MONTREAL – Amid a slowing economy and rumours of a possible election, the Parti Quebecois government has announced a four-year jobs plan.
Premier Pauline Marois unveiled Monday what she described as ambitious measures that should create 43,000 new jobs at a cost of $2 billion by 2017.
Those measures include $708.8 million in tax credits for businesses, a discount price on surplus hydroelectric power used by companies, renovations to schools and community centres, and electric-transport projects.
Though the minority PQ government is barely one year into its mandate, the province is rife with speculation it might call an election next month, with its controversial values charter at the forefront of an identity-themed campaign.
Asked at a news conference Monday whether her jobs plan was really just a prelude to an election platform, Marois tiptoed around the question.
“Oh, la la,” she replied, before stating that the main pillars of the plan had been in the works for months and flowed from existing policy commitments.
In response to another question, Marois said she was not thinking of an election — but she didn’t explicitly rule it out, either.
“I can’t stop you from thinking that,” said the premier, who was asked repeatedly about the election rumours.
“But that’s not the scenario we’re working on.”
The PQ has come under attack in recent weeks by opponents who accuse it of using identity issues as a diversion tactic to shift the focus from economic concerns.
The party’s proposal to ban public sector employees from donning religious headgear in the workplace has not gone smoothly, however: Two former PQ premiers, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, have called for it to be watered down, blunting the party’s message.
The government had planned to erase a budget deficit this year and, although it has not explicitly renounced that promise yet, it has admitted that the economy is not as strong as expected.
“We were expecting a stronger recovery at the end of 2013 but we’re forced to admit that its not quite picking up,” said Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau.
“Our businesses aren’t investing as much as we’d like. We think it’s important to ask fast.”
Marois said Monday that her government is firmly focused on creating new, quality jobs in all corners of the province.
“It’s our aim, I would even say that it’s our obsession,” she said in her televised speech to announce the economic update, a presentation the premier handled herself with the finance minister watching from the sideline.
“We want to build on solid foundations that will permit us to successfully resist the next (economic) storm. Our action has become more urgent given the world’s economic context.”
Following the announcement, the leader of Quebec’s third party, the Coalition, said the province has lost 45,000 jobs since the start of the year — 2,000 more than the PQ is hoping to create over the next three years under the new plan.
Francois Legault said that over the same period 146,000 jobs were created in the rest of Canada.
“Just to replace these 45,000 jobs, Ms. Marois has to spend $2 billion that she doesn’t have to correct her errors?” said Legault, who added the initiative will also complicate matters for entrepreneurs by introducing more bureaucracy.
“Where are we going to find the $2 billion?”
Legault touted his party as the best team to fix Quebec’s economy and said the Coalition will be prepared if an election is called next month.
“If it’s necessary, we’ll go. We’ll be ready.”