COVID-19: Quebec will lift state of emergency when children are vaccinated, says Legault | The Canadian News

Quebec Prime Minister François Legault focused on a post-pandemic future by setting his government’s priorities, ranging from fixing the healthcare system to strengthening the French language, in his inaugural address Tuesday after extending the legislature of the Province.

The COVID-19 health crisis has been devastating, especially as it swept through long-term care homes in the first fatal wave, forcing people into the “battle of their lives,” he said. It has killed more than 11,400 Quebecers to date.

But Legault noted that the province handled the past 19 months with “boldness, perseverance and courage.” He said the situation is improving after a long year and a half, with the introduction of vaccination and the gradual easing of sanitary measures.

“I am more certain than ever since the beginning of the pandemic that the worst is over,” Legault said. “I am convinced that this is the time for Quebec to look to the future.”

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The government will end its pandemic-induced state of emergency once children between the ages of five and 11 are vaccinated against the new coronavirus. Legault said he expects it to be in early 2022, although he acknowledged that the situation could change.

Legault had previously been vague about when he planned to lift the public health emergency that has been renewed every 10 days since it was first declared in March 2020.

That declaration under the Quebec Public Health Law gives the government broad powers, including the ability to close meeting places, limit travel, enter into contracts and “order any other measures necessary to protect the health of the population.”

Opposition parties and civil liberties groups have criticized the continuing state of emergency, saying there must be more debate about what specific emergency powers are still needed to combat the pandemic.

In his speech, Legault said he wants to focus on fixing the healthcare system. He pointed to the accelerated training and hiring of 9,400 aides last year to address the urgent staff shortages in besieged long-term care homes as an example of positive change.

“We can change things in Quebec,” he said.

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The prime minister said he also wants to fix how work is organized in the health network and ensure that all Quebecers have access to a family doctor. Quebec should also focus on offering better home care for the elderly, he added.

The government also wants to reduce its reliance on private agencies to fill the gaps when it comes to the lack of resources and health personnel in the public system, according to Legault.

Aside from the health care system, Quebec must focus on its youth, he said. This includes reinforcing spaces in daycare centers and submitting a mental health action plan later this fall. The government will also implement further recommendations from the Laurent commission, which investigated deficiencies in youth protection services.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Quebec Delays Deadline for Mandatory Vaccination of Healthcare Workers'

COVID-19: Quebec delays deadline for mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers

COVID-19: Quebec delays deadline for mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers

Citing the rise in working from home due to the pandemic, Legault said his government will also prioritize its plan to offer high-speed internet in all regions.

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The prime minister, who brought his party to power for the first time with a clear majority in 2018, says his government’s priorities remain similar to those before the emergence of COVID-19. This includes protecting the French language and culture, as well as demanding greater control over immigration into the province.

Quebec will also continue to push for the Legault government’s secularism law, known as Bill 21. The legislation, which prohibits some public sector employees from wearing religious symbols at work, is currently being challenged in court.

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Legault has argued that the law has widespread support, although it has also been harshly criticized inside and outside the province, and his government will continue to fight for it.

Legault’s speech comes after he announced the extension on October 7, shortening the last session. It ended working on all bills before the national assembly, but the government can bring back the legislation it considers essential and pick up where it left off.

Less than a year to go until the next provincial elections. Quebecers will go to the polls on October 3, 2022.

with files from Raquel Fletcher of Global News and The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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