In power for five months, the Legault government will reveal its true nature on Thursday, when tabling its first budget entitled “Your priorities, your budget,” giving the right time in cash, both on his style of governance and his real priorities for action.
P arions in advance that many will be disappointed, Prime Minister François Legault has set the bar very high for months, multiplying the expensive promises and feeding expectations of each other. And all his promises will be respected, he said.
It must be said that his Minister of Finance, Eric Girard, enjoys an exceptional situation. The Caquistes inherited the liberals from public finances in good health (the expected surplus varies between $ 1.7 billion according to Quebec and $ 4.6 billion according to the Quebec Institute), assuring him what is most valuable for the one who holds the purse strings: a good margin of maneuver.
In lending Wednesday to the traditional photo shoot to display the new pair of shoes acquired for the occasion, Mr. Girard said his two budget priorities were “to improve services and create wealth”, showing anxious to raise productivity, GDP per capita and disposable income.
But to eliminate the gap of wealth with Ontario, which reaches between 18 and 20%, Quebec will have to be patient. “It will take more than a year,” “more than a mandate,” he admitted, having worked in recent months “seven days a week” to deliver the goods.
The context is ideal: Quebec’s economic situation is in good shape, the unemployment rate is at its lowest, and the expected amounts of Ottawa equalization are on the rise, reaching nearly $ 13 billion this year, not counting the health transfers, in the order of $ 6 billion.
François Legault has pledged to “put money back in the Quebecers ‘wallet”, in short, to reduce the taxpayers’ tax burden ($ 1.7 billion in five years), while increasing services to the population. But any government is well aware that choosing to lower revenues while increasing spending can become a risky gamble, especially since it excludes any deficit.
Aim for balance
Minister Girard, a calm and prudent man, will seek to reach the point of balance between the commitments of the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), the money coming into the coffers and the tight control of the expenses.
Asked whether his budget was going to be cautious or daring, Girard said on Wednesday he would ensure “a good balance between the two”.
According to his economic update, presented in December, it will be very far Thursday, the great financial maneuvers and spectacular announcements, knowing that Quebec is not immune to an economic slowdown during this mandate. If so, it will opt for the usual sprinkling of targeted tax measures, reinvestment in public networks spread over several years and “gifts” of millions of dollars to the left and right, for everyone to feel to have had his share of the cake, while remaining on his hunger.
An example of the Girard style: it announced in December that a person aged 70 or over with an annual income of less than $ 22,500 would be entitled to a refundable tax credit of up to $ 3.80 more per week, a substantial rise according to him.
In his speech on his budget choices, Mr. Legault has accustomed us to favor a few very specific targeted clienteles, who will certainly be the first beneficiaries of Thursday’s budget: 4-year-olds with learning disabilities, children aged Lower middle class parents with at least two young children and very low income seniors.
Offering kindergarten for 4 years across Quebec will cost between $ 400 and $ 700 million a year starting in 2023, not including fixed assets. Quebec has promised to open 250 this year.
The increase in family allowances (already increased by $ 500 in December) is expected to yield $ 191 million this year and $ 763 million by the end of the term. This measure is only for a fraction of families, those with a total annual income of less than $ 108,000.
Education and health
On the services side, education and health will receive the lion’s share. “Needs are really important,” especially those of seniors, the minister said.
The education network cries famine. Old schools, shortage of teachers, chronic underfunding, it is not the building sites that are lacking. The promise to add one hour per day in all high schools for sports, arts and homework is estimated at $ 124 million. There is also the network of CEGEPs and universities hoping for hundreds of millions of new money. And all this while the government has chosen to deprive itself of $ 900 million in revenue per year, because of its decision to harmonize the school tax.
Expectations are no less healthy, even though the health and social services network already accounts for half of the state’s spending budget. Will the promise of averaging 90 minutes average ER wait times be reflected in the budget? The only bill related to the promised hiring of nurses and the downward revision of patient-nurse ratios is estimated at $ 350 million, according to their federation. To help the elderly, the Caquistes have pledged to inject not less than $ 200 million a year to offer more home care. Assistance to caregivers is also expected to grow by $ 21 million this year and $ 93 million by 2022, if the Caquist promises are met.
WHAT COMMITMENTS ON ICE?
In the context of many costly promises for the CAQ, some, inevitably, will be put aside, at least for a time. This could be the case with the commitment to reduce the single fee in child care, which is currently adjusted to parents’ income. Seniors may have to be patient before they can move to one of Seniors’ Homes promised by Mr. Legault. Municipalities could also have to wait before relying on the promised transfer of a point of the sales tax (TVQ), in order to be less dependent on the property tax, an anticipated shortfall estimated at $ 1.3 billion for the state.
We will also see on Thursday whether the government was serious when it stated that it wanted to make amends with respect to the fight against climate change, one of the main themes that are missing from the CAQ program. At least, motorists could perhaps hope for a better discount by buying an electric vehicle.