Montreal·Analysis

What's in store for your wallet? Tax cuts and prudent spending expected in Quebec budget

Finance Minister Carlos Leitao is expected to table his third balanced budget today at 4 p.m. But will Quebecers forgive the Liberals for the tough austerity measures imposed in the first half of their mandate?

Finance Minister Carlos Leitao expected to table his 3rd balanced budget at 4 p.m. today

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao displays his new shoes and his budget speech, on Monday on the eve of a provincial budget speech in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Premier Philippe Couillard's buzzword when it comes to this year's budget is "prudent" — there's room to spend, but not too much.

Will there be enough that Quebecers will forgive the Liberals before the next election for the tough austerity measures imposed in the first half of their mandate?  

Finance Minister Carlos Leitao is expected to table his third balanced budget today at 4 p.m. ET, with surpluses projected through 2022.


The budget has been released. For full details, check out:


Here are four things to watch out for today.

1. What to do with the surplus?

Couillard says he wants to do more to lower taxes.

Tax cuts in this year's budget could add up to $500 million, according to Radio-Canada sources. Just what form those tax cuts will take we will see today.

Last year, the Liberals reduced the so-called "health contribution" fee, with a promise to decrease it further for Quebecers in lower tax brackets and to abolish it for everyone by 2018. It also lowered the age of eligibility for the experienced worker tax credit, to 62, starting next year.

During the 2014 election campaign, the Liberals committed to increase health spending by four per cent annually and education spending by 3.5 per cent.

By law, they need to send a fraction of any surplus to the Generations Fund, established by the previous Liberal government to pay down the debt. 

Half of whatever is left over will be spent on tax cuts and with the other half, they'll make an extra payment to pay down the debt. 

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, has committed to lower taxes. Coalition Avenir Québec Leader Francois Legault (right) says he'd go even further, while the PQ's Jean-François Lisée (centre) says more should be spent on services. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Parti Québécois and the Coalition Avenir Quebec have their own approaches to the surplus.

Instead of tax cuts, the PQ wants to increase spending on services. PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée also wants to invest money from the Generations Fund to stimulate the economy.

CAQ Leader François Legault is the flag bearer for lower taxes. According to the party platform, a CAQ government would lower taxes by $500 for every person earning less than $100,000 a year.

2. Bracing for possible 'Trump effect'

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to make changes to NAFTA, which is just one measure that could have repercussions in Quebec. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The Couillard government may hold back from spending more because of uncertainty around U.S. President Donald Trump's next moves.

The future of NAFTA and uncertainty over the impact of the latest softwood lumber dispute are reasons why the Liberals say they are building a cushion into this budget to soften any blow to Quebec's economy that may come from south of the border.

3. Winning back seniors

February was not a good month for the Couillard government and Quebec's senior citizens. Retired Quebecers began doing their taxes and felt penalized when they discovered some measures announced in the budget last year.

There may be something in this year's budget for retired people, after some seniors were so stung by the loss of tax credits in 2016 that the government reversed the measure. (CBC News)

Last March, Leitao said he would gradually raise the age of eligibility for the seniors' tax credit — worth up to $500 a year — from 65 to 70. At the same time, he lowered the age of eligibility for the experienced worker tax credit, to 62.

But what about those who do not qualify for either?

Seniors groups and the opposition weighed in, the outcry finally forcing the finance minister to reverse last year's decision to raise the eligibility age for the seniors' tax credit, leaving it at 65.

But by that stage, the political damage was done.

Today's budget is a chance for the Couillard government to make amends for that blunder, so expect to see something aimed at the over-65 crowd.

4. Training for skilled workers

If you spend any time talking to business owners in this province, especially in the regions, they say the biggest challenge they face is the shortage of skilled workers.

According to a December 2015 report from Emploi-Québec, by 2024, the province will need 1.4 million more workers to fill new jobs or positions left vacant by retirees.

Workers assemble a motor in the Pratt & Whitney factory in Longueuil. Emploi-Québec warns that the province will face a shortage of skilled workers in the coming years. (Radio-Canada)

In February, the premier convened business leaders, union leaders, community groups, Aboriginal groups and educators for a round table on the issue.

Expect to see measures today to address the challenges they discussed, specifically around training.

About the Author

Ryan Hicks is in his final year as a law student at McGill University and is a former Quebec political correspondent for the CBC. In 2018, he won the Amnesty International Media Award for his reporting from Guatemala about the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States.

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