Quebec budget includes $500 in aid, plus for health care

Quebec will pay $500 to anyone earning $100,000 or less to help offset the rising cost of living, the government announced in its budget for the next fiscal year, tabled in the National Assembly this afternoon.

In total, about 6.4 million taxpayers will receive the handout — a one-time payment that represents an expense of $3.2 billion for the province.

Finance Minister Eric Girard said Tuesday that the province’s rapid economic recovery — a 6.3% increase in real GDP growth last year, after the economy shrank 5.5% the previous year — enabled the province “to help Quebecers cope with the steep increase in the cost of living that we have experienced in recent months.”

Girard said he expects inflation to persist for at least the first half of the year.

Low-income Quebecers who already qualified for a tax credit announced last fall are entitled to combined assistance of $775 for people living alone or $1,400 for couples.

The opposition in Quebec’s National Assembly dismissed the payments as a ploy by Premier Francois Legault’s CAQ government to secure votes ahead of the fall election.

Carlos Leitão, the finance critic for the Liberal opposition, said the province would have done better to freeze electricity rates.

“The entire budget appears to have been structured to make a large payment to over six million Quebecers just before the election,” he said.

Manon Massé, co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire, said the province would have been better placed to provide more targeted benefits to low-income residents.

Manon Massé, co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire, said the $500 payment announced by the provincial government should have targeted low-income residents in particular. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

6 years until budget balance

Despite the strength of the Quebec economy, the projected deficit for the coming year is $6.5 billion.

Quebec should only return to a balanced budget in six years, in 2027-2028.

Last year, the government suspended a law requiring the province to balance its budget within five years.

Girard said GDP growth is expected to fall back to 2.7% in 2022.

He said this projection is based on “cautious” economic forecasts and takes into account the uncertainty surrounding the war in Ukraine and the pandemic.

More money for health care

The health sector, pushed to the brink by COVID-19, will see its budget increase by 6.3% over the coming year. (Some labor groups were calling for a minimum five percent increase to maintain the current quality of care.)

Girard said that this increase will be allocated to the next reforms promised by the Minister of Health, Christian Dubé.

The budget does not include all the details of this plan. There are, however, some commitments, notably a move towards “decentralized” management with the end of the “abusive imposition of overtime” while increasing full-time staff.

There will also be more discounts for seniors who stay at home.

Residents are seen here at the Idola Saint-Jean residence in Laval, Quebec. The provincial government has announced new funding to help seniors stay home longer. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The government has set aside a $1.7 billion pandemic fund for potential future waves, such as additional beds and another round of vaccinations.

The education sector will also see a 5.4% increase, in part to hire more teachers and expand a tutoring program for at-risk students.

Not enough on housing, environment, says opposition

The government is promising 1,000 new affordable homes across the province, which is well below the demand from municipalities and housing groups.

The government expects house prices, which soared at the start of the pandemic, to stabilize in the coming months due to a private sector boom in new residential construction.

Opposition critics argued that the provincial government should have done more to deal with the rising cost of housing. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Leitao said the government had not done enough to address the housing crisis in Montreal and the regions, saying there was nothing in the budget to increase supply or deter speculative investment.

He also said the province should have introduced new measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rather than relying on the province’s existing plan, which does not have Quebec on target for achieve its climate goals.