MONTREAL -- The financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could keep Quebec from balancing its budget for the next five years, according to the province's Finance Minister.

Eric Girard delivered the sobering news on Monday during a parliamentary study session on the state of Quebec's public finances. The session was held at the request of the opposition parties.

He said the Legault government doesn't envisage a return to balanced budgets before 2025-2026.

In terms of public finances, Girard said 2021 “will be difficult,” especially the next six months.

He reiterated that the deficit for the current year is expected to reach a historic high of $15 billion.