Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois today dismissed as "normal" new figures from Statistics Canada that reveal a loss of 26,000 jobs in Quebec last month.
The new statistics show Quebec’s unemployment rate up from 7.5 per cent in January to 7.8 per cent in February — just under one per cent higher than the national unemployment rate of 7 per cent.
Quebec’s job losses were the highest in Canada during the month of February. British Columbia was a distant second, with 10,000 jobs shed during the same period.
Speaking to reporters on the campaign trail Friday, Marois said the figures vary from month and she didn’t see them as cause for concern.
“In the past, we’ve seen some months where there is a decrease in jobs. There are variances and I think it’s normal. We can’t draw conclusions from [February] alone,” she said.
Marois' government has made job creation a central plank of its economic policy and has pledged to create at least 115,000 new jobs by 2017.
Philippe Couillard, Quebec’s Liberal Party leader, suggested the drop in employment was the result of the PQ's focus on other priorities, namely its proposed secular charter.
“This is a government that doesn’t take charge of the economy, that doesn’t focus on real issues. They create imaginary issues to distract us, and it’s unacceptable,” he said.
“Quebecers want a government that focuses on the real issues, and those issues are a real job that’s well-paid and keeps bread and butter on the table.”
Hydro hike has “positive” side for consumers
Marois also greeted news that Quebec’s energy board is authorizing a rate increase of 4.3 per cent by underscoring the fact Hydro-Quebec had been hoping for a 5.8 per cent increase.
“Consumers will be paying less for hydro than Hydro-Quebec wished,” she said.
Marois said any shortfall in revenue stemming from the smaller increase will be made up by heightened consumption during the last frigid months.
“It’s been a cold winter, more hydro is being sold outside Quebec and consumption has been higher. So the loss in revenue for Hydro-Quebec won’t be too big.
She did acknowledge, however, that her government’s budget was based on the larger increase.
Marois pointed out however, that her Liberal predecessors had budgeted in 2012 for revenues based on a 20 per cent increase between 2014 and 2018, which was supported by the Coalition Avenir Quebec.
On the campaign trail Friday, CAQ leader Francois Legault promised to halt hydro rate increases above inflation if elected Premier. That would mean a hydro rate increase of 2.2 per cent instead of the newly approved 4.3 per cent.
Liberal leader Philippe Couillard adopted a similar position last month, saying hydro rate increases should be linked to the rate of inflation.