Families and businesses big winners in Quebec's mini-budget
But opposition parties call out CAQ for offering only modest sums to seniors and climate change
Premier François Legault used his first major economic statement to offer tax relief to large families and deliver more than $1 billion-worth of incentives to Quebec businesses.
But with only modest sums allotted to low-income seniors and environmental measures, opposition parties accused the new Coalition Avenir Québec government of waffling on key social issues.
Speaking in front of a giant Quebec flag and a mixed crowd of families and seniors, Legault insisted Monday's economic statement was just the first step toward fulfilling his party's campaign promises.
"We'll increase, in the coming years, the money we'll be able to give back to families and seniors," he said.
He also talked of restoring "a balance" between services offered by the government and the tax burden faced by Quebecers.
The centrepiece of Monday's mini-budget was a refundable tax credit for parents with two or three children.
Under reforms to the child assistance payment program, families will get an additional $500 per child, with cheques going out in April.
In other words, a family of three, making less than $123,194, will get $1,000 more under what was formerly known as the child-assistance payment.
Families with two children have to make less than $108,344 to be eligible.
Legault said the changes announced Monday correct an "absurdity" of the current system, which offered parents less money for their second and third child than their first.
"It's failure to understand reality of families to think that your second or third child costs less than the first one," Legault said. "That seems pretty obvious."
Making Quebec businesses more competitive
The other showcase item of the mini-budget was a plan to provide tax incentives worth $1.6 billion over five years to boost the productivity of Quebec businesses.
This will largely take the form of accelerated depreciation measures, aimed at encouraging companies to switch over to higher-performing technology and machinery.
Capital expenditures, such as computer hardware and manufacturing equipment, will qualify (until 2024) for a 100 per cent depreciation rate.
Quebec is following Ottawa's lead by trying to boost competition through productivity incentives, as opposed to reductions in the corporate tax rate, which is already among the lowest in North America.
But the province trails both Ontario and Canada in terms of business investments in machinery and equipment, a situation Legault called "shameful."
"The gap hasn't moved much in the last 20 years, so we have to start working on it," the premier said.
The mini-budget also outlines a plan to accelerate repayment of Quebec's debt.
By the spring, Legault's government intends to take $8 billion from the Generations Fund to repay existing debts on financial markets.
It is estimated that, by lowering interest payments, the repayment will free up $1.4 billion over five years.
Big surplus, but little for services
Finance Minister Éric Girard, who drafted the economic update, is forecasting Quebec will finish the 2018-2019 fiscal year with a surplus of $1.7 billion.
Economic growth remains robust in the province, with estimated GDP growth at 2.5 per cent for 2018.
The province's healthy fiscal situation had some asking why the incoming government wasn't offering more in terms of tax relief, which had been a central theme of the CAQ campaign.
Though some seniors will get a retroactive tax break, the sum is relatively modest and its eligibility, limited.
Quebecers over 70, making $20,000 or less, will qualify for a $200 tax rebate. That amount will be progressively reduced, disappearing for seniors making more than $26,500.
Legault, moreover, had promised during the campaign to gradually return to a flat-rate for Quebec's daycare system.
But the current system was left largely intact, only offering a freeze on the current rates, which increase with family income.
"Given Quebec's economic situation, Quebecers had the right to expect the government to honour its promises to reduce their tax burden and reinvest in services," said Carlos Leitão, the Liberals' finance critic and finance minister under the previous government.
Girard defended not offering more generous tax cuts to Quebecers by pointing to lingering uncertainty over the current size of the surplus.
"That's certainly something we'll look at in the next budget," he said of further tax relief.
"But it wouldn't have been prudent to spend all our surplus at once."
Little to ease climate change concerns
The update will also do little to ease concerns about the CAQ's commitment to tackling climate change.
It contains a nominal investment to keep afloat a government program that offers rebates for electric car purchases.
Québec Solidaire, the leftist opposition party, was hoping for a bolder gesture, such as an immediate investment in public transit, to send a signal the government feels an urgency about meeting emissions targets.
"An electric car, as good as it is, doesn't replace a bus, a train, or a tramway," said Vincent Marissal, the QS MNA for the Montreal riding of Rosemont.
"We need more collective transit. A solo car is not the way to go."
Legault deflected many of these criticisms by noting the update was a short-term spending plan.
He promised the spring budget would have measures for two sectors largely absent in the mini-budget.
"We'll talk a lot about education in the next budget. The priority of this government will be education," he said. "We'll also talk about health, and improving front-line services."