Here’s what each party has said about Quebec’s real No. 1 issue, jobs and the economy

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois addresses party supporters after winning a minority government in the Quebec provincial election in Montreal, Quebec, September 4, 2012. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

While national media coverage of politics in Quebec has been overwhelmingly focused on the specter of separatism and Parti-Québécois’s proposed charter of values, a recent CBC-Ekos poll found that the majority of Quebeckers are most concerned about jobs and the economy. About 42% of the poll’s respondents said they were more concerned about this topic than any other in the political landscape.

Leaders from Quebec’s most prominent political parties faced off in a French-language debate last night as part of the lead-up to the provincial election on Apr. 4. Given how important economic policy is to Quebec voters, it seems fitting to ask what the three largest parties have said about businesses and the economy during their campaigns. We’ve broken it down for you.

Liberal Party (Leader: Philippe Couillard)

Before any candidate sets out to make changes to Quebec’s budget or economy, they’ll have to address the deficit the province currently faces (exceeding $2 billion), which has become a major campaign issue.

The Liberals seem to have come out in full force on this front, introducing with much fanfare three financial experts who the party says would work on combating Quebec’s financial issues. Economist Carlos Leitao, along with Bank of Canada economist Martin Coiteux and former head of government investment bureau Investissement Quebec  Jacques Daoust, all expressed concern with how the Quebec economy has been handled over the past couple of years at a recent press event. The basic slogan for the Liberals regarding the Quebec economy seems to be: the PQ has bungled it, let us come in and fix the problem.

The Liberals have proposed an austerity plan that would find $1.3 billion in spending cuts in their first two years in office. One such cut would be the elimination of a $200 provincial health tax (which their party actually implemented).

Other promises from leader Philippe Couillard have included the creation of 250,000 new jobs in Quebec over a five-year time span, a $160 million stimulus plan for small and medium businesses in the province, and a $150 million innovation fund.

Parti-Québécois (Leader: Pauline Marois)

The PQ has been on the defence in the last couple of weeks as both of the other major parties have continued to attack its handling of the economy. Leader Pauline Marois also drew media attention for musing about Quebec’s currency if the province was to separate from Canada – Quebec would use the Canadian dollar, she said, and hopefully get a special seat at the Bank of Canada.

On a campaign stop last week Marois also revealed a plan to start a stimulus program for businesses that have “high-growth” potential. The PQ would select 300 small or mid-sized enterprises that show promise and send development funds their way. She also mentioned the creation of an “economic development fund” for Quebec.

The PQ has laid out plans to reduce that pesky deficit as well, stating the government would balance the budget by the 2015-2016 fiscal year. One proposed source of new revenue would be to raise the cost per family of the province’s daycare program – instead of costing $7 per day, the price would rise to $9 daily by 2015.

A major business consequence of the PQ’s policies, however, might be its proposed charter of values – it’s not, after all, the most business-friendly set of policies to be proposed. As CB editor James Cowan noted recently, Cogeco CEO Louis Audet spoke out about Bill 60 in January, calling it a “damaging” piece of legislation for the Quebec economy, as it would discourage immigration to the province and potentially harm the future profits of Quebec-based businesses.

Coalition Avenir Québec  (Leader: François Legault)

The CAQ has come out swinging with the promise of balancing the province’s budget within a year of being elected.

The party plans to find $1.3 billion in government spending cuts (just like the Liberals, but in a shorter time frame), which would be achieved partially through a hiring freeze in the public sector.

Primary to their platform is also an anti-corruption campaign (which they’ve been talking about for over a year now) regarding the awarding of government business contracts.

In order to create tax cuts in the province’s education and healthcare systems, the party is also looking to find savings by reducing the number of grants and tax credits going to businesses. According to an FAQ page on the CAQ website, Quebec spends about $4 billion on business tax credits every year, “and the results are not forthcoming: private investment in Quebec is significantly lower than the Canadian average.” The CAQ has proposed cutting these tax credits in half to $2 billion per year, and instead coming up with “incentives” to “encourage private investment that would actually be productive for Quebec.”