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Globe editorial: Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard plays politics with head offices

Governments in this country have a historical preoccupation with the care and feeding of the corporate headquarters to which they play host.

There are eminently defensible reasons for this, and everyone does it to a greater or lesser degree. But a move this week by the Quebec government to make the province more attractive to head offices raises a question: Why now?

Quebec is home to 568 head offices, second only to Ontario. On Tuesday, Premier Philippe Couillard's government unveiled tax incentives to help them feel at home. Some of the moves make sense, such as lowering taxes on things like executive stock options to bring them into alignment with other provinces.

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However, Quebec is also expanding a business assistance fund and broadening tax exemptions for owners who sell their companies to children or relatives – the latter alone will cost the public purse an estimated $50-million a year.

In announcing the plan, Mr. Couillard was quick to say that "our economy isn't under siege." So why is this happening?

A cynic might see politics at play. The fact that companies like hardware giant Rona Inc. and St-Hubert, the rotisserie chicken chain, were recently scooped up by outside buyers has been used as a cudgel by Mr. Couillard's political opponents.

Sensitivities over companies falling into outside hands are particularly acute in Quebec. And there have been previous painful exoduses, mostly caused by the political turmoil attendant on the rise of nationalism in the province.

But now, though. According to the government's own figures, Quebec companies made a net gain of $39-billion between 2012 and 2016 from acquisitions outside the province.

Yes, but a provincial election is slated for next year. Inoculations are in order.

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