In inaugural speech Legault forecasts big changes, especially decentralizing health management

After three years in power, Quebec Premier François Legault said Tuesday he wants to give his government a second wind with a new parliamentary session bringing new policy, especially in terms of the province's health network, which he said is much too centralized.

Vast decentralization at both local and regional levels of Quebec's health system, which Legault described as dysfunctional, will be a focus of the government's actions over the next few months.

Health Minister Christian Dubé plans to present a mammoth bill this fall aimed at reviewing how the health network functions.

With this inaugural speech, Legault kicked off the second session of the 42nd legislature of the National Assembly. The speech is traditionally supposed to outline the government's roadmap, its priorities, for the coming months.

From the outset, Legault's speech conveyed a belief that the COVID-19 pandemic finally seems under control -- he notably announced he expects the imminent end of the state of health emergency, which grants many extra powers to the government, such as allowing it to make contracts without tendering.

Quebec leaders expect to lift the state of health emergency in early 2022, when children aged five to 11 will be vaccinated, Legault said.

"We are able in Quebec to change things," he said, "as long as we do not give in to the temptation to stand still."

If the province doesn't fall prey to inertia, "nothing can stop Quebec," he said.

MORE FAMILY DOCTORS, DAYCARE SPOTS

The government wants to reduce its dependence on private agencies to recruit the necessary resources for the public health network, including nurses.

Better access to a family doctor will also be among its priorities, and the premier said he is firmly determined to force doctors' hands so that they take care of a greater number of patients, if necessary.

That was already a promise in 2018.

The provincial health commissioner will also be mandated to recommend to the government how to provide more home care for the elderly.

Over the next few days, Quebecers should also learn how the government plans to create 37,000 child-care spaces. The waiting list currently exceeds 50,000 names, which has been unheard of until now.

At the same time, Legault set the stage for the next electoral campaign, indicating the main themes of a future CAQ platform that he hopes will win the party a second term in the October 2022 election.

About nine months out from the beginning of next summer's campaigning, the clock is now ticking for Legault to show if he's fulfilled his 2018 election promises.

But already, Legault said, he believes his government's record has been exemplary.

"Never has a government so honoured its electoral promises," he said.

No government ending its term wants to project the image of a tired and used-up team, lacking ideas or solutions. Legault, in his speech, tried to project an image of change while refraining from making major touch-ups to the family portrait.

There is no cabinet reshuffle in sight, meaning the new government program this session will be carried out by the same people, in the same jobs, as before.

On Oct. 7, Legault had announced his intention to prorogue the session, an exceptional event in the Quebec legislature -- the most recent such event goes back ten years, when then-premier Jean Charest decided to relaunch his session on Feb. 22, 2011, after having made an adjustment a few weeks earlier.

Charest's government was defeated in 2012.

A debate on the premier's inaugural speech, lasting a total of 25 hours, will begin at the Assembly's next sitting.

Under prorogation, all bills die on the order paper, but the government can also recall any bills it deems important and can continue studying them as if nothing had happened.

Legault has said in recent weeks that it's time to begin planning for the post-COVID-19 pandemic period, repeating that message Monday in a Facebook video.

Under provincial law, the next election is set for Oct. 3, 2022.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Oct. 19, 2021.

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