From housing to health care, what to expect in Quebec’s budget
Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard says today’s provincial budget will be “prudent” but will still include relief for those struggling with the rising cost of living.
“We’re dealing with the immediate need,” Girard told reporters Monday.
“We’re also funding long term the principal missions of the state — health care, education, the economy, the environment.”
The budget — the Coalition Avenir Québec government’s last before the fall election — is being tabled as Quebecers grapple with inflation that is pushing up the cost of food, services and gas.
In January 2022, the rate of inflation in Canada exceeded five per cent for the first time since September 1991, according to Statistics Canada.
On the positive side, Girard said the economy had rebounded more quickly than expected despite the pandemic, driving down the structural deficit from an expected $6.8 billion for the fiscal year to roughly $3 billion.
“The rebound was exceptional,” he said.
The province still faces a monumental challenge. Last year, Girard suspended the province’s Balanced Budget Act, which requires the province to balance the budget within five years. He pushed that goal back to seven years.
With all that in mind, here are four key things to look for in the budget, which is expected to be tabled shortly after 4 p.m. (See below for full details of CBC’s coverage.)
Money back to Quebecers
Advocacy groups have called on the government to mitigate the rising prices facing Quebec households by freezing Hydro-Québec rates or reducing the provincial gas tax, for example.
Quebec Premier François Legault had previously said his intention was to “put money back into the pockets of Quebecers,” although he did not say how.
However, some economists and other experts say giving out cheques might do more harm than good.
Last November, Girard announced an allowance for more than three million low- and middle-income Quebecers in 2022. Couples will receive $400 and people living alone $275. An investment of $2.1 billion over five years will cover the cost, Girard said.
He also announced an increase in financial assistance for Quebecers aged 70 and up, bringing it to a maximum of $400 per person starting this year.
Home care and the health system
Health Minister Christian Dubé has promised to turn his attention to making long-term reforms in the health-care system in the coming months, though a full-scale overhaul isn’t expected in the budget.
There have, however, been growing calls to put more money into home care immediately — a move seen by experts and advocates as a way to ease the burden on the hospital system.
“We have been saying it for years: we must move away from hospital-centrism. We must invest intensively in home care and services,” said Gisèle Tassé-Goodman, head of the Réseau FADOQ, a Quebec seniors’ organization.
Dubé has already committed to addressing the nursing shortage in the coming year.
The health sector accounts for the largest slice of the budgetary pie. Last year, at the height of the pandemic, spending in the sector increased by six per cent.
The housing crisis
It is unclear whether the budget will include significant investments to address the province’s housing crisis.
According to the Quebec Professional Association of Real Estate Brokers, the median price of a single-family home in Quebec rose to $339,960 in 2022. That number jumps to $550,000 in the greater Montreal area, a 20 per cent increase over last year.
The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Montreal area was $928, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Commission — but that figure includes occupied units. Vacant two-bedroom units have an average rent of $1,134 a month.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said “there has to be money in this budget” for social and affordable housing, not only in Montreal, but across the province.
WATCH | Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante on housing and the provincial budget:
“There has to be more options. The government of Quebec needs to take their responsibility,” Plante said Monday. “When it comes to social housing, it’s in their court.”
However, recent comments from Legault seem to indicate that the government will wait to offer its housing plan.
“There is a campaign coming up for the general election,” he said. “I think the political parties will force themselves to have home ownership plans, as we have often seen in history. I urge you to be patient.”
Public transit and Quebec City’s ‘3rd link’
The Legault government has made some high-profile announcements around transit in the last year, so it’s unclear how much new will be in the budget.
For example, it recently announced that Montreal’s beleaguered Blue Metro line extension is finally a go, despite being significantly over budget and three years behind schedule. The province is expected to foot the lion’s share of the $6.4-billion bill.
Plante called for more investments Monday, including her proposed Pink line tramway which would run into the Lachine borough, as well as a proposal to link the Metro’s Orange line to the city’s new light-rail system, the REM.
The government had also previously announced an ambitious transit plan for Quebec City. It included a $7-billion, six-lane tunnel, known as the “third link,” which would connect Lévis on the city’s south shore to downtown.
But the government recently stepped back from that plan, saying in February that it was now considering an “adjusted” version of the tunnel with fewer lanes and a reduced cost.
Legault said there would be a new financial estimate for the project “in the coming months.” Transport Minister François Bonnardel also claimed that work on the tunnel would break ground before the fall election.
Legault had promised to build a third option between the two shores during the last provincial election campaign in 2018.
CBC News will have full coverage of the Quebec budget on TV, radio and here on our website. The details are expected to be made public shortly after 4 p.m Tuesday. Here’s what coming:
Digital: A full breakdown and analysis of the budget on our website as soon as the embargo is lifted.
Radio: Updates on our afternoon shows Let’s Go and Breakaway, as well as a provincewide budget special from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., hosted by Sabrina Marandola.
TV: We will have news, reaction and expert analysis during the 6 p.m. show with Debra Arbec and at 11 p.m. with Sudha Krishnan.