Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

A report by Quebec’s interim Auditor-General, Michel Samson, says, ‘According to our estimates, the 2012-2013 annual deficit is underestimated by $626-million.’

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Parti Québécois government is underestimating the deficit and will need to further cut services to meet "ambitious" spending targets, according to a report by the provincial auditor.

"According to our estimates, the 2012-2013 annual deficit is underestimated by $626-million," the report, released on Wednesday, stated. Interim provincial Auditor-General Michel Samson also questioned the government's debt figures. "As for the net debt and accumulated deficits, they are underestimated by $8.1-billion." The government had estimated that as of March 31, 2013, the net debt was $175.4-billion.

The audit was released just as Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau was preparing to table a provincial budget on Thursday that is expected to set the stage for an election this spring. The auditor, who was mandated by opposition parties to examine the figures in the minority government's financial update released this past November, mentioned on several occasions the "risk" involved in the PQ's projections and the lack of "prudence" in defining them.

Story continues below advertisement

The provincial auditor's criticism fuelled opposition attacks against the government. Liberals and Coalition Avenir Québec party leaders said the PQ has lost all credibility in its ability to deliver an accurate economic assessment of the province.

"We certainly have doubts as to the level of credibility of tomorrow's budget given that there will likely be no spending estimates … We will certainly have time to talk about all of this during the election campaign," said Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard.

CAQ Leader François Legault said the report shows that the government failed to include $1-billion in recently announced expenditures for the coming fiscal year. "This shows that Quebec's public finances are heading toward a wall. A major shift is needed to give taxpayers a break," Mr. Legault said.

According to the auditor's report, the PQ government had to rescind its promise to reach a balanced budget during the current fiscal year because it overestimated the province's economic growth. Unlike the federal government, Quebec failed "to take into consideration an economic prudence margin" in its forecasts to offset potential forecasting errors.

Lower-than-expected revenues will lead to a $2.5-billion deficit this year and $1.75-billion deficit in 2014-2015, according to the November update. The PQ now promises to achieve a balanced budget by the end of the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

Mr. Samson said he was given insufficient time to prepare a more detailed analysis of November's economic update presented by the PQ minority government. He also complained of the lack of co-operation by the Ministry of Finance, saying that the "late receipt of documentation" as well as "restricted access to people, systems and data" made it impossible to properly evaluate the government figures.

Despite these problems, the provincial auditor concluded that the overall government economic perspectives were "reasonable." But it also found that spending estimates were "ambitiously" low.

Story continues below advertisement

This means cutbacks in services, especially in big-budget areas such as health and education, will likely be needed if the government – which has promised no new taxes – hopes to achieve the zero-deficit target within the next two years. The shortfalls would have to be offset "through an increase in service fees or an additional decrease in expenditures."

The auditor also said the government failed to consider how potential cutbacks would affect economic growth over all. "These cuts could slow down economic activity," the auditor wrote.

The auditor concluded that the information available "does not make it possible to assess the scope of actions that will have to be taken to reduce growth of overall expenditures. Government departments and budget-funded bodies will have to make considerable efforts to respect the desired growth objectives."

Mr. Marceau didn't share the auditor's outlook. The minister argued that the government's tighter spending targets are realistic and will be met to balance the budget in two years.

"I have always said that controlling spending in the current context is something that will require a lot will and effort."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies