"It's a file you must have the courage to deal with," he told reporters during the Coalition Avenir Québec's party convention.
With 850 party members participating in the convention — debating and voting on 32 policy proposals — nearly 1,000 public sector workers protested outside to express their dissatisfaction with their collective bargaining negotiations that came to a halt in recent months.
The collective agreements for about 600,000 provincial employees expired on March 31, with the province offering a 13 pay increase over five years, a lump sum of $1,000, plus a 2.5% increase for "government priorities."
"They are going to give themselves $582 in increase per week, and they tell us that the $100 is too much," said François Enault, first vice-president of the Confédération des Syndicats nationaux (CSN). The unions also demanded the CAQ make the CPI figure permanent to protect government workers from inflation.
Legault told reporters the negotiations dragged on longer than expected, adding, "It's always a delicate file."
With negotiations ongoing, the CAQ tabled an increase in the base pay for elected officials from $101,561 to $131,766 — the highest among provincial politicians nationwide. A committee recommended last month to raise wages significantly to attract strong candidates.
“The committee is of the opinion that the proposed amount is just and appropriate and recognizes the veritable worth of the function of MNAs,” the committee said in a report last month.
“Those elected to the National Assembly perform a central role in Quebec’s democracy and, as the committee’s work reveals, do a job which has become more complex and intense in the last few years,” it reads. If you add additional allowances and sums for sitting on committees, the total paycheque would hit $169,950 a year.
Unsurprisingly, the CAQ unanimously supported the raise alongside the Liberal caucus. However, Québec solidaire opposed it, whereas the Parti Québécois (PQ) expressed discomfort.
The premier and his cabinet will also receive a raise, earning the latter $230,591 from $177,732. Many elected officials earn well above the base salary due to other legislative duties.
On Sunday, the CAQ leader attacked the PQ, which has made gains in the polls as voting intentions for CAQ fell from 40% to 36% since February.
"For the future of our nation, our culture, our language, there are only two parties left: the CAQ and the PQ," he said in a speech to party members.
"The problem with the PQ is that it puts everything on the grand soir [grand night of sovereignty]. The PQ tells us that we must protect secularism, our language. On that, we agree. But we must act now."
On Sunday, Legault faced a confidence vote and received 98.61% support from party members. He contends CAQ is "the largest gathering of nationalists in Quebec."