‘A lot of political candy’: Experts, unions weigh in on Quebec’s pre-election budget


Across the board, financial experts agree that Quebec’s finance minister had a difficult task at hand: present a spring budget that will address rising cost of living as the province comes out of the fifth wave of a two-year pandemic while a war in Europe casts uncertainty over global markets.

The government has earmarked billions of dollars in spending for healthcare, social housing, education programs and projects to stimulate economic growth in Finance Minister Eric Girard’s fourth budget, released Tuesday.

Perhaps the most attractive part of the budget for Quebecers is the promise of a one-time payment of $500 to all adults who make $100,000 per year or less to help offset the impact of inflation.

But as Alexandre Dufresne says, the government has missed the mark on fixing the problem with rising costs for Quebecers.

“I think that’s a lot of political candy and I’m sure that the 6.4 million people receiving those checks will be happy and I’m guessing the CAQ thinks that will translate into votes, but if your goal is to solve inflation, that does not do anything to [solve it],” said Dufresne, a tax specialist with Spiegel Sohmer, in an interview with CTV News.

“On the contrary, you’re probably creating more inflation because as you inject more money into the economy, that tends to trigger your inflation. They don’t address the problem, they’re using their economic leeway to increase short-term consumption , but that will have very little lasting impact, in my opinion.”

Other than the $500 one-time payment, the budget — released six months before the provincial election — offers very little for the middle-class voter in terms of incentives for seniors or small businesses hit hard by the pandemic, according to Dufresne.

“It’s a pre-election budget but there are missing elements to get more votes,” he said.

The money will be transferred directly into Quebecers’ bank accounts after they file their 2021 taxes, but Caroline Nalbantoglu, a financial planner with CNAL, said she believes it will do nothing more than encourage spontaneous spending on things like a big screen TV or a new smartphone.

“As far as we’re concerned, this is just money that just came out of nowhere for them. Whereas, reducing consumption taxes or even personal taxes or gas taxes, it’s longer term. It’s not a one-shot deal,” she said Tuesday.

As the finance minister said at the National Assembly, the “exceptional” compensation set aside for about 6.4 million Quebecers is to match the “exceptional” inflation, which is expected to reach 4.7 per cent this year.

But even when those rates calm down, the increased prices for things like groceries and gas might not recede right away, said Renaud Brossard, Quebec director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“So giving Quebecers a one-time help will not do anything for 2023, 2024, and 2025 while those price increases are still going to be there,” Brossard said.

“A much better way of doing this would have been to take less money by reducing some taxes.”

HEALTH-CARE UNIONS SAY BUDGET FALLS SHORT

Finance Minister Eric Girard did give much-needed attention to the health-care system in the form of $8.9 billion in new spending, which Dufresne said was an “excellent first step” to address the province’s health-care needs highlighted by the pandemic.

The Quebec treasury estimates the pandemic will cost the province about $24.1 billion from March 2020 to the end of the 2022-2023 fiscal year, taking into account expenses lost due to economic downturn. Future waves of the pandemic could, however, drive those estimates even higher.

Still, health-care unions say there is nothing in the budget to address the long-standing staffing shortages in Quebec’s health institutions.

The FIQ and the FIQP said in a statement Tuesday that “working with less has been the norm for too long” and the “crisis” will not be solved any time soon because there are no new, concrete measures announced in the budget to fix it .

“The government’s resistance to seeing health investments as an urgent economic measure is inexplicable, nor does it make sense given the collective trauma we have experienced during the pandemic,” said FIQ President Julie Bouchard.

The APTS union, which represents more than 60,000 members in the health and social services sector, worries about more workers leaving for the private sector since no new measures were announced to retain workers in the public network.

Émilie Charbonneau, the union’s vice-president, said she was hoping the government would have adjusted the salaries of health workers since recent increases are not enough.

Health Minister Christian Dubé is expected to announce more details about the province’s plans to rebuild the health-care network at a later date.


With files from CTV News’ Rob Lurie


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