Quebec's fledgling Parti Québécois government is poised to table its first budget since the Liberals toppled the PQ government in 2003.

The budget, scheduled to be released at 4 p.m., is expected to focus on austerity measures as the government tries to trim back the province's spending to balance the books by the spring 2014 target.

Budgets are usually presented in the spring, but the Pauline Marois government decided to rush forward with this one.

Quebec deficits

  • 2011-2012: $3.3 billion
  • 2010-2011: $4.2 billion
  • 2009-2010: $3.2 billion

PQ Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau described the move as a "necessity," given the $1.6 billion deficit left behind by the Liberal Party.

"Waiting until the spring of 2013 would only delay the identification and implementation of actions needed to put Quebec on the road to a balanced budget next year," he said.

The PQ has already hinted at some of the budgetary elements coming in today's document. They include adjustments to the flat rate health tax, income tax hikes for high-wage earners, changes to the tax brackets and cuts to public infrastructure projects.

Bond-rating agencies are watching closely the financial measures pitched by the PQ government.

Marois has said that staying the course toward deficit elimination should ensure the province doesn't suffer a hit on its credit-rating.

Minority support

With only 54 seats, the PQ government will need the support of the opposition parties to pass the budget.

The Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec have already criticized the PQ for backtracking on election promises and, in the Liberals' case, for pitching an autumn budget.

Finance critic Raymond Bachand called the early budget an act of "provocation" from Marois's minority government.

The last time the budget was tabled in the fall was in November 2001, when Marois was finance minister in Bernard Landry's PQ administration. 

Both parties in opposition have said they will not support a budget that includes tax hikes.  Voting against it would defeat the minority government and trigger another provincial election.

However, that's an unlikely scenario, given that the Liberals are still without a party leader.