The new Québec government elected in December 2008 has a mandate to "weather the storm currently sweeping the planet", said Premier Jean Charest in his speech to the National Assembly opening the new legislative session on March 10. Gauging the full impact of the crisis, which he called "unprecedented", he said that the economic action plan introduced in December would enable Québec to withstand the crisis and set it on the road to recovery. The Premier announced three priority action areas that will form the focus of the government's efforts over the next few years.
According to Mr. Charest, the government's top priority will be to promote employment, in particular by speeding the pace of infrastructure and energy investments. These investments, totalling nearly $14 billion this year, are expected to create over 100,000 jobs across the province. The Premier also noted that under Québec's energy strategy, $31 billion will be invested over a 10-year period, including the Eastmain-1-A-Sarcelle-Rupert and the upcoming La Romaine hydroelectric projects, which together represent thousands of jobs and massive investments. "Thanks to these initiatives, we will create jobs, we will provide Québec with strategic infrastructure and we will pave the way for the future by developing renewable energy sources," he said.
The government will also prioritize training and education. Québec, which welcomes 22,000 international students every year, hopes to encourage more of them to settle in the province after they complete their studies. In the future, graduates will be offered selection certificates for immigration purposes. "I want Québec to be more than a happy memory for them: I want it to be the centrepiece of their future plans," said the Premier. This measure will also address a number of demographic challenges. The government's initiatives in the areas of training and education also include assisting workers affected by the crisis, better adapting training programs to workers' and businesses' needs and stepping up efforts to encourage students to stay in school.
The government's third priority will be to pursue efforts aimed at creating a new economic space for Québec. A key component will be the agreement on mutual recognition of professional qualifications signed in the fall of 2008 by Mr. Charest and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. This agreement will establish an initial "mobility corridor" between Europe and North America that will facilitate the recruitment of qualified workers. Québec's new economic space also hinges on the proposed Canada-European Union economic partnership, which the Premier has championed over the past two years. Mr. Charest has indicated that formal negotiations toward a trans-Atlantic accord will be opened at the next Canada-EU summit in May; within its areas of jurisdiction, Québec will be a direct participant in this process. The new economic space will also include an alliance with the neighbouring province of Ontario, thereby forming the fourth-largest economic zone in North America, after California, Texas and New York.
Mr. Charest also made specific reference to the Northern Plan, which seeks to capitalize on the vast energy and mineral potential of the area north of the 49th parallel within a sustainable development perspective. In this regard, he referred to a study confirming Québec's position as the best place in the world for mining investment.
The 2009-2010 Québec budget will be tabled in the National Assembly on March 19.
Mr. Charest's speech opening the legislative session (in French)