POLITICS

Marois proud of first PQ legislative session but admits, 'Nobody's perfect'

12/07/2012 04:49 EST | Updated 02/06/2013 05:12 EST
QUEBEC - Premier Pauline Marois smiled, shrugged and said nobody's perfect when she was questioned Friday on the performance of her government during its first parliamentary session.

"I am very proud of the result of the actions of my government," she said at an end-of-session news conference. "That is not perfect but nobody is perfect, no government is perfect.

"But we try to be."

The PQ burst out of the gate with a series of nods to its activist base, announcing plans on its first day in office to shut down the asbestos and nuclear industries in the province and hinting that a shale-gas moratorium might continue indefinitely. There was also a promise to abolish a $200 health tax — to be offset by a retroactive tax hikes on wealthy Quebecers.

The PQ was forced to scale down many of its ambitions.

The health levy will continue to exist, as a progressive tax that hits people as their income rises. Gone are many of the language-and-identity promises from the election campaign. A new language law is weaker than the one the party planned. A prominent environmental activist has been stripped of his job title as environment minister, having resigned in controversy.

The PQ has had to drastically pare down its ambitions with respect to its raison d'etre — Quebec independence. The government couldn't even remove the Canadian flag from the legislature building, as it has in the past, because it didn't have the votes.

Marois' opponents were less impressed with her record in the first 100 days since her election win.

One after another had slammed her efforts in news conferences Friday, before the premier got a chance to deliver a speech with her caucus surrounding her.

"The repeated errors in judgment show the government's incompetence," said interim Liberal Leader Jean-Marc Fournier. "The first 100 days of the government are marked by incompetence and shenanigans."

Marois became Quebec's first woman premier when the Parti Quebecois squeezed out a narrow victory on Sept. 4, forming a minority government and ousting the Liberals after nine years.

Right out of the gate, the PQ was criticized for trying to pay for its election promises with a retroactive tax that would have hit people's previous income. It had to backtrack on several high-profile campaign vows, either because it didn't have the money or the parliamentary votes.

As well, the environment minister quit after it was revealed he had incurred hefty traffic fines and owed thousands in back rent to a landlord. The appointment of a former PQ leader to a lifetime civil-service job was also recently criticized and withdrawn.

The PQ tried to regroup from some of its early troubles by focusing on ethics — and on the perceived ethical failings by the previous government.

With the province riveted by revelations at the Charbonneau inquiry, the PQ's first pieces of legislation reduced political donations to $100 and toughened the rules for companies wanting public contracts.

Marois said her government acted to stamp out corruption, restored social peace after months of student unrest and reined in public finances.

She said nine laws had been adopted out of 15 bills that were tabled and that Quebec's language law had been reinforced.

The premier said she had kept her word to Quebecers and said that, contrary to being disconnected from Quebecers as suggested by Coalition party Leader Francois Legault, she listens to people's criticism and acts on it.

Legault said during his news conference that "we have a government disconnected with the population."

"We have seen it with the budget. They had promises that were impossible and they had to put them in the garbage," he said. "And I think that what is clear also is that we have a government with no vision — no vision for universities, no vision for the economy."

After scrapping tuition increases, Marois has been hit with student protests demanding free education. That, and a financial shortfall.

This week, her government said there would be a $140 million cut in funding to universities in the last fiscal quarter as part of efforts to balance the provincial budget.

Fournier warned of dire consequences from the government's economic efforts.

"The consequences of the Parti Quebecois' policies will weaken over the long term the capacity of the government to generate sufficient revenues in the coming years to support services for citizens," he said.

But both opposition parties were coy when asked how long the government could survive. Both Legault and Fournier said there was no appetite for an election and that Quebecers expected the parties to try and work together.

The Liberals will not choose their permanent leader until March, making an election unlikely before then. Also, the fledgling Coalition is widely believed to still be building its organization.

Both of those parties would need to side against the PQ in a confidence vote to trigger an election.

— By Nelson Wyatt in Montreal