POLITICS

Quebec Liberals Say Budget Cuts Necessary, Won't Further Tax Citizens

12/05/2014 02:19 EST | Updated 02/04/2015 05:59 EST
AFP via Getty Images
Quebec Liberal leader, Philippe Couillard(C), addresses the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal April 1, 2014 in Montreal, Canada. The elections are scheduled for April 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Francois Laplante Delagrave (Photo credit should read Francois Laplante Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard defended his government's tax hikes and spending cuts Friday as the legislature began its winter break.

Couillard vowed his government won't back away from its chartered course of balancing the budget by the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The premier promised, however, that the final $1 billion in cuts the government needs to find will not come from taxpayers but rather from cutting government spending.

"Citizens won't have to bear the rest of the brunt," Couillard said. "It will be done by the government."

He didn't give details about the upcoming spending cuts.

His opponents countered that Couillard no longer has the legitimacy to lead the province because he was elected under false pretences.

Stephane Bedard, interim Parti Quebcois leader, said Couillard campaigned last spring on a platform of not raising taxes or fees.

"It's amazing that (the premier) said one thing and did the exact opposite," Bedard told a news conference in Quebec City.

Couillard admitted to breaking at least one election promise when he ended the universal fee for daycare.

He said pegging the cost of government-subsidized daycare spots to Quebecers' income was one of the most difficult decisions his government has so far had to make.

The party had no choice, Couillard explained, because after taking office the Liberals found the province's finances to be in far worse shape than the prior PQ government had publicly acknowledged.

He said Quebec was on track for a deficit of more than $7 billion in 2015-16 if he didn't act.

Aside from changing the daycare system, the Liberals are increasing payroll taxes for banks and cutting millions in tax credits for banks, insurance companies and research centres.

The government is also hiking fees for car insurance and scaling back the allowable tax deduction for union dues.

"It would have been irresponsible not to act," Couillard said.

The government is promising goodies, however — if Quebecers are patient.

Couillard said his government will start looking at ways to "decrease the tax burden" on Quebecers as soon as the budget is balanced, with a health tax being the first to go.

Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition of Quebec's Future, told Quebecers not to believe Couillard's promise to cut taxes after fiscal 2016.

"Couillard said he wouldn't increase daycare fees (during the campaign) and he did," Legault said. "What is his word worth?"

Both Bedard and Legault accused the Liberals of not having an economic plan other than cutting spending and increasing taxes.

Legault blamed the government for not creating enough jobs and pointed to a Statistics Canada report released Friday stating Quebec has seen no growth in jobs over the last six months.

That, Couillard noted, will soon change.

When the legislature resumes in February the government will focus on its maritime strategy as well as developing the province's northern territory and its oil and gas industry, he said.

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