02/16/2014 03:52 EST | Updated 04/18/2014 05:59 EDT

Quebec employers' council urges caution in coming budget

With a provincial budget looming, Quebec employers’ council the Conseil du patronat is calling on the Marois government to exercise restraint.

The province’s finance minister will table the second Parti Québécois budget in 18 months on Feb. 20, and Conseil du patronat president Yves-Thomas Dorval is wary of the provisions it will make with respect to debt.

“We are not facing right now a crisis in Quebec, but because of what is coming — about demography, about infrastructure, about the debt — we don’t have the choice [but] to take the decision now,” Dorval said.

He said the province is at a crossroads in which it needs to make some serious decisions about how to handle its debt.

Quebec’s debt-to-GDP ratio is the highest in Canada, at 55 per cent. Dorval said this is an indication that the government needs to scale back spending on programs like parental leave, the occupational health and safety program, as well as subsidies to businesses.

“Those programs are all good programs, and they are generous, and that’s OK if you have the revenues to afford them. The issue is, we do not have the revenues to afford them,” Dorval said.

He went on to say that he wasn’t advocating removing the programs entirely, but to cut them back so that they were more closely on par with Canadian averages.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, is union-federation CSN. Its president, Jacques Létourneau, said pursuing a zero-deficit program is unsustainable for the population.

He said putting all of the province's surpluses in years to come into the Generations Fund, Quebec's debt-repayment fund, is not good for Quebecers in the long run.

"When we put all our eggs in the same basket, and we don’t give ourselves any wiggle room to finance social programs, public services and to kickstart the economy, well then we run into problems," Letourneau said.

Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau is tabling the new budget on Feb. 20 at the national assembly.