Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard bought new running shoes leading up to his budget speech — his symbolic way of showing that his fiscal plan would help Quebec businesses “catch up” to the rest of Canada — but critics say the CAQ government missed opportunities to create a larger skilled workforce.
“This is larger than the CAQ government — this is about the stewardship of the Quebec economy,” Girard said during Thursday’s budget lock-up in Quebec City.
Girard wants to close the income and standard of living gap between Quebecers and the rest of Canada.
According to September 2017 data from Statistics Canada, the average Quebec worker earns just over $47,000 a year, below the Canadian average of $51,000 and even farther behind Ontario, where the average annual salary is a little more than $52,000.
WATCH: Economist Stephen Gordon explains how the new government is spending on Quebecers.
The CAQ’s first budget includes measures to boost innovation and stimulate the economy. The government is making more capital available to local enterprises — an extra $1 billion through Investissement Quebec. The government is also making it easier for Quebec-based companies to win government contracts.
Laval University economics professor Stephen Gordon said these are modest first steps.
“Economic growth is the holy grail.”
“The secret to real, sustained economic growth is technological change, innovation, things for which we don’t really have set recipes,” he said.
One important omission, say some Quebec businesses, is that the budget doesn’t do enough to address the labour shortage. One Montreal CEO explained that he’s competing to recruit talent from a small pool of skilled employees.
“I think the tech sector is often mistaken as really just being interested in hiring science and engineering folks,” said Ian Rae, founder and CEO of cloud computing company CloudOps. “As the economy digitizes, we need people from all domains. The arts are extremely important.”
“You have to start thinking of encouraging people to go to university, making it possible for people to go to university,” Gordon said, adding that people with university degrees earn higher incomes than people without university degrees.
He said funding universities would help create a skilled workforce, which will aid the labour shortage and generate wealth.
However, there’s another gap between Quebec and other Canadian provinces. Quebec universities are under-funded by about $850 million each year compared to the Canadian average.
“It would definitely be nice to see more investment around educating, around the skills required again in a globalized, digital economy,” Rae said.
For skills training, the 2019/2020 provincial budget provides $29 million per year for CEGEPs and $3 million per year of targeted funding to universities.