Auditor general finds PQ deficit prediction more than $3B off

Quebec’s acting auditor general says the former Parti Québécois government provided an “ambitious” portrait of public finances that was nowhere near the current fiscal reality facing the province.

Report comes out day before tabling of Liberals first budget

Quebec's Acting Auditor General Michel Samson says Quebec faces an actual budget deficit of close to $5.5 billion. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

Quebec’s acting auditor general says the former Parti Québécois government provided an “ambitious” portrait of public finances that was nowhere near the current fiscal reality facing the province.

In a new report tabled today, Michel Samson said the proposed brought forward by the PQ government last February grossly underestimated the province’s deficit, which the PQ projected at $1.75 billion for 2014-2015.

Samson said the actual deficit Quebec is facing is closer to $5.5 billion.

Samson also found that spending estimates provided by former finance minister Nicolas Marceau back in February to be unrealistic. Marceau said spending would increase by no more than two per cent, whereas Samson found it grew by more than six per cent.

At the time, Marceau called the budget “reasonable” and said it was, “the budget Quebec needs.”

Today, the former finance minister was forced to defend his handling of public finances.

Marceau says the numbers suggest the government would have agreed to every spending request.

"This is a concept that is absurd which doesn't make sense."

After winning the April 7 provincial election, Premier Philippe Couillard​ pledged to open the province's books to a thorough, independent inspection by the auditor general to determine the true state of the Quebec's finances.

The Liberal government will no doubt use Samson's findings to validate the cuts they say are necessary if Quebec’s lagging economy is to get back on track.

The extent of those cuts will be revealed when the government tables its first budget tomorrow.

Finance Minister Carlos Leitao posed with his new pair of shoes today, as is the tradition.

He chose walking shoes, a symbol of the government's aim to get the economy moving again.

 "Economic recovery shoes, if you will," he said.

​Quebecers are bracing for what the government insists is a "transitional budget," but one that will nonetheless curb spending to get the provinces finances back toward the black. 

Couillard has promised to balance the budget in 2015-2016, which a new Conference Board of Canada report issued on Monday said won't be possible without additional cuts.

The Conference Board projected that Quebec’s economy will continue to under perform many other Canadian provinces and that government revenues are likely to be weaker than projected for the next two years.

Overall spending would need to be cut by 3.6 per cent in 2014-15 to meet targets, the report states.

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