Montreal

What to look for in the CAQ government's first budget today

The province is armed with a surplus that is estimated to fall somewhere between $1.65 billion and $4.6 billion, depending on whose accounting method you trust.

After making pricey campaign promises, Premier François Legault gets to show how he will pay for them

Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard displays the shoes he will wear for tomorrow's budget speech — runners made by Math Sport, a Quebec City-based company. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Coalition Avenir Québec government has plenty of cash to work with as it tables its first budget today.

The province is armed with a surplus, estimated at somewhere between $1.65 and $4.6 billion, depending on whose accounting method you trust. 

Either way, higher than expected revenues provide the CAQ government with leeway to follow through on some of its pricey campaign promises.

But not every pledge will be attainable, at least not right away — especially since the CAQ's tax cuts will mean less money flowing into provincial coffers.

Here are a few things to watch out for this afternoon.

Lost revenues

The CAQ government has already tabled legislation to meet one of its key election promises: the harmonization of the school tax rate.

The promise will mean a $900-million reduction in government revenues annually — and considerable savings for some property owners.

Premier François Legault made costly promises on the campaign trail, and his government's first budget will illustrate how he intends to pay for them. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

But the CAQ has yet to take action on another key promise: a flat rate of $8.05 a day for public daycare. That could cost up to $160 million annually, according to the party's own calculations.

In December's mini-budget, the government committed only to freezing the current daycare rates, which increase with family income.

Increases for health, education

On the campaign trail, Premier François Legault promised to avoid making cuts to education and health services, unlike his Liberal predecessors.

The CAQ committed to annual spending increases of 4.1 per cent for the Health Ministry in the first three years of its mandate, rising to 4.2 per cent in the fourth year.

But keep in mind the Institut du Québec, a public policy think tank, estimates that in the health portfolio, annual spending increases of 4.2 per cent are necessary simply to maintain current services.

The CAQ also promised to increase education funding by $400 million annually. Under the Liberals, education spending dropped dramatically in the first years of their mandate, before hitting five per cent in their last two budgets.

Pre-K for all

One of the CAQ's showcase planks during the election campaign was a commitment to offer free pre-kindergarten to four-year-olds across the province.

Today's budget will provide some insight into how much this plan will cost to implement and how long it will take for the government to roll it out.

The CAQ has suggested the annual price tag of its pre-K network would run between $400 million to $700 million. (CBC News)

The CAQ has suggested the annual price tag of its pre-K network would run between $400 million to $700 million. It has already pledged to open 250 classrooms by this fall, at a cost of $30 to $40 million.

But the plan is not without its opponents.

Officials representing Quebec's publicly funded daycares presented a petition to the National Assembly Wednesday signed by more than 40,000 people who say the money would be better spent upgrading the existing daycare network. 

Green pressure

While the CAQ isn't known for putting environmental concerns near the top of its priority list, the tens of thousands of students who marched through Montreal last week are hoping that will change.

As a fifth-grader creatively pointed out recently, the annual allotment for the province's Environment Ministry represents just 0.21 per cent of overall provincial spending.

Environment Minister Benoit Charette hinted last week that his ministry is in for an increase. He also pointed out that many environmental initiatives are funded by other ministries, including Natural Resources, Transport and Municipal Affairs.

One way to test the government's commitment to tackling climate change will be to compare its investments in public transit to what it spends on roads.

Growing public pressure in Quebec for more aggressive action on climate change could prompt the CAQ government to invest more in the environment. (Louise Gravel/Radio-Canada)

The CAQ made car-friendly promises during the campaign to commuters living in the outskirts of Montreal and Quebec City, promising them roads, bridges and tunnels. 

But growing emissions in the transport sector remain the biggest obstacle preventing the province from reducing its carbon footprint.

Without further investments in public transit, environmentalists say, it is unlikely Quebec will be able to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

About the Author

Benjamin Shingler is a journalist with CBC Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.

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