Quebec businesses call on PQ to review election plans

Quebec's business leaders have called on the new minority Parti Québécois government to review election promises they say risk slowing investment and the province's competitiveness.
PQ leader Pauline Marois, seen here flanked by Montreal Board of Trade president Michel Leblanc (centre) and Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay at an August 28 speech in Montreal, is being urged by Quebec's business community to review her party's election promises. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Quebec's business leaders have called on the new minority Parti Québécois government to review election promises they say risk slowing investment and the province's competitiveness.

"Quebec doesn't have the necessary financial flexibility to pay all the electoral promises, especially if projected revenues don't materialize," said Yves-Thomas Dorval, president of the Quebec Employers Council.

The powerful lobby group said it supports the party's proposals to improve the education system, modernize public transit and balance the provincial budget.

But it said business opposes PQ pledges concerning regulations, public finances and the imposition of higher taxes on the wealthy.

The council is particularly concerned that proposed changes to language law Bill 101 would extend provisions of the French language Charter and increase operating costs for smaller companies.

Dorval pointed particularly to cancellation of increases in tuition fees and electricity rates, abolition of the health premium and higher taxes and natural resources royalties.

It also disagreed with strengthening of anti-replacement worker legislation and lack of efforts to improve employer-paid health and safety provisions.

He urged incoming premier Pauline Marois and opposition members to meet with business as quickly as possible to reassure that they will seek "to maintain winning economic conditions in Quebec."

Marois vows to proceed

But Marois said Wednesday that she plans to proceed with several key planks in her election platform either by cabinet decree or by legislation.

These include eliminating tuition fee increases, launching a $10 billion fund for the Caisse de dépôt to support Quebec businesses, eliminating the health premium and preventing the elimination of corporate head offices such as Rona if it is sold to U.S. rival Lowe's.

She also vowed to proceed with changes to Bill 101.

Marois conceded that some proposals will be easier to adopt than others, pointing specifically to potential challenges in hiking natural resources royalties.

"We have many programs which are not exactly similar but not too far from the other parties," she said during a news conference the day after her historic victory.

"I will present my project, we will have discussions and I will adopt what it is possible for me to adopt and the population of Quebec will be able to judge if it's a good position or not."

The Quebec Manufacturers and Exporters Association said the minority legislature's sole priority must be to advance Quebec in an uncertain global economy.

President Simon Prevost said there is too much uncertainty about how politicians will help the Quebec economy to grow and prosper.

"Many important economic challenges await the next government and it is absolutely essential that it by actions and policies put in place favourable business conditions to grow the economy and create quality jobs," he said in a news release.

Prevost added that the government will strengthen the economy by supporting the manufacturing sector.

Boost urged for Montreal

The Montreal Board of Trade said the new government must adopt concrete plans to strengthen the province's largest city as the economic engine of Quebec.

President Michel Leblanc welcomed the PQ's commitment to appoint a minister responsible for Montreal and invest in public transit.

But he said other proposals that would "overtax Quebec companies" trouble the business community and would harm their competitiveness in North America.

Quebec voters elected 54 PQ members, shy of the 63 seats required to form a majority in the legislature. The Liberals elected 50 members, while the Coalition Avenir Quebec obtained 19 seats and left-wing Quebec Solidaire elected two members.

The results had a muted impact on the value of the Canadian dollar or markets since polls had long predicted a PQ win.