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Canada

CAQ government set to invoke closure (again) to get its way

QUEBEC — The Legault government is not excluding the use of closure to force the adoption of Bill 34, which freezes hydro rates, before the legislature recesses for the holidays Friday.

The Coalition Avenir Québec was criticized when it used closure to adopt Bill 9 (immigration) and Bill 21 (secularism) last June, but Premier François Legault has opened the door to using it again.

Closure allows a majority government to limit debate so it can fast track a bill into law in the face of opposition obstruction.

“I think we are up to more than 100 hours of committee debate,” Legault told reporters as he arrived for question period. “I think the Liberals have pretty much said what they had to say. All the arguments the Liberals had have been used.

“They can vote against the bill … but if we want the freeze to apply starting Jan. 1, it has to be adopted.”

Legault went on to accuse the Liberals of systematically obstructing the CAQ’s legislative agenda in the same manner they did in June.

“When we look at all the bills, we are spending 43 per cent more time at the committee level on each bill than when the Liberals were in power,” Legault said. “Why? Because of the Liberal opposition.

“At some point the Liberals … will need to respect the choice made by Quebecers (in the 2018 election) and stop thinking they are the ones in power.”

Bill 34 forces Hydro-Québec to compensate consumers for overcharging them by $1.5 billion in the past The bill would see $500 million returned to customers in 2020 through a rate freeze.

Beginning in 2021 and for the next five years, any increases are to be kept within the inflation rate, allowing consumers to save another billion.

In addition, the bill stipulates the Régie de l’énergie’s annual examination of possible increases are to take place every five years instead of yearly.

The bill has been roundly criticized by the opposition and lobby groups. They say the claim of a $1.5-billion refund is misleading.

Some say a rate freeze will serve as a disincentive to customers to reduce their energy consumption. Others fear the Régie de l’énergie is being gutted for its powers.

But the government wants to move quickly on Bill 34 and believes Quebecers want it to, as well, while other pieces of legislation — including Bill 40, which abolishes school boards — languish into the new year.

The clock is ticking. The legislature is scheduled to recess Friday, Dec. 6.

“I am still hopeful; I am an optimistic guy,” Legault said about the possibility of having the bill adopted without resorting to closure. He said he has nothing in particular planned for Saturday in case MNAs sit into the night Friday.

The committee examining the bill is only on article 2 out of 22.

Legault leaves on an economic mission to California on Dec. 8.

pauthier@postmedia.com

twitter.com/philipauthier

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