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A record deficit of 11 billion for 2024-2025

Photo: Jean Balthazard Le Devoir Le ministre des Finances du Québec, Eric Girard

Finance Minister Eric Girard tabled a budget Tuesday marked by a record deficit of $11 billion, along with a plan to reduce state spending in anticipation of next year's tabling of a new road map that could postpone the return to balanced budgets until 2030.

The shortfall recorded in the government's 2024-2025 financial plan exceeds the previous peak, 10.7 billion, reached in 2020-2021, at the heart of the pandemic, the minister recognized during 'a press conference. “It could be the largest deficit in dollars,” he said, while hoping for a financial improvement that could reduce its magnitude.

Last year, Mr. Girard forecast a deficit of $3 billion for 2024-2025 as part of a plan to return to budget balance which was due to expire in 2027-2028.

Prime Minister François Legault and Minister Girard had warned in January that future deficits would be greater than expected given the salary increases granted to state employees. According to budget documents, an additional sum of $4 billion was added to Quebec's expenses, mainly due to the improved conditions offered in the new collective agreements.

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“We made the choice to invest in our human resources,” said Eric Girard. It is very important for the sustainability of the public health system, for our public school, that the quality and accessibility of services improve. So, yes, that brings a high deficit in 2024-2025. »

Government spending will be $157.8 billion this year, up 4.4%, while revenues will be $150.3 billion, up 2.4%. . The health sector alone weighs 61.9 billion in this balance sheet. Money inflows are also lower than what was first forecast for 2024-2025 due to a drop in tax revenues, Hydro-Québec revenues and federal transfers.

On this subject, Mr. Girard recalled that Quebec was demanding a right of withdrawal with full financial compensation from the new federal dental care and drug insurance programs. “Prime Minister Mulroney has died, and I remind you that in the Meech Lake agreement, there was a clause which limited the power to spend with full financial compensation in the areas of jurisdiction in question,” he said. said.

When will the budget be balanced ?

The deterioration of the government's financial framework goes beyond the 2024-2025 budget, and its effect is felt in the 2023-2024 financial year, which will end at the end of March with a deficit of 6.3 billion. The deficit was estimated at $4 billion a year ago. In addition, while the budget was expected to be balanced in 2027-2028, a deficit totaling 4 billion is now forecast for this fiscal year, and the equivalent for the following year.

Mr. Girard announced that a new plan to return to zero deficit would be tabled in one year following the overhaul of the Balanced Budget Act concluded last December. This objective could be achieved by 2029-2030 “at the latest”.

The minister remained vague on the path that remains to be mapped out to achieve a zero deficit by then. In the immediate future, he is counting on a recovery of the economy which would be favored by a reduction in interest rates during the second half of 2024. “In the 2025 budget, I will know the destination,” he said .

The budget plan calls for gross domestic product growth of 0.6% this year and 1.6% next year.

A first turn of the screw

The government has announced a first turn of the screw, which will help it reduce its spending by $1 billion in the business aid sector over the next five years.

The tax credits supporting jobs in the technology sector will be revised in particular, among others in the emblematic video games sector, set up by Bernard Landry, which notably led to the arrival of Ubisoft in Quebec. The objective is to refocus tax assistance on value-added jobs. “We look at the tax credits for technology companies, which were created when the unemployment rate was over 10%. Today, the unemployment rate is less than 5%,” noted Mr. Girard.

State companies such as Hydro-Québec, Loto-Québec, the Société des alcools du Québec and Investissement Québec will also be contacted. The objective is still to raise $1 billion over five years. “Each company will have to make efficiency efforts, either in terms of revenue or expenses,” warned the Minister of Finance. The bulk of these budgetary optimizations, which should total 2.9 billion by 2028-2029, will however be applied after the 2026 elections.

At the same time, a larger operation could be prepared, because the government will launch a major review of all of its spending this spring. “We will have to make sure not to affect services to the population,” said Mr. Girard.

The minister also ruled out any increase in Quebec's sales tax “in the coming years”.

“Glee” in spending

Liberal MP Frédéric Beauchemin deplores that the Legault government is reducing its aid to businesses without further preparation and judges that Minister Girard is counting on too optimistic income growth. “What we are seeing today is a government which is in total loss of control, which has no plan to return to a balanced budget and no plan to revive the economy. The [Coalition Avenir Québec] spends without limits and spends poorly,” he summarized.

Solidarity MP Haroun Bouazzi, for his part, denounced the weakness of investment in housing. “There is nothing to stimulate the construction of new homes and apartments. It won't change anything for first-time buyers. »

For his part, the PQ leader, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, attributed the financial situation revealed Tuesday to the successive largesse of the Legault government, in particular for 4-year-old kindergartens, seniors' homes and reductions in taxes. “We went about spending with great joy,” he said.

Conservative leader Éric Duhaime, for his part, accused the CAQ government of incompetence.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116