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Zero-deficit target on track, Quebec Premier Marois insists

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responds to opposition questions over the expected deficit in the National Assembly in Quebec City, April 23, 2013.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Regardless of what it takes to achieve a zero deficit by the end of the current fiscal year, Pauline Marois promises to meet her objective despite slower growth and falling revenues.

The Quebec Premier, facing a barrage of opposition attacks over the weak economy and charges that she hinted at postponing the zero-deficit target during a private meeting with business leaders last week, acknowledged she will need to draw on a contingency reserve to compensate for the drop in revenue.

"We will achieve a balanced budget," Ms. Marois said in the National Assembly on Tuesday. "I want to reiterate that we have foreseen a contingency reserve in our budget and I can tell Quebeckers today that we are on target."

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Jean-Marc Fournier, Liberal Opposition Leader, estimated that even after taking into account the $200-million contingency fund, the government will still be short $250-million to cover spending for the 2012-2013 fiscal year that ended March 31. He concluded that the shortage in revenue will have an impact on the current fiscal year, which he said will be marked by slower-than-anticipated growth, job losses and a further decline in revenues.

"She doesn't want to tell the public the increasing difficulties she faces in getting revenues," Mr. Fournier told a news conference. "We need economic measures to attract investments."

The opposition parties contend that investments in several sectors such as mining were dwindling due to economic uncertainty. Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault said the government has no other choice but to further cut spending or face a drop in the province's credit rating.

"Except for a few Maritime provinces, no other provinces have a worse credit rating than the province of Quebec," Mr. Legault said. "We really need to do something. We can't afford a drop in our credit rating."

The Parti Québécois government has already backed away from several election promises in order to achieve the zero deficit target. Welfare benefits have been cut to older workers and young families, a shortage in long-term care facilities has not been addressed and the promise to totally eliminate the health tax was abandoned.

The left-wing Québec Solidaire accused the PQ of betraying its social-democratic roots and urged Ms. Marois to postpone her objective of reaching a balanced budget because of the negative impact it was having on the most deprived citizens in Quebec.

"Rather than consult with labour, community and women groups or environmentalists, she prefers to talk to business leaders," said Québec Solidaire co-leader Françoise David. "We have to ask ourselves whether Ms. Marois needs permission from the business leaders to make political decisions that affect the daily lives of the entire population."

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In a speech to the Quebec Employers Council on Monday, the Premier invited business leaders to openly express their support for what her government was doing.

"I'm a bit disappointed to hear so few voices supporting us," she said. "During the last campaign, we heard people say every day that the Parti Québécois would be held hostage by pressure groups and that we wouldn't have the courage to control spending. Yet that is exactly what we are doing."

In the coming weeks, the PQ hopes to turn the tide in its favour with several economic initiatives, including incentives to boost metal processing industries and the development of batteries for the electrification of the province's public transportation network.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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