QUEBEC CITY – There has been a dramatic change in tone in Quebec City.
Philippe Couillard and his new cabinet announced tough new measures on Thursday to get Quebec’s economy back on track.
During his press conference the premier refused to take any shots at the previous administration, insisting the Parti Quebecois did the best it could. He said the Liberals would do better.
“We want to obtain a 2 per cent gain in productivity particularly by freezing hiring in the public service. We want to diminish operating expenses not related to services by 3 per cent and we want this to start now,” said the premier.
According to the Liberals, Quebec has an enormous debt, expensive social programs and an already overtaxed population. The new Finance Minister, the West Island’s own Carlos Leitao, spoke of “structural changes.”
“Some programs will have to be abolished, changed, reduced and others may have to be increased,” he said.
It’s all part of the government’s budget review. Already, the Health Minister is being asked to cut bureaucracy by 10 per cent.
“My goal is to make sure we do better, better is more access to services and more services,” Gaétan Barrette told reporters, before attending the government’s first cabinet meeting.
The Education Department will also be streamlined to improve services.
The government will also need to take on more intangible challenges.
Kathleen Weil is the new Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness and she has been given the delicate task of rebuilding bridges with new Quebecers.
“Everybody’s equal, everybody has a place in the sun, everybody has a job to fill, everybody has a role but the message they were getting is that they weren’t wanted,” she said.
Forty-two-year-old Stéphanie Vallée from the Outaouais is the new Justice Minister and she will pilot the secular charter file.
“We want to make it a draft project that will not divide Quebecers among themselves.”
Her colleague from International Affairs pledged to take that message abroad.
“I will talk about a Quebec that is open to the world, that is inclusive,” said Christine St-Pierre.
Premier Couillard has set the tone for the spring session, slated to begin on May 20, as his new ministers set off to learn their respective files.