The Legault government must abandon the extraordinary powers it wants to give itself, the indefinite extension of the health emergency and the widening of its immunity from legal proceedings if it wants its omnibus economic recovery bill to go forward. The three opposition parties and independent deputy Guy Ouellette invited Minister Christian Dubé to do their homework after the consultations in parliamentary committee.
“All groups, including those in favor of Bill 61, agree regardless of their area of interest to say that we do not need Bill 61 to accelerate infrastructure projects” , said Liberal MP Gaétan Barrette.
“It makes me conclude that this bill is first and foremost a pretext for new exorbitant powers, according to some, and permanent,” he added, accusing the government of “instrumentalizing the state of ‘health emergency “.
Mr. Barrette was surrounded by solidarity deputy Vincent Marissal, PQ deputy Martin Ouellet and independent deputy Guy Ouellette. The four elected officials demand that the government take advantage of this bill to give increased powers to the Autorité des marchés publics and ensure close follow-up by the Auditor General “for each accelerated project”.
The consultations, which were to last two days, were extended by one day on Wednesday so that elected officials could finally hear the Barreau du Québec and the Auditor General, Guylaine Leclerc. The latter had not been able to free themselves for the first two days of consultation because of the tight schedule. The Legault government was in a hurry to pass the bill before parliamentary business ended on Friday, but opened the door to extend it if necessary.
Ms. Leclerc said she was “greatly concerned” about the accountability of departments and municipalities with this bill. “It is my duty, however, to warn the government and parliamentarians against the risks linked to a relaxation of ways of doing things that would stray too far from the criteria of sound management of public funds, especially for a period as long as two years “, She said, adding that she was not questioning the government’s desire to revive the economy.
Bill 61, which aims to accelerate 202 infrastructure projects to boost the economy hard hit by the pandemic, has been criticized on all counts since its tabling a week ago. The government is calling for urgent action. The extraordinary powers of the government would last two years, but Minister Christian Dubé made no secret of the fact that certain acceleration measures could be retained.
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Limited time for emergency
The Barreau du Québec, for its part, cannot see why the government would need to extend the state of health emergency indefinitely as it wishes to do in its economic recovery bill. Its representatives testified in parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
“The disadvantage for the government of having to renew the state of emergency every ten days is relatively small and I would even say insignificant,” said the president, Paul-Mathieu Grondin.
The Public Health Law provides for the renewal of the state of health emergency every ten days or for a maximum period of 30 days with the consent of the National Assembly. This delay acts as a “bulwark” of the broad powers that the government has during this period.
“The Public Health Law and the declaration of a state of health emergency are supposed to be uncomfortable for the government,” he said.
“The compromise and the adjustment that I am ready to make is to be specific in article 50 that it will be to improve the liquidity of businesses,” said the President of the Treasury Board in a press briefing. .
This article would allow the government to derogate from the Act respecting contracts of public bodies (LCOP) to conclude over-the-counter contracts. He would no longer have to abide by the lowest bidder rule.
“We are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic may be invoked to rethink its rules which are now one of the pillars of the fight against corruption,” said Mr. Grondin.
His concerns were added to a series of groups, including the Public Committee following up on the recommendations of the Charbonneau Commission, who had warned the government the day before against a return to corruption and collusion if this article were not amended. Representatives of the construction industry stressed Monday’s reputation as a government defaulter when it contracts with companies.
The President of the Treasury Board, Christian Dubé, said he was ready to limit the renewal of the state of health emergency to a period of six months, as the Québec Ombudsman suggested in her testimony on Tuesday evening. The bill plans to extend the state of health emergency until the government decides to end it.
“We understand that we needed predictability, that is to say not always to be small 10 days,” said Mr. Dubé. […] We will listen to what the Québec Ombudsman suggested to us yesterday. “
The Law Society did not want to rule on an acceptable period, but noted that only Alberta and the Yukon can invoke a state of health emergency for up to 90 days during a pandemic. However, he urged parliamentarians “not to go too far”.
Mr. Dubé also offered to circumscribe the scope of his bill to avoid corruption.
The Sustainable Development Commissioner added his voice on Wednesday to a concert of criticism of the Legault government’s economic stimulus bill. Paul Lanoie recalled that financial compensation for the destruction of wetlands as part of a construction project is “a measure of last resort”, in the margins of the unveiling of his report.
“If we look at the law on wetlands at present, it therefore provides for a sequence which is fairly intuitive,” he recalled. First, avoid touching wetlands. Otherwise, we must minimize the impact that we will have on wetlands and, ultimately, compensate financially. “
The bill would allow the Minister of the Environment to directly authorize the payment of a compensation sum to accelerate the construction of an infrastructure project. Lanoie also called on the government to “strike a fair balance between the social, economic and environmental dimensions” under the principle of sustainable development. He believes the government could take advantage of accelerating infrastructure spending to match it with “environmental constraints.”
“Why not build eco-responsible buildings,” he asked.
Minister Dubé did not specify on Wednesday what amendments he would be ready to make on articles that affect the environment.