Robert Libman: After the summer break, Quebec politics will heat up

Rampant inflation provides the opposition with ammunition against the CWC government ahead of general elections in October.

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These two weeks, the so-called construction holidays, are usually a time in Quebec when politics is the last thing on people’s minds. This year’s summer break, however, is just the calm before the storm, as things will soon start to really heat up, with the October election just two months away. Governing at the best of times can be very difficult. It is much worse when times are tough, aggravated by external events or circumstances beyond a government’s control. The effects of the global pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and natural disasters are contributing factors to runaway inflation, severely affecting the cost of living.

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As people return from vacation, and the August heatwave becomes the September daily grind, bills for vacation rentals, gas, excursions, restaurants, etc. they will have begun to arrive at a time that coincides with the electoral campaign. Many will feel the pinch, struggling to make ends meet with mounting credit card debt. In the past year, gasoline has risen 58 percent, vegetable oil 55 percent, lettuce 47 percent, cereal 23 percent, bread 16 percent, and so on. The pressure will increase on governments to act and ease the burden.

The Bank of Canada’s response to combat inflation is to dramatically increase interest rates. The traditional theory is that if interest rates are higher, fewer people will borrow money. With less money to spend, there is less demand for goods versus supply (availability) of goods, so the cost will naturally go down.

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Whether this tactic will work to reduce prices remains to be seen. It will undoubtedly have the effect of slowing down the economy and could lead to a recession, among other side effects. Unprecedented labor shortages and supply chain issues, coupled with the war in Ukraine, create many unknowns. It is not reassuring to have to wait or hope that these traditional economic maneuvers will have the desired impact of making prices manageable again. People want to see tangible results in the short term. Provincial governments have a role to play.

The FTQ union was already running ads this week attacking the Legault government for its inaction on some key issues facing Quebecers. The liberal opposition and Québec solidaire have remained silent. The construction holiday may not be the time to spend your gunpowder, when the electorate does not want to know about politics. But with only two months to go before the general election, one would expect that they would be preparing to snap out of their dream. Rampant inflation should provide a feeding frenzy for opposition parties to attack and pressure the CWC government to act.

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When asked in a Leger survey last month what measures the Quebec government should implement to face inflation, the majority of those surveyed opted for a reduction in personal taxes, followed by a drop in the gasoline tax and an increase in support programs and subsidies. Next came the reduction of the sales tax. Prime Minister François Legault instead offered the carrot of another $500 check if he is re-elected, effectively offering to buy votes. However, that cash gift measure was selected by only eight percent of those surveyed. Quebecers expect sustainable solutions, not temporary perks. Why couldn’t the government subsidize free public transport for a few months, for example, which could at the same time stimulate sustainable behavior change?

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Quebecers will be in a bad mood during the campaign, especially every time they return from the supermarket or refuel. If the opposition hopes to put pressure on the government, it had better come up with some creative ideas to help Quebecers pay their bills.

Robert Libman is an architect and building planning consultant who has served as leader of the Equality Party and MNA, as mayor of Côte-St-Luc, and as a member of the Montreal executive committee. He was a conservative candidate in the 2015 federal elections. twitter.com/robertlibman

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