The recovery of government finances is a necessary prerequisite to guarantee the sustainability of social programs and intergenerational equity. Some think, wrongly, that this can only be done by cutting the budgets of various ministries and organizations. Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government has proven the contrary with an average increase in government spending of 2.7% between 2014-2015 and 2017-2018.
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When the Liberal government took office in 2014, our public finances were in a catastrophic state. We found an anticipated deficit of more than three billion dollars for the 2013-2014 budget year, a deficit that would have reached seven billion the next year. Moreover, the previous government had managed to put Quebec’s credit score under surveillance by rating agencies. Consequently, the Liberal government decided to implement a plan for gradually restoring our public accounts.
As Minister of Finance Carlos J. Leitão explained, “the return to a balanced budget is not a finish line, but a new starting line to give Quebec the means for its ambitions.”
The Québec Economic Plan has allowed us to regain a balanced budget through economic recovery, job creation and the rigorous management of expenditures. The government stayed the course by tabling a third balanced budget for 2017-2018. Today, thanks to our collective efforts, we have the necessary room for manoeuvre to invest in Quebecers’ priorities: healthcare, education and economic development for all regions.
Audacity and responsibility
Restoring public finances is above all a difficult but responsible political decision.
Difficult: Although it can seem easy, in theory, to balance two columns of numbers, those of revenue and expenditure, in reality it involves making difficult choices and arbitrating between a multitude of equally legitimate needs. We were elected to accomplish this difficult task and we have accomplished it, unlike the previous government, which chose to postpone a balanced budget and add to the deficit on our children’s credit card.
Responsible: Faithful to the Quebec Liberal Party’s value of intergenerational equity, Philippe Couillard’s government believes that the next generations of Quebecers have the right to benefit from the same quality of public services as the previous generation, a right that was never compatible with recurring deficits.
A commitment to Quebecers
Beyond investment in the healthcare and education sectors, the return to a balanced budget allows the implementation of an ambitious policy for economic development. Hoping to respond to the great challenges of our time, the government made major investments in the digital sector as well as in innovation and research. Our efforts to reduce the constraints of taxes and regulations on individuals and companies will improve their competitiveness on the international market.
The austerity myth
There are many who conflate restraint in public spending, which the Liberal government exercises, and austerity politics, which we’ve seen in Europe. Faced with the dramatic situation of their public accounts, certain countries in Europe made massive cuts to governmental spending. These measures led to a significant reduction in the number of public servants, a rise in the working hours for public servants without financial compensation and a questioning of their healthcare system’s universality.
To continue to finance our public services according to our ability to pay, the government of Quebec has opted to reduce the rate of growth of its overall expenditure.
The importance of continuing to fight tax evasion
Tax evasion occurs when individuals and companies fail to comply with their tax obligations. The concrete result of this global problem is a loss of government revenue. Measures to fight against tax evasion are bearing fruit. For the 2014-2015 budget year, the government’s efforts have allowed us to recover $3.279 billion.
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Concretely, in the last twenty years, Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government was the last to turn to austerity policies. The PQ leaders are thus showing signs of amnesia when they denounce the Couillard government’s budget policy. At the time, the Bouchard government made cuts to program expenditure that led to the dismissal and forced retirement of 4,000 nurses.