private clinics; and accelerate the training of new super nurses, to provide Québec with 2000 of them.

In education, the government plans to help make professional and vocational training more adapted to the reality of the labour market. Projects also seek to support homework assistance and enable universities to develop their own income. Support for seniors, to help them remain in their own homes, is also among the objectives being pursued.

In addition, the Premier announced that a forum will be held by next autumn on how to stop bullying, which affects not only youth but seniors as well.

Defending and promoting Québec

Québec plays a leadership role in the Canadian federation. We will ensure Québec’s voice is heard. We will ensure our areas of jurisdiction are respected. We will defend Québec’s weight in federal institutions. We will engage in constructive dialogue on our common challenges affecting our shared prosperity,” said the Premier.

“In addition, as Premier of Québec, I am proud to assume my role as first spokesperson for the only majority Francophone society in the Americas. Our flag belongs to all Quebecers, without exception. The French language is our common language, which we must preserve and promote, because it is the expression of our distinct character and the values we share. The French language represents who we are and how we are in the world. This is not a constraint, it is an extraordinary virtue,” continued Mr. Couillard.

The Premier also indicated that the government would highlight, next July 31, the 40th anniversary of the proclamation of French as the official language of Québec by Robert Bourassa, a pivotal moment in our self-affirmation, which was followed three years later by the adoption of the Charter of the French Language by René Lévesque’s government.

The time for choices

“By the whims of history and the will of the people, we have come to power at a time when choices must be made. We will not retreat from the magnitude of this task. We will advance in constant dialogue with Quebecers, transparently, with our hand extended to the opposition and our vision focused on the future. We will develop our economy to create jobs in all regions; we will reform our taxes; we will put order in our finances. And, by combining all these efforts, we will protect our public services and assert our values. This change is necessary because it will give us the means to better educate our children, better care for the ill, and better support our seniors; in brief, it will give us the freedom to make our choices,” concluded the Premier.


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