Quebec says it has to put off balanced budget until 2015-16

Blames lower-than-expected revenues

QUEBEC – Quebec’s two major opposition parties say they’ll vote against the next provincial budget when it is tabled in the spring— a move that would trigger a general election.

The possibility of a non-confidence vote on the budget arose Thursday when Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau announced Quebec’s balanced budget will be delayed until 2015-16, primarily because of lower-than-expected revenues.

Marceau, whose Parti Quebecois has only a minority government, said the province should post a deficit of $2.5 billion this fiscal year instead of a projected balanced budget.

The opposition say they can’t accept that scenario.

“Based on what we see here, there’s no way I can see us . . . supporting the budget unless there’s a spectacular surprise,” said Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard. “The government would be defeated and we would have a general election.”

Couillard noted that the Coalition for Quebec’s Future would also have to reject the budget for the government to go down, something that party’s leader has already threatened.

“I have not changed my mind,” said Francois Legault. “I think there are always ways to make changes, it’s possible to reduce expenses, to increase revenues. It’s been done in other countries.

“It’s not too late but the Parti Quebecois has to wake up and change direction.”

Marceau told a news conference in Quebec City the deficit should come in at $1.75 billion in 2014-15.

“I am ready to admit we had significant gaps in our forecasts,” he said.

He noted a balanced budget could have been achieved through draconian measures but that he didn’t want to go that route.

“We could have done it by cutting expenditures in a non-desirable way, in a way that could not have been appropriate, but it could have been done,” he said. Taxes could also have been jacked up.

“It’s always feasible. The question is not whether it’s feasible. The question is whether it’s desirable.”

The finance minister said he did not want to raise taxes or introduce massive spending cuts this year.

“We’re growing at a moderate rate, but we remain in a situation which is fragile at the world level,” he said. To cut spending by $2.5 billion or to increase taxes by $2.5 billion, this is the perfect recipe to put Québec back into recession.”

The increase in the province’s revenues this year is expected to be only one-half of the projected hike.

The government and the opposition are already on a collision course over a proposed values charter that would ban the wearing of religious symbols by public service employees.

The PQ has already hinted it would make that legislation a matter of confidence.