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Assemblee nationale: Quebec.

On February 18, 2005, the Premier of Quebec announced an important Cabinet shuffle in which new departments were established (Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, Tourism, Government Services--including a sector responsible for Online Government) and other responsibilities were redistributed (Sustainable Development, the Environment and Parks, Education, Recreation and Sports, Families, Seniors and the Status of Women, Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Francophones within Canada, the Agreement on Internal Trade, the Reform of Democratic Institutions and Access to Information). On this occasion, five Members were given ministerial duties while three Ministers resumed their responsibilities as Private Members; the Council of Ministers thus was raised from 25 to 27 members. The composition of the Cabinet is available on the Assembly web site at the following address: http://www.assnat.qc.ca/eng/Me mbres/titulaires2.html

Rulings and Directives from the Chair

On March 8, 2005, the proceedings of the 1st Session of the 37th Legislature resumed in Quebec. On March 17, the Government broke with tradition by tabling appropriations necessary for the administration of the Government from April 1, 2005 to June 30, 2005 rather than tabling the appropriations for the entire fiscal year.

In his ruling on the Government's right to proceed in this manner, President Michel Bissonnet stated that in our parliamentary system, the Government and the Parliament each have a role to play in the budgetary process. Initially, the Government has complete latitude in the preliminary phase of this process. It is therefore up to the Government to determine the amount of the estimates it will submit to the Assembly and when it will do so. Once the estimates have been submitted to the Assembly, the latter's role is to examine them and to decide whether or not it will grant them in an appropriation bill. The role of the Chair is to make sure that the role of the Assembly in budgetary matters is maintained. He also indicated that it is not for the Chair to rule on the document tabled nor to evaluate it.

The tabling of this document gave rise to the convening of an extraordinary sitting, which was held on March 21, 2005. This urgent meeting of the Assembly enabled the consideration and adoption in Committee of the Whole of the said estimates, the introduction and passage of the consequent appropriation bill, and the completion of the consideration and passage of Bill 71, An Act to amend the Forest Act and other legislative provisions applicable to forest management activities, which was required to come into effect before April 1, 2005. This was the second extraordinary sitting of the 37th Legislature.

Parliamentary Simulations

Close to 140 participants hailing from 25 Quebec colleges took part in a Student Forum parliamentary simulation, which was held from January 9-13, 2005 at the Parliament Building. The young participants occupied the seats of the Members of the National Assembly to experience the parliamentarian's work first hand, both as a legislator and as a controller of governmental activity. The Forum parliamentarians prepared a budget statement and statements by ministers, took part in oral question periods and introduced three bills, which, this year, concerned sustainable forest development, the improvement of financial conditions for students and organ donation. The college students examined these bills in committee before giving final passage following a debate in the National Assembly Chamber.

Other than the hundred plus young Members, some fifteen other individuals taking part in the Forum acted as press secretaries and journalists. In keeping with their role, they prepared press conferences and releases and produced a daily newspaper, the Vox Populi.

A record number of 134 Secondary 3 and 4 students took part in the third edition of the Young People's Parliament, from February 16-18, 2005, at the Parliament Building. During their activities at the National Assembly, the apprentice Members experienced important events in parliamentary life: the swearing-in of Members, the debate on the opening speech of the session and oral question period. Three bills were discussed, the themes of which were: the implementation of measures encouraging young people to take part in Quebec politics (adopted); the addition of a homework help day to the regular schedule (negatived); and the creation of an obligatory on-the-job training session (adopted).

Interparliamentary Relations

In mid-March, during International Francophonie Week, six Quebec parliamentarians welcomed diplomats from member countries of La Francophonie in their ridings. During these meetings, the Quebec parliamentarians and their guests share knowledge in their respective sectors of activity. The President of the Assembly views these twinnings as an opportunity to increase the awareness of Quebec's population with respect to La Francophonie, in addition to enabling the diplomats to better understand the realities of an electoral division in Quebec. The ambassadors and consuls general took part, among other activities, in meetings with representatives from the education, culture and tourism sectors as well as from the business sector in the electoral division of the Quebec Member with whom they had been paired.

Other Activities

On February 14, 2005, the President of the National Assembly began his annual tour of high schools throughout Quebec. The purpose of these visits is to allow students to become better acquainted with the role of the National Assembly, its history and its achievements, as well as the role of Members and the President. On this occasion, the students of the high schools that were visited had the opportunity to exchange views with Mr. Bissonnet on democracy and parliamentary life in Quebec.

The President's tour constitutes one of the elements of the educational activities programme established by the Assembly. According to the President, the primary purpose is to contribute to heightening the awareness of young people with regard to the importance of taking part in democratic life and to present our Assembly as the forum for debates and expression on the issues that concern their daily lives.

On April 5, 2005, citizens were invited to take part in the third edition of Political Book Day in Quebec, whose theme was "Ideas Within Reach" at the Library of the National Assembly. The intention in choosing this year's theme was to make clear the desire for this Day to serve as the privileged forum for discussions and debates by uniting parliamentarians, citizens and authors concerned with political books, an extremely rich literary genre that the National Assembly wishes to make known, while providing its authors with a new venue to share ever-pertinent views that encourage discussion and reflection.

The activities of Political Book Day in Quebec began with the launching of the Repertoire des fonds d'archives de parlementaires quebecois, which is a research tool enabling users to retrace Members' documents that are conserved in various archives services throughout Quebec. Subsequently, two round tables enabled renowned participants to discuss the following themes: "Citizens and the reform of voting procedures" and "Should the school system be secularized?". Finally, four awards were given, including the Prix de la Presidence de l'Assemblee nationale, to reward a work on Quebec politics; the Prix de la Fondation Jean-Charles-Bonenfant, awarded to the author of a doctorate dissertation and to that of a master's thesis also concerning Quebec politics; and, finally, the Prix Ministere des Relations internationales du Quebec (MRI) / Ministere des Affaires etrangeres de France (MAEF) granting a scholarship covering the expenses of a week's stay in Paris on the occasion of the 2006 edition of Political Book Day organized by the French National Assembly.

Johanne Lapointe

Secretariat of the Assembly

Standing Committee Activity

The Cabinet shuffle of February 18, 2005 had a significant impact on the standing committees since the membership of all 11 committees was modified. As regards the chairmen and vice-chairmen, Jacques Chagnon, the Member for Westmount-Saint-Louis, was elected chairman of the Committee on Education, Sam Hamad, the Member for Louis-Hebert, was elected chairman of the Committee on Public Finance, and Pierre Descoteaux, the Member for Groulx, was elected vice-chairman of the Committee on Institutions.

Another noteworthy event, the National Assembly established a select parliamentary committee to hold special consultations regarding the choice of a site for the future Universite de Montreal hospital centre (CHUM). This is the third select committee to be created in 21 years, that is, since the adoption of the current Standing Orders in 1984. Other than to examine a matter of utmost concern, the establishment of a select committee allows a higher number of Members to take part therein. Indeed, while standing committees consist of between 10 and 12 members, the select committee consisted of 17 members. Chaired by the Member for Chambly, Diane Legault, the select committee held public hearings on February 28 and March 1-3, 2005, during which it heard 16 groups and received 29 submissions. It was dissolved on March 8, 2005 following the tabling of its report in the National Assembly.

From January 24-28, 2005, the Committee on Transportation and the Environment sent two of its members on a mission to Paris to take part in the International Conference sponsored by UNESCO and entitled "Biodiversity: Science and Governance." The purpose of the Conference was to assess knowledge and current needs with regard to research and scientific expertise in the field of biodiversity and to examine the public and private approaches to conserving and managing biodiversity.

Orders of Reference from the Assembly

Among the principal orders of reference from the Assembly, it should be noted that the Subcommittee of the National Assembly met on three occasions this winter to examine the two parliamentary reform proposals tabled in June 2004. For this purpose, on March 1, 2005, the Subcommittee heard the Amicale des anciens parlementaires du Quebec on both reform proposals and then entered upon the examination of the first theme entitled "Citizens' participation in parliamentary life / Bringing the Assembly and the citizens together". It again met on March 3 and 16 to examine respectively the following themes: "Valuing the role of Members / Fostering the autonomy and initiative of Members" and "Modernization of the organization and proceedings of the National Assembly / Increasing the efficiency of the work of Members". Other sittings are scheduled for spring 2005. The members' objective is to reach a final proposal before the adjournment of proceedings for the summer holidays.

The Committee on Labour and the Economy held a general consultation on the document entitled The Energy Sector in Quebec--Context, Issues and Questions. From January 25 to mid-April 2005, the Committee heard 139 groups in public hearings, which groups were chosen from among the 163 submissions received. This is the most extensive general consultation that has been held since the beginning of the current Legislature.

The Committee on Social Affairs also held a broad general consultation on Bill 83, An Act to amend the Act respecting health services and social services and other legislative provisions. From February 28 to April 6, 2005, 78 groups were heard during 23 sittings, and a total of 98 submissions were received. The Committee on Planning and the Public Domain held public hearings within the framework of special consultations on Bill 62, Municipal Powers Act. The main purpose of this bill is to adapt and modernize the legislative provisions governing municipalities, certain of which date back over 100 years.

Furthermore, in the coming weeks, the standing committees should proceed with the annual consideration of the estimates of expenditure 2005-2006 for a period not to exceed 200 hours.

Orders of Initiative

As regards the principal mandates undertaken at the initiative of the committees, the Committee on Transportation and the Environment examined the orientation, activities and management of the Agence metropolitaine de transport on March 23, 2005. The problems related to the development of the commuter rail system in the metropolitan region attracted much interest among parliamentarians from the Montreal region.

For its part, the Committee on Culture held a deliberative meeting to hear Luc Noppen, Canada Research Chair on Urban Heritage at the Universite du Quebec Montreal, as a preliminary step in its order of initiative on the issues surrounding Quebec's religious heritage.

In compliance with certain provisions of the Act respecting educational institutions at the university level, from February 1-9, 2005, the Committee on Education heard the heads of thirteen Quebec universities. The Committee on Public Administration heard the Deputy Minister of Justice, the Deputy Minister of Employment, Social Solidarity and Family Welfare as well as the Secretary of the Treasury Board during the months of February and March 2005, pursuant to the Public Administration Act. The Committee's recommendations with regard to these accountability mandates will be made public next June.

Marc Painchaud

Secretariat of Committees

Translation: Sylvia Ford

Secretariat of the Assembly
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Title Annotation:Legislative Reports
Publication:Canadian Parliamentary Review
Geographic Code:1CQUE
Date:Jun 22, 2005
Words:2087
Previous Article:Electoral reform proposals in Quebec, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
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