QUEBEC CITY – About 10,000 police officers, bus drivers, firefighters, along with blue and white-collar workers took Quebec City by storm on Wednesday, as Premier Philippe Couillard prepared to deliver his inaugural address. They are angry at the Liberal government for threatening to legislate a way out of the pension plan dispute.
“If they start changing the pension agreement, lots of people will leave and if half of the city workers leave, they’ll be in trouble,” said protester Anissa Sadroudine.
City pension plans are billions of dollars in the hole and Quebec would like cities and employees to split the costs 50-50, not only for the future, but for past deficits as well.
“I’m 80 years old,” said retired police officer Paul Bousquet. “I don’t want to have my pension cut. I have just enough to live with.”
Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau broke from tradition and addressed the crowd. He was booed when he said he had to ensure the sustainability of the plans.
It is definitely not an easy start for the Liberal government. On Wednesday, ministers again blew hot and cold on issues such as the Port Daniel cement plant.
“The question is, it a legitimate risk considering that that kind of money we borrow,” asked Economic Development Minister Jacques D’Aoust.
“What I see today is exactly what we’ve seen with Mrs. Marois,” said CAQ leader François Legault. “We had a speech during the electoral campaign and a totally different speech after the election.”
In his most important speech yet, Premier Philippe Couillard argued it’s time to put Quebec in order.
“If nothing is done, the province’s deficit will grow to $5 billion in 2014-15 and to $7 billion the following year,” said Couillard.
Now, the selling job begins.
The Liberals have to convince Quebecers they can no longer enjoy some of the most generous social services in Canada.
“The social reaction up to now is positive, the budget has to be well accepted by the population but we’re at the point where we’ve been talking about it for so long that most political parties and most MNAs seem to agree,” Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis analyzed.
But outside the National Assembly, the social reaction was far from positive.
On Day 2 of the session, people on the street maintained protests of the sort that will likely only keep growing.
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