03/26/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 05/25/2015 05:59 EDT

Quebec budget 2015: Government expected to balance books

Philippe Couillard's Liberal government came to power last spring with a zero deficit goal square in its sights. 

After months of consultations and belt-tightening all signs point to a plan handed down today by Finance Minister Carlos Leitão that will see the province's books in the black for the first time since 2008.

Leitão will deliver his budget in the National Assembly shortly after 4 p.m. ET this afternoon. 

The government says it needs to cut $1 billion to get the finances in order before it can start to tackle the $200 billion debt still hanging over province.

It's expected that will largely come via reductions in government spending, not tax hikes, as the government moves forward with its second goal of easing the "fiscal burden" on Quebecers, among the most highly-taxed population in the country.

The plan is one that has drawn the ire of unions, students and social activists, who say the cost of pushing forward a zero-deficit budget right now through slashes to spending is too steep.

It's also a plan that lives large in the shadow of Bill 10, the controversial health care reform legislation passed in February, that the government promised would save Quebec $200 million per year by scaling back the sector's bureaucracy.

Even before the budget's release, the opposition parties in the National Assembly were discrediting the Liberal's plan to bring the province's finances back to zero deficit. 

Former finance minister Nicolas Marceau, now the Parti Québécois' finance critic, said his plan to spur the province's economy, laid out in the party's ill-fated 2014 budget was a more responsible approach. 

"The plan was to get back to budget balance by stimulating the economy and having a good control of spending but not the devil of austerity in which we are right now," he said. 

The Liberal's budget comes only a week after Luc Godbout's review of the provincial taxation system was released.

The 600-page report laid out 71 recommendations that included lowering income tax and increasing sales tax and user fees to help equalize the province's taxation system and ease some of the burden on the middle class. 

Leitão has said the government intends to survey the sentiment of the public and stakeholders before moving forward on the recommendations. 

Budget 2015

CBC will bring you comprehensive coverage of Quebec's 2015 -2016 budget Thursday afternoon following the finance minister's budget speech shortly after 4 p.m. ET. Follow our coverage online, our budget special on CBC Radio One in Quebec and on television this evening starting at 5 p.m. ET on CBC News Montreal.