QUEBEC – The new Parti Quebecois government will seek to shake off doubts it can be a capable economic manager when it tables its first budget later today.
The PQ hopes to strike a balance in the 2013-14 budget by building credibility with Quebec’s business community — all while staying true to the party’s left-leaning grassroots.
The PQ says the economic blueprint will eliminate the provincial deficit during the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Premier Pauline Marois’ government is expected to make cuts to infrastructure and program spending in order to reach that goal.
This will be the first budget for Marois’ government — which wrestled power away from Jean Charest’s Liberals in a September election.
The PQ ran on a platform significantly to the left of the other big parties, with a program that stirred concerns within the business community.
A pair of agencies have threatened to downgrade the credit rating of Quebec’s pension-fund manager, the Caisse de depot, if the PQ acts on a promise to steer some of its funds towards bolstering Quebec-based businesses.
Now the government is promising to balance the books, while controlling spending in numerous departments and without causing undue pain for taxpayers.
“We’re getting there with a very balanced, reasonable and intelligent approach,” Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau said Monday. He said there would be “no pain” for taxpayers, who had already made a “very, very big effort” under previous Liberal governments.
The earlier-than-expected budget appears to be an attempt by Marois to limit the chances that her minority government becomes the victim of an opposition takedown.
The PQ has insisted the unusual budget date is a matter of fiscal responsibility, not politics.
The party says its own accounting shows that Quebec’s economic picture is worse than the previous government claimed.
With just a four-seat lead in the legislature, Marois will need support from at least one rival for her budget to pass.
The right-of-centre Coalition, Quebec’s third party, has already sent signals that suggest it’s unlikely to back the PQ budget.
Party leader Francois Legault has said his 19 elected members will all be present to vote against the budget unless it meets certain conditions. Legault wants: no tax hikes, a balanced budget during the 2013-14 fiscal year, a $200-per-year health tax eliminated as promised in the PQ election platform and an economic action plan.
On the other hand, the official Opposition Liberals are keen to avoid triggering an election. The party is in the middle of a leadership contest to replace Charest, who resigned after losing on Sept. 4.
Former Liberal finance minister Raymond Bachand set less-specific conditions for allowing the budget to pass. He recently suggested his party would reject it if it “destabilizes the economy, increases taxes, and undermines our responsibility to the next generation when it comes to the debt.”
When the 2012-13 Quebec budget was passed in March, Bachand said the provincial economy was on track to balance the books by 2013-14.
The former Liberal government pinned its hopes for a return to prosperity by cashing in on Quebec’s wealth of natural resources, including its minerals, forests and hydroelectricity.
But the PQ, upon arriving in office, said the previous government had painted an inaccurately rosy portrait of the public finances.