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Quebec: Assemblee Nationale.

On 19 June 1996, the National Assembly adjourned its proceedings for the summer break having held 41 sittings since the beginning of the new session. During this period, a considerable number of bills were passed, including 37 public bills and 8 private ones. This includes a bill creating the Ministere de la Metropole, whose mission is to promote and support the economic, cultural and social development of metropolitan Montreal.

The Assembly also examined a bill respecting pay equity. The purpose of this bill is to redress the salary discrimination suffered by persons occupying positions in predominantly female job classes. The bill is currently being considered in committee, where special consultations are also being held. As regards the bill establishing a universal drug insurance plan, it was passed following the suspension of certain rules of procedure.

Under the plan, every person residing in Quebec who is registered with the Quebec Health Insurance Board will benefit from basic coverage for the cost of pharmaceutical services and medications. The bill sets out the contributions to be made to the financing of the basic plan by the persons covered, who may be required to pay a co-insurance amount of not more than 25 % of the cost of the pharmaceutical services and medications provided up to a maximum contribution of $ 750 for a one-year reference period.

The provisions of this Act come into force on January 1,1997. However, persons aged 65 and over as well as welfare recipients are subjected to these provisions as of August 1, 1996 and thus have to pay a premium and a deductible amount according to their income.

The passage of two other bills should also be highlighted: a bill that amends the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in order to secure the right to equality, without exclusion based on sexual orientation, as regards the establishment of contracts and plans relating to insurance, retirement pensions or other social benefits; and a bill that amends the Civil Code with respect to the obligation of support, which corrects what was considered to be an injustice towards elderly persons who were obliged to pay support to relatives other than those in the first degree.

In addition these of legislative measures, Members were also asked to approve the budgetary policy of the Government following the Budget Speech delivered on May 9, 1996 by the Minister of Finance, Bernard Landry.

Numerous directives were issued by the Chair in the last few months. Indeed, many procedural cases were brought to the forefront at various legislative stages of the debates on the controversial bill implementing the prescription drug insurance. The Chair thus denied a point of privilege by the Official Opposition House Leader regarding the advertisement that was published in several Quebec newspapers on the new prescription drug insurance plan proposed in this bill. The latter criticized the publicity for failing to mention the role of the Assembly and of its Members with respect to the procedure followed for the passage of bills.

Mr. Speaker stated that campaigns undertaken by the Ministries and public bodies in order to inform the population of governmental decisions did not constitute a prime facie contempt of Parliament. Nevertheless, government publicity regarding a bill that is still being considered by the National Assembly should mention the role of the National Assembly and of its Members with respect to the procedure followed for the passage of such new measures. Further to this ruling, Mr. Speaker tabled copies of letters he had sent to both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health and Social Services regarding this matter.

Following the tabling of an audio cassette by a member of the Official Opposition, Speaker Jean-Pierre Charbonneau stated that tabling shall be limited to hand-written or printed documents until the proper storage, reproduction and distribution of audiovisual documents can be assured for an extended period of time.

Among recent political events worthy of mention, it should be noted that the Member for Iberville, Richard Le Hir, announced his decision to leave the Parti Quebecois and sit as an independent, as of April 30, 1996. On June 18, 1996, the Member for Pointe-aux-Trembles, Michel Bourdon, announced in the Assembly his retirement from political life. Mr. Bourdon had been elected under the banner of the Parti Quebecois in the general election on September 25, 1989 and had been re-elected in September 12, 1994.

Before the adjournment of proceedings for the summer, the Members of the Assembly welcomed two new colleagues to the National Assembly, both of whom were returned in the by-elections of June 10, 1996. They are the Parti Quebecois candidate in L'Assomption, Jean-Claude Saint-Andre, and the Liberal Party candidate in Outremont, Pierre-Etienne Laporte.

Consequently, the party standings of the National Assembly are as follows: 74 Parti Quebecois; 47 Liberals; 3 Independents (including one Member of the Action democratique du Quebec Party); and 1 vacant seat.

More recently, the federal government announced the appointment of Jean-Louis Roux to the office of Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec. Mr. Roux replaces Martial Asselin, who had held this post since August 9, 1990.

Regarding interparliamentary relations the Speaker of the National Assembly, Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, tabled the reports of several parliamentary missions undertaken by Members of the Assembly.

During the spring, a delegation was sent to Toronto to participate in the 5th Annual Assembly of the Ontario-Quebec Parliamentary Association (A.P.O.Q.). At the end of May, during a visit to France, the Speaker of the Quebec National Assembly signed a memorandum of agreement with the President of the French National Assembly. Also, a Quebec delegation attended the meeting of the Committee on Energy and the Environment of the Eastern Regional Conference of the Council of State Governments, held in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 31, and June 1, 1996.

The Assembly resumes its proceedings on Tuesday, October 15, 1996, while the parliamentary committees recommenced their activities in August.

Committee Activity

As in past years, May and June have been a time of intense activity especially as regards the consideration of bills. Some forty bills were examined during over eighty committee sittings and, many bills required the holding of special hearings.

The Committee on Social Affairs was particularly busy. It held a series of special hearings under a mandate, undertaken on its own initiative, to examine the functioning of the bodies and agencies having a role to play in the use of prescription drugs in Quebec. In addition, pursuant to section 8 of the Act respecting the accountability of deputy ministers and chief executive officers of public bodies, the committee heard the chairman of the Quebec medical council. The committee also undertook detailed consideration of a number of bills referred by the House, such as Bill 116, An Act to again amend the Act respecting health services and social services, and Bill 33, An Act respecting prescription drug insurance and amending various legislative provisions, for both of which the committee held special hearings before beginning detailed consideration. In each case however, the committee's examination was suspended when, claiming the urgency of the situation, the Government House Leader tabled a motion to suspend the rules of procedure and recalled the bills to the House.

The activities of the Committee on the Budget and Administration included a ten-hour continuation of the debate on the Budget Speech, begun in the National Assembly. The committee also held public hearings, under a mandate pursuant to the Securities Act, to study the advisability of maintaining the Act in force or of amending it.

The committee also devoted time to the consideration of Bill 36, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act and other legislative provisions, and Bill 32, An Act to amend the Act respecting the Ministere du Revenu, which required the holding of special hearings prior to detailed consideration. The committee's examination of Bill 32 was suspended when the Bill was recalled to the House following the tabling of a motion to that effect by the Government House Leader.

The Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food examined Bill 23, An Act to amend the Act to preserve agricultural land and other legislative provisions in order to promote the preservation of agricultural activities, one of the main objectives of which is to protect the right of farmers to farm in agricultural zones, while promoting harmonious relations with neighbouring residential areas.

The Committee tabled reports in the National Assembly on the subject of accountability and the supervision of public bodies, after hearing the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the executive officers of five agencies operating in its policy field. The reports and the recommendations they contain will be taken under consideration by the National Assembly when the session resumes in the Fall. The Committee also elected a new vice-chairperson, Cecile Vermette, to replace Michel Bourdon.

The Committee on Culture engaged in detailed consideration of Bill 28, An Act respecting the Societe de telediffusion du Quebec and amending the Act respecting educational programming and other legislative provisions and Bill 18, An Act respecting the Ministere des Relations avec les citoyens et de l'Immigration and amending other legislative provisions. It also heard the chairman of Quebec's access to information commission in connection with the commission's 1994-95 annual report pursuant to the Standing Orders of the National Assembly. Several working sessions were devoted to the mandate undertaken on the Committee's initiative to investigate issues associated with the implementation of the information highway in Quebec.

The work of the Committee on Institutions was devoted chiefly to a number of legislative mandates, including examination of Bill 51, An Act respecting the implementation of international trade agreements, and Bill 20, An Act to amend the Legal Aid Act, and Bill 25, An Act to amend the Civil Code as regards the obligation of support. It also continued its detailed examination of Bill 130, An Act respecting administrative justice, besides holding public hearings on a study document proposing amendments to be made to the Election Act.

The Committee on Planning and Infrastructures examined several bills concerning the municipal sector, including eight private bills, and other bills in the environment and wildlife sector. It also considered Bill 1, An Act respecting the Ministere de la Metropole, which establishes a government department responsible for the economic, cultural and social development of Greater Montreal.

The Committee on Labour and the Economy examined Bill 129, An Act to amend the Act respecting lotteries, publicity contests and amusement machines in respect of international cruise ships, Bill 27, An Act to amend the Labour Code, Bill 26, An Act respecting the Ministere du travail, and Bill 117, An Act to amend the Water-courses Act.

Lastly, the Committee on Education completed a consultation paper entitled "Conditions for Successful Completion of Secondary-level Education" which was made public in June. It was prepared as part of a mandate, undertaken on the Committee's own initiative, to inquire into the conditions for the successful completion of secondary-level education and to develop appropriate proposals and recommendations. The Committee will continue its mandate by holding special hearings in August.

Interpellations took place in several committees in the month of May, including the Committee on Labour and the Economy on the subject of labour relations in Quebec, the Committee on Planning and Infrastructures on the subject of regional development, the Committee on Social Affairs on the subject of prescription drug insurance and child day-care services, and the Committee on Education on the subject of the establishment of linguistic school boards throughout Quebec.

After the July recess, the committees will undertake a number of mandates in August and September, including nine public hearings.
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Author:Nancy Ford; Line Beland
Publication:Canadian Parliamentary Review
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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