What's in Quebec's pandemic budget, and what's not, for those who need a boost
Province’s finances were upended by the coronavirus, but there is some money for those hardest hit
The pandemic has drastically changed the province's fiscal outlook, and that means the provincial budget looks a little different this year.
The Coalition Avenir Québec government is projecting a $12.3-billion deficit and doesn't expect to balance the budget for another seven years.
It sets aside even more money than usual for the health-care sector (a nearly six-per cent increase for 2021-22).
The education sector will also see a more than five per cent increase in funding, while businesses forced to close during the pandemic will also get more help.
But what about assistance for young workers, students and those without stable housing? And what about last year's commitments to a greener Quebec?
More affordable housing, but is it enough?
The pandemic has highlighted the province's shortage of social housing, with homeless encampments popping up in Montreal.
The province set aside $408 million for social housing over the next five years, which will go toward completing 5,000 social housing units that were already promised and 500 new units for the AccèsLogis program.
The government is also granting new rent supplements and increasing renovation subsidy programs available through the Société d'habitation du Québec.
The social housing commitments fall far short of what advocates had called for: the Réseau québécois des OSBL d'habitation, a provincial housing group, had called for 5,000 new social housing units annually.
The group estimates nearly 200,000 Quebecers devote more than half their income to rent.
Manon Massé, parliamentary leader for Québec Solidaire, said the new money from the province won't come close to solving the problem.
Women threatened by violence
Community groups have been calling for more resources for women dealing with domestic violence, as some shelters face an unprecedented demand because of the pandemic.
The province devoted $22.5 million over five years to bolster resources for women who are victims of domestic violence.
When asked if that was enough, Finance Minister Eric Girard said, when combined with last year's funding increase, the total amounts to a 40 per cent boost over three years.
"I can confirm to you that if we need more money we are going to be receptive to this because it's a very important matter," he said, pointing out that related funding for policing and the judicial system will also need to be considered.
Cash for post-secondary students
Young adults have been faced with a multitude of challenges during the pandemic, with soaring unemployment and many post-secondary schools closed for the bulk of the year.
In an effort to encourage students to stay in school, the province is providing a lump sum of $100 per term for the fall of 2020 and winter of 2021 to full-time college or university students.
Interest on student loans will also be eliminated from April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.
The province also set aside $145 million over five years for the health and well-being of post-secondary students, and $369 million over the same period to encourage more people to go into information technology.
Tutoring for kids
With the lives of grade school students also upended, experts have raised concern that children will need help to make up for lost time.
The budget sets aside $170 million over two years to support students and school staff with a special focus on tutoring, homework assistance and psychosocial support.
The government is also putting $403 million over the next five years toward adding more special education classes, improving the condition of schools and helping them shift to digital.
There is also a commitment to provide mental health services to a young person within 30 days of a request.
A shift to more home care
The pandemic has laid bare the holes in the care available to the province's seniors.
The government said it wants to keep more seniors in their own homes for as long as possible, and out of institutions.
The budget sets aside $317 million as of this year to increase the services available to the public as well as the refundable tax credit for home-support services for seniors.
Funding will also be put toward improving care in the province's networks of CHSLDs.
What about climate change?
Last year's budget, tabled only two days before the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, was billed as the CAQ's green shift.
There were new subsidies for electric cars and more public transit projects.
This year, however, there were few new environmental commitments. André Fortin, a member of the Liberal opposition, called it "the least green budget we've seen in a long time in Quebec."
"In terms of the environment, there is no new measures to help companies make a green shift, no measures to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions."