PQ minority government faces first confidence vote on Halloween

QUEBEC – Quebec’s provincial legislature will be busy this Halloween, finding out whether it’s trick or treat for the newly elected minority government.

The Parti Quebecois government says it will reconvene the assembly on Oct. 30 before tabling its inaugural speech the next day. Under parliamentary tradition, that is a confidence measure.

The PQ has indicated it plans to make progress on its most controversial plans, including a new language law, but that it will seek consensus from other parties.

The Pequistes hold only 54 seats — nine shy of a majority in the 125-seat legislature.

That deficit might be trimmed somewhat, given that the governing party has indicated it will not organize a challenge against the Liberal incumbent of the Speaker’s chair. For the next few months, the fact the Opposition Liberals will be leaderless might also work in the government’s favour.

But to pass any legislation, or confidence tests, the PQ will still need to find support from one of the two biggest opposition parties: the Liberals, or the new Coalition party. It could also be helped in votes by opposition no-shows or with support from the two-seat caucus of the left-wing Quebec solidaire.

Already, the first battle lines are being drawn.

An early point of contention is the PQ’s plan to scrap a $200-a-year health tax and replace it with tax hikes for people who earn more than $130,000. The party plans to impose the tax hikes retroactively — which the opposition has called an outrage.

Coalition Leader Francois Legault says he won’t have it.

“We won’t support tax hikes,” he said several times Wednesday. “Let (Premier Pauline) Marois take note, or let her seek the support of the Liberal party.”

The government was already making conciliatory noises Wednesday.

Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau sought to cast his plan not as a tax hike, but as a transfer of the tax burden from the middle class to the wealthy.

He also said he’s willing to negotiate the specifics.

“We know we’re in a minority government,” Marceau said.

“I’ve listened to what the other parties have to say. It’s clear that if our preferred scenario can’t be accepted by the opposition parties we will be open to the alternatives.”

He said he’ll be willing to negotiate detsails of the retroactive hike, as well as the PQ’s planned increase in the capital-gains tax and reduction in tax credits on dividends.

But he said he will be unyielding on two principles: cancelling the $200-a-person health tax and transferring the resulting $1 billion fiscal burden to the “best-off taxpayers.”

“We’re supple when it comes to the means,” Marceau said.

“What’s important for us is that the spirit of the proposal we made,” to abolish the health tax and make the wealthy pay, “gets respected.”