Get ready for belt-tightening, Premier Philippe Couillard tells Quebecers

Premier Philippe Couillard is again telling Quebecers his government will do whatever it takes to balance the provincial budget next year.

End-of-life, Montreal inspector-general bills expected to be top priority in new session

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said his government will need to make tough decisions to rein in the province's deficit. (CBC)

Premier Philippe Couillard is again telling Quebecers his government will do whatever it takes to balance the provincial budget next year.

Couillard used his inaugural speech in the Quebec legislature this afternoon to drum home his view that the time for cosmetic changes to the economy has come and gone.

He said Quebecers have been spending more than they can afford for years.

"To which generation will we send the bill if we don’t act? To whom will we ask to negotiate loan rates if our public finances are out of control?” Couillard said.

Quebec has the highest debt in the country. As of this past March 31, it was projected to stand at $198.4 billion, or 54.3 per cent of gross domestic product.

Couillard is aiming for a $1.75-billion deficit this fiscal year before returning to a balanced budget in 2015-16.

That will mean a much tighter control of government spending and a revised role for the government in how it manages the economy.

The next provincial budget will be tabled in early June.

Language and culture

Couillard also spoke about diversity in Quebec, taking a dig at the previous Parti Québécois government's proposed secular charter.

Couillard sais he feels diversity is not a menace, but a treasure.

The Premier also addressed the issue of language and bilingualism, stating that it's important for Quebecers to know French, but that everyone should also learn English.

“What counts is the adhesion and attachment that we share — French as the common language in the public space in Quebec, and respecting the rights and historic contribution of our anglophone compatriots," Couillard said.

    National Assembly absences

    There were a few high-profile absences when the legislature convened.

    Pierre Karl Péladeau, a former media mogul being touted as a Parti Québécois leadership contender, is recovering in hospital after a bike accident on Sunday left him with several fractures.

    As well, former Liberal transport minister Julie Boulet was a no-show after recently testifying at the provincial corruption inquiry into political party financing. Boulet was left out when Couillard crafted his cabinet.

    Stéphane Bédard, the interim PQ leader, said he hopes the debates in this session will be more constructive than in the last.

    The Liberals were elected with a majority government on April 7, ending 18 months of PQ minority rule.

    With files from CBC Montreal