06/03/2014 02:10 EDT | Updated 08/03/2014 05:59 EDT

Auditor general finds PQ deficit prediction more than $3B off

Quebec’s acting auditor general says the former Parti Québécois government provided an “ambitious” portrait of public finances that was nowhere near the current fiscal reality facing the province.

In a new report tabled today, Michel Samson said the proposed brought forward by the PQ government last February grossly underestimated the province’s deficit, which the PQ projected at $1.75 billion for 2014-2015.

Samson said the actual deficit Quebec is facing is closer to $5.5 billion.

Samson also found that spending estimates provided by former finance minister Nicolas Marceau back in February to be unrealistic. Marceau said spending would increase by no more than two per cent, whereas Samson found it grew by more than six per cent.

At the time, Marceau called the budget “reasonable” and said it was, “the budget Quebec needs.”

Premier Philippe Couillard, who was then leader of the opposition, said Marceau's budget was meant to trigger an election.

“This budget will not stand scrutiny for more than two days,” he said in February. “It’s just an electoral tool.”

After winning the April 7 provincial election, Couillard pledged to open the province's books to a thorough, independent inspection by the auditor general to determine the true state of the Quebec's finances.

The Liberal government will no doubt use Samson's findings to validate the cuts they say are necessary if Quebec’s lagging economy is to get back on track.

The extent of those cuts will be revealed when government table its first budget tomorrow.

Couillard has promised to balance the budget in 2015-2016, which a new Conference Board of Canada report issued on Monday said won't be possible without additional cuts.

The Conference Board projected that Quebec’s economy will continue to under perform many other Canadian provinces and that government revenues are likely to be weaker than projected for the next two years.

Overall spending would need to be cut by 3.6 per cent in 2014-15 to meet targets, the report states.