Montreal

New money for health and education won't go far without more workers, critics warn

Quebec's labour shortage may hamper government plans to boost services in these two key sectors.

Quebec's labour shortage may hamper government plans to boost services

The government announced several measures in the provincial budget to deal with the labour shortage. But are they enough? (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

The Quebec government is hoping to improve health and education services with a fresh influx of cash, announced in this week's budget. But the province's labour shortage may get in the way of that plan. 

There were nearly 120,000 vacant positions in the province as of February, according to the most recent jobs numbers posted by Emploi-Québec. That's almost double the number vacancies from two years ago.

While the government increased health spending by 5.4 per cent, and education by 5.1 per cent, that may count for little if there aren't enough people to fill the new positions being created, said Mia Homsy, director of the public policy think tank Institut du Québec.

"The health system, the education system, they are feeling it. They can't find teachers. They don't know how to hire teachers and that's the big problem in the budget," Homsy said.

"There's no answer for that. There's money in education and healthcare services but my question is: Where are we going to find the resources, the people to deliver the services?"

The creation of a network of free kindergarten classes for four-year-olds is set to cost nearly $1 billion over five years, and will need to be staffed.

'There's money in education and healthcare services but my question is: Where are we going to find the resources, the people to deliver the services?" asked Mia Homsy, director of the Institut du Québec. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

The government will also spend $200 million to address recurring labour shortages in the health care system, promising to hire more nurses, nursing assistants and patient care attendants.

Véronique Proulx, the head of the Quebec manufacturers and exporters association, echoed Homsy's concerns.

"It's one thing to have the money to support these workers, but you still need more workers to be able to address the labour shortage," Proulx said.

Decreasing the job vacancies

The government says it's tackling the province's labour shortage with several new measures introduced in the budget.

Among them, Quebecers between the ages of 60 and 64 now won't have to pay tax of their first $10,000 of income. A new tax credit will also be available for businesses hiring or retaining older workers.

In addition, the government will spend $146 million every year for the next five years on the integration of new immigrants into the workforce.

But Proulx says from the perspective of the manufacturing industry, that's not enough.

"We think that if the government really wants to have an impact on manufacturing growth, and keep filling jobs within the different regions of Quebec, it will have to go a step further," she said.

Véronique Proulx, head of the Quebec manufacturers and exporters association, said while the budget addressed some of her industry's concerns, she questioned whether it will be enough. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

As it stands, manufacturers are struggling to fill vacancies. "This is affecting their growth, their capacity to export, their ability to reach out to new customers," said Proulx.

She said it was a mistake for the government to reduce the number of immigrants Quebec accepts annually, which is slated to drop to 40,000 this year, down from more than 50,000 last year.

Is the tax credit for older workers enough?

The tax credit for those between 60 and 64 was increased as an incentive to keep them working. But the maximum return will be capped at $1,500 and workers who make $64,610 or more won't be eligible.

"Nobody really knows if it's a game-changer in the decision of the worker to stay at work," said Homsy.

"Is it really that which is going to trigger the difference in 'I'm going to work, or I'm going to stop working'? Personally, I'm not sure."

Homsy says what will really make a difference is how businesses adapt and become more flexible to their workers' needs.

The payroll tax credit introduced in the budget is a step in that direction, she said. "This really means 'Businesses, we're going to help you out. You're going to pay less if you adapt.'"

About the Author

Sarah Leavitt

Journalist

Sarah Leavitt is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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