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How the Couillard Government Is Exacerbating Social Inequality

12/04/2014 06:07 EST | Updated 02/03/2015 05:59 EST
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Philippe Couillard, Quebec's premier, speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Quebec's April election brought Couillard's Liberal Party to power with promises to cut spending, increase taxes and impose a hiring freeze to eliminate a C$3.1 billion deficit by next year. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In recent weeks, I explained that the objective of the Couillard government is to make Canadian averages the rule in Québec. To do this, the government is attacking what distinguishes Québec: our collective choice to have social programs that help limit social inequalities.

Given the constant onslaught of the government line, we could wind up forgetting the real problems we face, problems that require us to take action. Given the single-minded focus on the debt, we wind up forgetting the real problems that worry the population. So we have to be clear about these problems and the solutions that the government is proposing.

The problems that are detrimental to prosperity

  1. 60 per cent of workers in Québec don't have a pension plan. That means they will have to survive on benefits from the Québec Pension Plan (QPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) when they retire.
  2. Thousands of families can't find places in a CPE or with a home childcare provider to take care of their children while they work or study.
  3. Years and years of cutbacks in elementary and high schools as well as in CEGEPs mean that access to support services is so limited that it has a real impact on students' academic results.
  4. The cost of prescription drugs goes up steadily at a pace that outstrips inflation by a wide margin.
  5. The cost of health insurance is rising. (For the time being, this kind of insurance only covers people who are lucky enough or can afford to pay for it, but with the growing inroads of privatization, there are likely to be more and more people having to tighten their belts to pay for private insurance.)

These problems affect the vast majority of the population, regardless of income or social position. As well, there are a series of problems that affect the most vulnerable people in our society (lack of public or social housing, lack of access to social services, social assistance benefits well below the poverty line, etc.).

Where the population of Québec has an advantage compared to the situation in the rest of Canada

  1. Tuition at the CEGEP level
  2. Hydro rates
  3. The rates paid for quality child care
  4. The cost of auto insurance
  5. The level of parental leave benefits
  6. The level of university tuition (although we're going in the wrong direction right now, with indexation of tuition instead of moving towards free tuition)

The Couillard government's action plan for dealing with these matters is to match Canadian averages as fast as possible!

In opting for austerity, the Couillard government is proposing that we reduce the level of sharing and increase social inequalities and the level of individualism in our society. The government wrongly takes for granted that the population wants less sharing. Too bad the Liberals didn't mention this during the election campaign: if they had, they would certainly have understood that the struggle against inequalities is a priority for the population.

But Premier Couillard knew very well that he wouldn't be elected if he proposed a reduction in the level of sharing. In practical terms, this is how the government proposals on the table right now tend to reduce sharing and aggravate inequalities.

Instead of addressing the problem that 60 per cent of the population don't have pension plans, he prefers to attack the 40 per cent of the population who do.

Instead of solving the problem of the lack of subsidized spaces in child care, Couillard only proposes to make the places that already exist more expensive. In other words, he's arranging to reduce the demand for spaces by increasing rates. In doing so, he is attacking a system that is a model of accessibility in North America.

After promising not to cut back on indispensable services like help with homework, the minister of education did exactly the opposite. Last week, it was the CEGEPs that were told they would have to cut back on essentials.

Québec's prescription drug policy encourages higher prices without any collective benefit for us. The Couillard government favours the big pharmaceutical companies at the expense of the population.

Those who are lucky enough to have health insurance know that premiums are going up steadily. The best way to reduce these costs is to reduce the health care services provided in the private sector. Unfortunately, our three doctors are proposing exactly the opposite. Our health insurance costs will skyrocket in the coming years as privatization gains ground.

The Liberal government's response to everything that makes Québec different, everything that works to the advantage of the population of Québec, has been to launch a steady stream of trial balloons. It is moving ahead with ways of privatizing public services like Hydro-Québec and the SAAQ. It raises rates for child care and wants to reduce the level of benefits during parental leave.

In terms of tax rates, the government continues to imply that we pay too much in taxes. Yet the middle class and poorer people pay less than elsewhere in Canada. The wealthiest basically pay the same as they do elsewhere in Canada. And tax rates for corporations are some of the lowest in North America!

Personally, I want to live in a State where sharing is acceptable, and even a good thing. Where we ensure that everyone has access to quality services -- health, education and childcare services, to start with. Everybody's quality of life is significantly improved when we arrange to make sure that we take care of everyone! This ensures long-term prosperity. I'm ready to fight for this kind of society -- especially against a government that is trying to do the opposite, without any legitimacy!

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