Charest's progress: Premier assesses one year of minority government

'Our second budget was well-received and in the past year we adopted 44 bills'

Plan nord

One year ago today, Quebecers elected a minority provincial government. Twelve months later, we've come a long way.
We are meeting the challenge of cohabitation in the National Assembly, our second budget was well received, and in the past year we adopted no fewer than 44 bills.
We reduced taxes by $1 billion (up to $2,000 for an average family) and launched a $30-billion infrastructure renewal plan over five years as well as a $31-billion energy development program. These decisions are supporting our economy at a time when our neighbour and main export market, the United States, is facing slowdowns.

We are also building a project for a modern, united Quebec: a new economic space to expand our horizons around the globe. It is a project to assure Quebec's success in a transforming world.
The economic environment in Quebec has been through fundamental change in the past five years: The Canadian and American dollars are worth much the same now. We no longer have the artificial advantage of a weaker dollar to export our goods. The price of oil is at a new high of $100 a barrel. International competition is increasingly intense - at home and in our export markets. In 2007, for example, China surpassed Canada for the first time as the chief exporter of goods to the United States.
Competition is stronger than ever, demanding that we respond as we did in our March 13 budget by abolishing the tax on capital for all manufacturers.
We must turn these economic trials into opportunities.
Twenty years ago, we took advantage of free trade with the United States to a greater extent than any other region of Canada. We have this ability to adapt and rebound. It's part of our strength.
Now is the time to dig in and build on our momentum. Our economy is creating jobs; unemployment is at its lowest in more than 30 years. There have never been so many Quebecers working. We have great wealth-generating projects: developing clean energy and renewing our infrastructure.
We have momentum, but there are also obstacles in our way: In several sectors of the economy we're short of workers. Our economy is also less productive than those of our neighbours.
Our project is breaking new ground.
The American market is becoming more difficult, so our plan will lead to increased Quebec exports to Europe and the rest of Canada. We will make this possible by starting negotiations for a transatlantic accord between Canada and the European Union as well as negotiations for a new trade agreement with Ontario.
Given Quebec's lack of labour, we will recruit more workers and join the world race to attract brain power. We will make Quebec a prized destination for those who want to work, who want to offer their children a better life, and who want to help North America's unique French-language society succeed. Our first step toward achieving this goal is an agreement with France on the recognition of skills and qualifications, which will be a world first, as well as a trans-Canada agreement on labour mobility.
At the same time, we will strengthen our work force. We will make the Employment Pact a reality. Its goal, established through an alliance of government, business and unions, is to get 50,000 people on social assistance back to work, remove the barriers to hiring immigrants, and promote business training as never before. Better training is an essential ingredient to improved productivity.
Our new economic space also extends north where our economic, mining, energy and tourism potential can contribute greatly to Quebec's prosperity. This is also another opportunity to work with our fellow citizens in the First Nations and Inuit communities.
Our project is underway. Several events will bring it to light in the coming months: a joint council of ministers from Quebec and Ontario, which is a first; the meeting of the Council of the Federation, chaired by Quebec; French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Quebec in October; and the Sommet de la Francophonie.

By repositioning ourselves in the new world economy, we are striving for every Quebecer to have a well-paying job, a rewarding career, and a better quality of family life. For prosperity and the creation of wealth mean nothing unless they allow us to live better together.
This is our goal. The new economic space is a project for all Quebecers. I encourage you to learn more about it by visiting www.premier-ministr.
Jean Charest is premier of Quebec.

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