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Charest's $1.2B spending promises put budget targets at risk

Quebec Liberal Party Leader Jean Charest responds to questions at a news conference Aug. 14, 2012 in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Jean Charest's election promises would add $1.2-billion to the province's annual spending, forcing him to find still-unidentified cuts elsewhere to avoid missing Quebec's balanced-budget targets.

In all, his Quebec Liberal Party's promises, brought in gradually over five years, would add about $3.7-billion to provincial debt over five years if they don't find other cuts to balance it. Mr. Charest insisted his party will stick to its pledge to eliminate the deficit, projected to be $1.5.-billion this year – and stay in the black.

Mr. Charest is running his campaign on the economy, and playing to the public perception that he's a sound fiscal manager. That means his promises have to show restraint, compared to his opponents. But the costing outline for his campaign promises, released Friday, doesn't detail much about how he'll find the savings needed – by squeezing other government spending – so he can pay for his promises.

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Already, the Charest government's 2012 budget had called for the government to find $875-million in unspecified annual savings by next year – the 2013-14 fiscal year – if it's to meet it goal of getting out of deficit.

Now, Mr. Charest's government is promising to pay for its election-campaign spending by squeezing other spending even more. The Liberals say that starting next year, they'll trim annual spending growth, expected to run at 3 per cent per year or more, to 2 per cent.

But they haven't said what they'll cut to meet that goal. Mr. Bachand said the government's track record for controlling spending and beating its deficit targets in the last three years should convince skeptics.

Mr. Charest's campaign promises are mostly a series of small spending program or tax breaks – from a $7-million-per-year promise to subsidize electric taxis to $120-million a year in tax credits for older workers.

His claim to hold the best political brand for fiscal management didn't quite match Mr. Charest's presentation – since he mixed up the annual cost of his promises with the cumulative cost, citing the lower annual figure. At his press conference, he said that "over a period of five years...it comes to $1.2-billion in additional spending." In fact, the program calls for a cumulative total of $3.7-billion in additional spending over five years.

Mr. Bachand, however, argued that the $1.2-billion annually that Liberal promises will cost taxpayers is a fraction of the sums pledged by Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault – who is competing with the Liberals for the votes of small-c conservative Quebeckers concerned about the public finances.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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