COVID-19: Quebec to lift state of emergency when kids are vaccinated, Legault says

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Quebec Premier François Legault focused on a post-pandemic future as he set out his government’s priorities, ranging from fixing the health-care system to bolstering the French language, in his inaugural speech Tuesday after proroguing the province’s legislature.

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

But Legault noted the province handled the last 19 months with “audacity, 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 confident than ever since the start of the pandemic that the worst is behind us,” Legault said. “I am convinced this is the time for Quebec to look to the future.”

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Look ahead: Premier Legault to open new session of National Assembly with speech Tuesday

The government will put an end to its pandemic-induced state of emergency once children between the ages of five and 11 are vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. Legault said he hopes that will be by the beginning of 2022.

In his address, Legault said he wants to wants to focus on fixing the health-care system. He pointed to the accelerated training and hiring of 9,400 orderlies last year to fix urgent staffing shortages in embattled long-term care homes as an example of positive change.

“We are able to change things in Quebec,” he said.

The premier said he also wants to fix how work is organized in the health network and to ensure that all Quebecers have access to a family doctor. Quebec must also focus on offering improved home care for seniors, he added.

The government also wants to scale back on it dependence on private agencies to fill in the gaps when it comes to a lack of resources and health-care staff in the public system, according to Legault.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Quebec delays deadline for health-care workers’ mandatory vaccination'

COVID-19: Quebec delays deadline for health-care workers’ mandatory vaccination

COVID-19: Quebec delays deadline for health-care workers’ mandatory vaccination

Aside from the health-care system, Quebec needs to focus on its youth, he said. This includes bolstering spaces in daycares and putting forth an action plan for mental health later this fall. The government will also implement more recommendations from the Laurent commission, which investigated the shortcomings of youth protection services.

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

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

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

READ MORE: Quebec premier to prorogue legislature, with new session starting Oct. 19

Legault has argued the law has widespread support — though it has also been roundly criticized inside and outside the province — and his government will continue to fight for it.

Legault’s address comes after he announced prorogation on Oct. 7, cutting the last session short. It put an end to work on all bills before the national assembly, but the government can bring back legislation it considers essential and pick up where it left off.

The next provincial election is less than a year away. Quebecers head to the polls on Oct. 3, 2022 under law.

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

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

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