Quebec's deficit $600M higher than expected, says Couillard
Published Thursday, April 24, 2014 12:48PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 24, 2014 6:26PM EDT
Quebecers are being told to brace for big changes in government programs as the cabinet prepares to undertake a systematic review of spending.
In an afternoon news conference Wednesday, Premier Philippe Couillard confirmed the deficit for the 2013-2014 fiscal year is $600 million higher than expected, and that an extra $3.7 billion in trims will be needed in 2014-2015 to reach the deficit target for this fiscal year.
The budget tabled by former finance minister Nicolas Marceau in February called for a $2.5-billion deficit in the fiscal year ending March 31.
But Couillard revealed the deficit is actually more than $3.1 billion
Couillard says both the PQ and the Liberals have overspent over the years.
“We have increased our debt both by deficits and lots of investments. This is a thing we did together,” he said.
The Liberals still plan to deliver a balanced budget in 2015-2016, but warns much work is needed to get there.
Couillard said his government will implement a public sector hiring freeze and cut administrative costs, among other money-saving measures.
He says those measures will save $490 million.
Finance Minister Carlos Leitao says Quebecers should get ready for the province to live within its means.
"Decisions will be difficult in the sense that some programs will have to be abolished, would have to be changed, would have to be reduced, and others might have to be increased. So it's this kind of exercise that has not been done systematically in Quebec that we are going to start this year," he said.
One shot in the arm for the economy is a new home renovation tax credit for work of $3,000 and up, starting Thursday.
Columnist Don Macpherson expects budgets will be tightened for half of the Liberal mandate.
"I think we're in for a couple of years of austerity. The day before the government was sworn-in there was a report that the PQ government had lost control of spending," said Macpherson.
"I think the financial team is going to be especially important."
Analyst and political insider Jean Lapierre said that Couillard campaigned on 'real matters,’ and has picked a cabinet designed to focus on wealth creation.
"At least 12 ministers out of 26 have some type of economic responsibility," said Lapierre. "So that means the focus is really on the economy."
The Liberal government has already closed the door on the previous government's much-vaunted Charter of Values.
Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion Kathleen Weil is expected to present a secularism bill in the autumn, but says her main goal is to reassure those who felt unwelcomed by the PQ's bill.
"I call it 'tone at the top.' It's a very important concept when you're dealing with public policy," said Weil.
She said all Quebecers, no matter their beliefs, are welcome in the province.
"It starts with the premier, the number one person in charge has to make sure to not demonize, instrumentalize or put people aside in society. Everybody's equal. Everybody has a place in the sun," said Weil.
One sign of inclusion was evident on Wednesday as several cabinet ministers swore oaths in French and English.
"Six ministers took their oaths of office in both official languages. Francophones and anglophones and others just deciding that they're going to speak both official languages on that special day," said Lapierre.
The new government is recalling the legislature on May 20, with a budget planned for early June.
The first bills up for debate are the so-called “dying with dignity” bill and creating an inspector general for Montreal.
Both measures expected to receive all-party support.