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Marois Madness, and the Surprisingly Unsurprising Quebec Budget

It’s been a busy year for Quebec’s politicians. Between a student uprising, an embarrassing provincial election and Marois’ thus far controversial politics, it’s been hard to keep up. For those who turned off their televisions after Pauline won the election with fewer votes than she lost with during the last election (Thank the anglos for splitting the vote), you have some catching up to do. Since she came into office in September, Pauline has reversed the tuition increases, removed the Canadian flag from the National Assembly, closed Gentilly 2, and dived right into language politics. Despite the fact that the recent census shows but a small decline in French as the most spoken language at home (a meager 3%), which is mostly accounted for by the large influx of immigrants, Marois  has been intensely concerned with what she feels is an assault on  the French language and in result, Quebecois culture.

In order to counteract this she has done several things – first, Pauline proposed a Charter of Secularism – a draconian, anti-religious tract that is designed to apparently keep religious bias out of Quebec politics. This bill would force people who work in the public not to wear any religious symbols,  but still allows for a cross to stand at the National Assembly in Quebec City (as a cultural rather than religious symbol apparently). Next, she announced her desire to intensify Bill 101 by extending it to Quebec’s CEGEP system and small businesses of less than 50 employees. The ramifications of these changes would be both economically and sociologically challenging. Small businesses would be forced to use French as the ‘company’ language, and use only French software. These changes would be especially heartbreaking for young Francophones who see English CEGEP as a way of improving the bilingualism they probably didn’t get a chance to foster during their high school years. Finally, though not as dramatic  – as opposed to announcing a budget in spring (as is typical here), Marois has decided to announce it in November. In fact, it came out earlier this week.

Realistically there are two reasons why Marois might have chosen to propose a budget so early. One might be that she feels Quebec’s dire financial situation calls for austerity measures, which would make sense as according to finance minister Marceau the implementation of this plan would mean a balanced budget for 2013-2014. Another reason might be that due to the PLQ’s scramble for a new leader, it is unlikely that the Liberals would disapprove of the budget as that might lead to a January election. Either way, the budget itself, all 484 pages of it, has three basic premises: a focus on family, private investment, and stricter spending controls and higher “sin” taxes and income taxes for the wealthy.

Highlights include increasing the income tax for those who make more than 100k per annum ( a whopping 1.75%), a progressive health tax (as opposed to the flat 200$ tax per person proposed by the Liberal government), and an increase in the price of cigarettes and alcohol. Hydro-Quebec will also be expected to cut about 2000 jobs through attrition, and the proposed increase in price of hydro-electricity has been cancelled, with the prices increased only to reflect inflation. Beyond that, our crumbling infrastructure will unduly suffer from an investment cap of 9.5$ billion. Students reading this are probably curious about tuition. Thus far, Marois has kept to her promises and there are no proposed hikes. However, there is a vague mention of an education summit in February  of 2013 to discuss the handling of higher education in the province – so protesters (who were out in the streets again on Thursday, November 22nd) have no reason to retire their red squares yet, they might need them come spring.

All in all the budget is an odd balance of playing to the middle class, students, as well as the right-wing big business that jumped ship to the CAQ. The tone is one of harsh criticism of the past Liberal government, as well as the federal government – who they argue should be paying higher transfer payments, and a greater percentage of the health budget. The design of the budget seems problematic – the dependence on big business and the heavy taxes on Quebec is being criticized for having the potential to chase away investment. In addition, the vagueness of some proposals make the allocation of all her new funds and credits somewhat hard to understand. For example, a 200$ million fund for green transport technology: in which city, developed by whom? Further dependence on mining, and greater investment in forestry industry – how much exactly, and what are the environmental implications of this?

When the Quebec government announced the early release of their budget, speculations ran high and wide. After several tumultuous months of governance, it’s hard not to assume that Marois has something up her sleeve. However, by taxing the wealthy, asking the federal government for more money, ignoring the crumbling infrastructure and remaining vague on her commitment to promises made, she’s simply pulling a page out of Quebec’s political playbook.

–  Meagan Potier

(Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Marie Berne, Creative Commons, Flickr)

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