Get ready for belt tightening: Quebec Premier Couillard

‘The time for cosmetic changes is gone’ says new premier in throne speech

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

QUEBEC — Premier Philippe promised Wednesday his government will not back down in its push to clean up Quebec’s public finances — even if it means making difficult decisions.

“The time for cosmetic changes is gone,” he said in his throne speech in the legislature. “We must act firmly and decisively. And we will.

“Real reforms have been put off because this legislature has been divided. What would have been desirable 15 years ago, what would have been necessary 10 years ago, is now urgent.”

Couillard said Quebec has 23 per cent of the Canadian population, but contributes only 20 per cent to the national economy.

“In a nutshell, for years we’ve been spending more than we can afford.”

The government’s belt-tightening will focus heavily on government program spending.

While Couillard may feel emboldened to act aggressively because of the majority mandate Quebecers gave him in April, he may also run into a reality some of his predecessors have encountered over the years: the strength of the union movement in Quebec.

Couillard got a first-hand look at labour opposition to at least one of his government’s plans Wednesday when thousands of municipal workers held a demonstration outside the national assembly.

They were protesting the government’s approach to tackling pension shortfalls.

“We want to send a clear message to this new government,” said Marc Ranger, a spokesman for the protest organizers.

“If eventually, there’s a bill that attacks our rights, there won’t just be 10,000 of us here. All municipal workers will be here.”

Quebec has the highest debt in the country. As of this past March 31, it was projected to stand at $198.4 billion, or 54.3 per cent of gross domestic product.

Couillard is still gunning for a $1.75-billion deficit this fiscal year before returning to a balanced budget in 2015-16.

“If nothing is done, Quebec’s budgetary deficit will be higher than $5 billion in 2014-15 and more than $7 billion in 2015-2106,” he told the legislature.

“That will not happen. Our government is still firmly on the road to a balanced budget in 2015-16.”

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Get ready for belt tightening: Quebec Premier Couillard

  1. > let’s talk about the debt and some facts. There is a lot of confusion with the debt of the Government of Quebec;
    > First, the Government plays the net debt game. It subtracts from the total debt the value of infrastructure. This is misleading because the assets used to counter the total debt must be able to be sold. While Hydro-Quebec, valued at anywhere from $80B to $100B can be sold in whole or in part who in their right mind would buy Quebec roads. Besides, selling Hydro-Quebec the start of huge Government intervention in the economy will be difficult. The best that can be hoped is a sale of 49% with no individual hold of the 49% to be greater than 10%. This would pay almost half the current total debt.
    >Now let’s turn to the total debt because that is the key figure; we pay interest on the total debt no matter what our assets are. Go to Google and punch in Quebec Debt Clock. The figure today is $266B and by the time I finish this posting it will be $10,000 higher.
    >So, let’s look at Ontario at Google Ontario Debt Clock. It just passed $257B but the real issue is the looming deficits. Comparing Quebec and Ontario there is a huge, huge difference in the total population, and the quality of that population. Too many educated persons are leaving and too m any welfare recipientsare coming.
    >Quebec received in the last budget year a total of $18B, roughly, from the Federal Government and it still posted over $3B of deficit which just increases the total debt. This $18B was for the Federal Equlization Payments, the Social Services and the Heatlhcare transfers. So, Quebec underperformed by over $21B…in one year. Just how long can this continue. It won’t.
    >This writer is predicting the following: 1-a sale of up to 49% of Hydro-Quebec, 2-a sale of up to 49% of the SAQ, the liqour agency, 3-a sale of non-essential investments in private enteprises; 4-demanding repayment from Videotron and Pierre Karl Peladeau the money lent to allow the purchase of major expansion of this enterprise; 5-a change in the way Healthcare is delivered. Greater use of the CLSC the provinces community clinic network has to be done, now, the ease the load on expensive general hospital emergency rooms; 6-a change in education policy because for the past forty years we have educating people at our cost only to see them leave for other provinces or other countries; 7-finally, Government here has to present plans that move the huge pile of private money that sits ideal in the country, particularly here in Quebec, out into new businesses and new jobs.
    >These notions are not negotiable simply because if we continue on this path that debt will be at $300B before we even realize it. As for the powerful unions the answer will be simple: they either accept the debt as a threat to their future membership and cooperate with the Government, or, face putting all unions under trusteeship until the debt is reduced to a level that is sustainable, about 40% of the GDP. By the way, this writer believes in unions and the protection offered its workers; the members should be made aware that the threat to their members is not the Government but rather it is the debt. With their huge pension funds they could also be part of the solution.

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