The Gleaner

January 2024, and so much is still unsettled

Those hoping to ease into 2024 after a balmy holiday season may be in for a bit of a shock, and not just because temperatures are expected to drop back to seasonal norms this week. There is a lot of unfinished business hanging in the air.

Triumphant announcements in December about an agreement in principle reached between the provincial government and the four main unions comprising the Front commun removed the threat of a general strike, but little more. Teachers, support staff, and educational professionals returned to work on Monday without even knowing the full details of the proposed contracts. Students and teachers were already in the classroom on Monday when the Education Ministry released its plan to gain ground lost in the school year to strike days. Schools will no doubt once again be expected to turn on a dime to ensure their students’ success.

At the same time, the government can’t be faulted for delaying any announcements. There is no guarantee that the 420,000 members of the unions represented by the common front won’t reject the offer when they finally see the details in the coming days. The 17.4 per cent salary increase falls short of the 21 per cent offer that was rejected by Sûreté du Québec officers and is nowhere near the 30 per cent increase MNAs gifted themselves last May.

As well, the 80,000 nurses and other care professionals of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ) have yet to secure an agreement in principle, and there seems to be a sizable gulf between the two sides – though a conciliator is now involved in negotiations. A new round of strikes could impact our already hobbled healthcare network that is currently managing surges in respiratory illnesses and a new COVID variant.

Some other issues to watch this winter include fallout from what will, no doubt, become a difficult January and first quarter for area businesses struggling to pay back pandemic loans from the Canadian Emergency Business Account. The forgiveness repayment date remains January 18, despite requests to extend the deadline further.

There is also no sign the provincial government’s relentless attacks on English speakers and institutions will slow in 2024. Significant decisions may be coming this year about lawsuits filed over Bill 21, Bill 96, and Bill 40, which could stoke already smouldering language fires. We can hope government traction from such divisive policies and tactics will stall out this year. That is something to look forward to.

On a positive note, the public reception to the launch of the Professional Women’s Hockey League, not to mention the exceptional games that have been played, has been well-earned by the players taking to the ice. The 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris will mark the first time that male and female athletes will be represented in equal numbers, which is another score for sports inclusivity. Finally, the Valley is in a perfect position for a full view of the total solar eclipse that will take place in early April. Let’s hope by then that the clouds of uncertainty hanging over this winter will lift, and we’ll have clear skies for an astronomical start to Spring.
Sarah Rennie

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