Montreal·Analysis

Get ready for a rough fall as Liberals plan to slash spending

A demonstration put on by about 50 seniors in La Malbaie gave Liberal MNAs a small taste of the grassroots outcry this government could face as it makes decisions to get its financial house in order.

Quebec government needs to cut $3.2B this year

A group of about 50 seniors in La Malbaie protested against possible cuts at their seniors' residence. (Ryan Hicks/CBC)

On the last day of the Liberal caucus retreat, a group of 50 protesters  mostly seniors  camped outside the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in La Malbaie for most of the morning.

Word on the street in Saint-Siméon, their town located 45 minutes north-east, was that officials at the CSSS de Charlevoix put their local seniors' residence on their chopping block.

They chanted and hoisted signs that read, “We have the right to spend our last days chez nous,” appealing to Health Minister Gaetan Barette to intervene.

The demonstration gave Liberal MNAs a small taste of the grassroots outcry this government could face as it makes decisions to get its financial house in order.

Quebec has a cash flow problem. There is not enough money coming in to pay for all the services Quebecers use. This year, Premier Philippe Couillard needs to cut spending by $3.2 billion.

And the Premier makes no bones about it. He admits his government has some tough decisions ahead of it. On Thursday, he invoked the financial crises of 1982 and 1997; in 1982, René Lévesque’s PQ government cut the salaries of civil servants and in 1997, the PQ government of Lucien Bouchard forced thousands of civil servants into retirement.

All summer, including the past two days, the government has laid down little hints to paint a picture of what these cuts could looks like. The latest came today when Finance Minister Carlos Leitão said he will deliver a financial update in the fall, which could include budgetary measures such cutting $650 million in personal and business tax credits.

Over the past few days, the Premier stressed that the average person will not bear the brunt of the budget-cutting pain and that he will protect the vulnerable. On the other hand, he said everything is on the table.

“No stone will be left unturned. We will look at everything. There will be no sacred cows. Even things that we thought had to absolutely be done “that way” are going to be looked at again. And this may and will lead to substantial changes to the way we do things in Quebec,” Couillard said during his closing press conference.

Quebecers will know over the next couple of months how the Premier is going to balance protecting the vulnerable with slashing spending. But one thing is for sure: the seniors who protested outside the Liberal caucus meeting this morning hope he keeps them front of mind.

For now, Health Minister Barrette has decided to freeze any decision, and those same seniors — and many other Quebecers — hope the Premier does not forget the promise he made during his final press conference: that the budget will not be balanced on the backs of the average person.

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.

now