Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard is out selling his budget this week. At a Quebec City Chamber of Commerce lunch on Monday, Girard impressed the business crowd with the provincial government’s measures to address the labour shortage and invest in immigration.
However, Girard also had to explain why, with spending way up, there isn’t something in the budget for everyone.
The Quebec government has money to burn, thanks to a $2.5-billion surplus left over from the previous government. Still, not every taxpayer will see the direct benefits of increased spending by the Coalition Avenir Québec government. Girard said personal income tax cuts are off the table for at least his first mandate.
“By law, we need to reduce our debt burden,” Girard explained.
He told the Quebec City Chamber of Commerce that Quebecers are the highest-taxed Canadians but that he doesn’t plan to change that before at least 2024, when the government aims to reduce its debt to 35 per cent of the province’s GDP.
“This will come once we meet our target for debt reduction,” he said.
The finance minister says the budget consultation process convinced his government that investing in health and education was more important to Quebecers than personal income tax cuts. Girard also said it convinced him that Quebec needs to invest more in immigration, contrary to what the CAQ said on the campaign trail.
Girard denies he’s doing it to change his government’s anti-immigrant reputation.
“I’m telling you, as finance minister, I don’t give $146 million for optics,” he said. “I give $146 million to immigration to make a real difference.”
Business leaders are pleased with the move.
“These are all measures that, for us, are favourable,” said Julie Bédard, president of the Quebec City Chamber of Commerce, adding that training and supporting immigrants will aid in addressing the labour shortage.
But the Liberals say the government’s immigration legislation, Bill 9, has already painted a black mark on Quebec around the world.
“People reading these articles in Le Monde or Figaro or the Washington Post will simply say: ‘Well, why will I come to Montreal when I could go elsewhere? It’s going to be easier and I’m going to probably be more welcome,'” said Liberal MNA Paule Robitaille.