Quebec’s Liberal government introduced its first budget since coming to office in April, and will try to put a lid on spending. Here are eight things to know about it:
- Premier Philippe Couillard’s government plans to limit spending growth to 1.7 per cent this year, while projecting revenue growth of 3.2 per cent. Health and social services (3 per cent) and education (2.2 per cent) will receive most of the increases in overall department spending over the next year. But the increases are short of what the Liberals promised in the spring election campaign.
- The budget cuts funding in myriad government departments and programs, including justice, public security, tourism, transport, international relations and the Francophonie, along with environmental protection and the provincial language watchdog. Most other departments are basically frozen.
- The budget freezes public sector staffing levels through 2016. The government will also attempt to slow wage growth in upcoming labour negotiations. One permanent committee will review all programs and another will review all government taxation.
- The province is budgeting a deficit of $3.1-billion for 2013-14, $2.4-billion for the next year, and a balanced budget in 2015-16. Finance Minister Carlos Leitao says only British Columbia and Alberta will return to balance more quickly than Quebec.
- Mr. Leitao is projecting economic growth to lag behind the national average through 2015, forcing him to downgrade revenue projections by $916-billion next year and $1.3-billion in 2015-16. In 2013, Quebec economic growth slowed while it accelerated in the rest of Canada.
- The only tax hikes contained in the budget are on alcohol and tobacco, along with modest proposed hikes in public daycare rates and the contribution to provincial coffers from Hydro-Québec, which will likely translate into bill increases for users.
- The budget contains no other changes to consumption taxes, and no personal income tax hikes. “It’s really on spending that we have room to manoeuvre to obtain a balanced budget,” Mr. Leitao said. “That’s where 90 per cent of the effort is coming from.”
- The budget was welcomed by business leaders, approached cautiously by union leaders anticipating difficult labour negotiations, and blasted by groups in the environment and education sectors. “The obsessive chase of zero deficit puts public services in peril,” said student leader Jonathan Bouchard.