Battling corruption and collusion in the awarding of government contracts will be one of the main priorities Premier Pauline Marois will highlight in her inaugural speech this afternoon at the National Assembly.
In explaining the new Parti Québécois government's agenda Ms. Marois is expected to announce that a bill will be tabled, as early as tomorrow, outlining tough regulations aimed at eliminating bid-rigging and influence peddling by companies seeking municipal and provincial contracts.
Testimony before the Charbonneau commission probing corruption in the province's construction industry has revealed elaborate schemes by entrepreneurs with ties to organized crime to fraudulently extract public funds.
The bill is expected to require that companies wanting to bid on public contracts will have to be vetted to clear them from any past criminal activities or associations. Changes will also be made in the public tendering process to eliminate potential collusion among bidders.
Next week, the government will table another bill reducing from $1,000 to $100 the maximum contribution by individuals to political parties. The bill will also set fixed dates for provincial elections and set tough new ethics rules for those running for public office.
The inaugural speech, equivalent to the Throne Speech in other provinces, will also explain the government's intentions with respect to the delicate language issue. During the election campaign, the PQ proposed to extend to colleges the same restrictions imposed on francophone and allophone students at the elementary and secondary levels – who are barred from attending English language schools.
The language bill will also extend the requirement to use French as the language of communication in the workplace for companies with 10 to 49 employees.
Ms. Marois was also expected to define how she plans to finance several measures promised by her party, including the abolition of tuition fee hikes imposed by the former Liberal regime, and the decision to dip into the Generations Fund to finance other measures.
The Premier will seek to reassure the financial community that despite a shaky economy and lower-than-expected revenues, the government will achieve a balanced budget by the end of the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The PQ will need to juggle austerity measures to satisfy the financial sector with its commitment to move ahead with costly health and education programs. A major summit on the funding of post-secondary institutions promised by the end of December will now be likely postponed until early into the new year.
This is the first time that the PQ will govern as a minority government, and Ms. Marois will need to achieve a delicate balance between her government's agenda and demands made by the opposition parties, especially the more conservative Coalition Avenir Quebec, which holds the balance of power.
Ms. Marois has said she will hold a vote in the National Assembly on the new fiscal measures proposed by her government, including the creation of two new tax brackets for high-income earners to help pay for changes to the $200-a-year health tax.
None of the parties want another election only a few months after the last vote in September. To avoid a defeat on the tax measures, which could provoke another election, tough negotiations are expected between the government and the opposition parties. Meanwhile the Liberals are deep into a leadership race as members prepare to choose a new leader at the party convention in Montreal on March 17. And the CAQ remains on shaky financial grounds after last September's election.
Ms Marois was expected to invite the opposition to collaborate with her government while at the same taking full advantage of her opponents' weaknesses to push forward the agenda she will outline today.