Quebec and British Columbia are the only provinces in Canada running balanced budgets. And, generally, as the fortunes of the economy go, so go the fortunes of the incumbent government.
But in B.C., the Liberals’ budget-balancing Christy Clark did not impress enough in other ways. Instead, the voters in Canada’s strongest economy recently turned to the New Democratic Party (NDP).
In Quebec, despite running surplus budgets and paying down the provincial debt since returning to power in April 2014, the reigning Liberals under Philippe Couillard also might be driven from office.
Quebec faces its first fixed-date election on Oct. 1, 2018, and that certainty means the provincial election campaign is underway already. “We saved Quebec from financial disaster,” Couillard boasted recently.
True, Quebec has been running surplus budgets under his Liberal administration and is paying down its once massive provincial debt. In the first three months of the current fiscal year, Quebec already has a $539-million surplus.
And in June, Finance Minister Carlos Leitão found himself in the slightly embarrassing position of announcing the surplus for the previous year was not $2.3 billion, as he had projected. In fact, Quebec’s surplus for 2016-17 was a whopping $4.5 billion.
Unemployment in the province, at 6.1% in August, marks a 40-year low. Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC has boosted Quebec’s credit rating from A+ to AA- (which surpasses Ontario’s rating for the first time) on the strength of the Liberals’ tight spending controls.
But limiting public spending increases to 1.7% annually has resulted in much grumbling that public services are underfunded.
For example, wait times in hospital emergency rooms have not improved. Quebec’s schools are overcrowded and crumbling. The most heart-rending criticism is a limit of one bath a week for residents of publicly funded, long-term care homes for seniors and the disabled.
Although the budget numbers may be positive for the Quebec Liberals, the poll numbers aren’t. A recent Léger Marketing poll, consistent with polls conducted earlier this year, shows Couillard’s Liberals still ahead; but, with a 32% approval rating, they are likely to form a minority government.
The Parti Québécois (PQ) is trailing at 22%, according to the Léger poll, with François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec gaining on Couillard’s Liberals, at 28%.
Legault, a former PQ minister and a founding partner in the charter airline Air Transat, has drawn support from Liberals and more conservative PQ voters. Québec Solidaire, at 12%, has become the rallying point for disillusioned PQ backers who are more left-leaning.
The Liberals are likely to counter discontent over their spending controls with new investment announcements and tax cuts.
However, they continue to face lingering dissatisfaction with past allegations of Liberal corruption.
On the PQ front, Jean-François Lisée was elected leader last autumn on a promise not to hold another referendum, leaving his members puzzled about just what the PQ stands for.
Legault is counting on a rising wave of discontent with the Liberals and PQ. Much can happen in the next 12 months in what promises to be a lively campaign.
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