From housing to health care, what to expect in Quebec's budget

Finance Minister Eric Girard says it will be a "prudent" budget that will also help Quebecers weather the high cost of living. But what else is coming? Here are four key things to watch for.

It's CAQ government's last chance before fall election to tackle cost of living — and what else?

Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard puts on a pair of running shoes as he responds to reporters' questions on the eve of his government's 2022 budget speech. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard says today's provincial budget will be "prudent" but will still include relief for those struggling with the rising cost of living. 

"We're dealing with the immediate need," Girard told reporters Monday.

"We're also funding long term the principal missions of the state — health care, education, the economy, the environment."

The budget — the Coalition Avenir Québec government's last before the fall election — is being tabled as Quebecers grapple with inflation that is pushing up the cost of food, services and gas. 

Canada's inflation rate rose to a new multi-decade high of 5.7 per cent last month — the highest it's been since August of 1991.

On the positive side, Girard said the economy had rebounded more quickly than expected despite the pandemic, driving down the structural deficit from an expected $6.8 billion for the fiscal year to roughly $3 billion. 

"The rebound was exceptional," he said. 

The province still faces a monumental challenge. Last year, Girard suspended the province's Balanced Budget Act, which requires the province to balance the budget within five years. He pushed that goal back to seven years. 

With all that in mind, here are four key things to look for in the budget, which is expected to be tabled shortly after 4 p.m. (See below for full details of CBC's coverage.)

Money back to Quebecers

Advocacy groups have called on the government to mitigate the rising prices facing Quebec households by freezing Hydro-Québec rates or reducing the provincial gas tax, for example.

Quebec Premier François Legault had previously said his intention was to "put money back into the pockets of Quebecers," although he did not say how.

However, some economists and other experts say giving out cheques might do more harm than good.

WATCH | Help those who are 'most exposed to inflation' instead of blanket approach, says economics prof:

Experts warn against handing out cheques to counter effects of inflation in Quebec

5 months ago
Duration 4:54
Moshe Lander, senior lecturer in economics at Concordia University, says sending Quebecers cheques would be 'inflationary in its own right.'

Last November, Girard announced an allowance for more than three million low- and middle-income Quebecers in 2022. Couples will receive $400 and people living alone $275. An investment of $2.1 billion over five years will cover the cost, Girard said. 

He also announced an increase in financial assistance for Quebecers aged 70 and up, bringing it to a maximum of $400 per person starting this year.

Home care and the health system

Health Minister Christian Dubé has promised to turn his attention to making long-term reforms in the health-care system in the coming months, though a full-scale overhaul isn't expected in the budget. 

There have, however, been growing calls to put more money into home care immediately — a move seen by experts and advocates as a way to ease the burden on the hospital system. 

"We have been saying it for years: we must move away from hospital-centrism. We must invest intensively in home care and services," said Gisèle Tassé-Goodman, head of the Réseau FADOQ, a Quebec seniors' organization.

Dubé has already committed to addressing the nursing shortage in the coming year. 

The health sector accounts for the largest slice of the budgetary pie. Last year, at the height of the pandemic, spending in the sector increased by six per cent. 

Nursing groups says more must be invested in the public network so that it becomes attractive again and offers better access to care for citizens. Advocates for home care are also hoping to see increased funding. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The housing crisis

It is unclear whether the budget will include significant investments to address the province's housing crisis. 

According to the Quebec Professional Association of Real Estate Brokers, the median price of a single-family home in Quebec rose to $339,960 in 2022. That number jumps to $550,000 in the greater Montreal area, a 20 per cent increase over last year.

The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Montreal area was $928, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Commission — but that figure includes occupied units. Vacant two-bedroom units have an average rent of $1,134 a month.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said "there has to be money in this budget" for social and affordable housing, not only in Montreal, but across the province.

WATCH Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante on housing and the provincial budget:

Montreal mayor wants affordable housing to be high on priority list in provincial budget

5 months ago
Duration 0:37
“There is a real affordable housing crisis in Quebec,” says Valérie Plante. Montreal’s mayor wants to see the CAQ government make it a priority in the budget tomorrow. This will be the final budget before the provincial election this fall.

"There has to be more options. The government of Quebec needs to take their responsibility," Plante said Monday. "When it comes to social housing, it's in their court."

However, recent comments from Legault seem to indicate that the government will wait to offer its housing plan.

"There is a campaign coming up for the general election," he said. "I think the political parties will force themselves to have home ownership plans, as we have often seen in history. I urge you to be patient."

Public transit and Quebec City's '3rd link'

The Legault government has made some high-profile announcements around transit in the last year, so it's unclear how much new will be in the budget.

For example, it recently announced that Montreal's beleaguered Blue Metro line extension is finally a go, despite being significantly over budget and three years behind schedule. The province is expected to foot the lion's share of the $6.4-billion bill.

Plante called for more investments Monday, including her proposed Pink line tramway which would run into the Lachine borough, as well as a proposal to link the Metro's Orange line to the city's new light-rail system, the REM.

The government had also previously announced an ambitious transit plan for Quebec City. It included a $7-billion, six-lane tunnel, known as the "third link," which would connect Lévis on the city's south shore to downtown.

This is a model of the proposed 'third link,' initially conceptualized as a six-lane tunnel. The CAQ government has said it is now scaling back that plan. (Quebec government)

But the government recently stepped back from that plan, saying in February that it was now considering an "adjusted" version of the tunnel with fewer lanes and a reduced cost. 

Legault said there would be a new financial estimate for the project "in the coming months." Transport Minister François Bonnardel also claimed that work on the tunnel would break ground before the fall election.

Legault had promised to build a third option between the two shores during the last provincial election campaign in 2018.

CBC News will have full coverage of the Quebec budget on TV, radio and here on our website. The details are expected to be made public shortly after 4 p.m Tuesday. Here's what coming:

Digital: A full breakdown and analysis of the budget on our website as soon as the embargo is lifted. 

Radio: Updates on our afternoon shows Let's Go and Breakaway, as well as a provincewide budget special from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., hosted by Sabrina Marandola. 

TV:  We will have news, reaction and expert analysis during the 6 p.m. show with Debra Arbec and at 11 p.m. with Sudha Krishnan. 

With files from Cathy Senay and The Canadian Press


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