MONTREAL — Even though Quebec is still projecting a balanced budget this fiscal year and the government intends to invest more in 2016, Quebecers shouldn't expect cash to be flowing freely, Premier Philippe Couillard said Friday.
Couillard said his government will keep a tight rein on spending in the coming year and added that likely targets for cuts will be within the province-run liquor board and the Revenue Department.
"Budgetary rigour has to continue," he told reporters as the legislature ended its fall session.
"The important period of belt-tightening has been achieved and it worked but I wouldn't want to send the signal that we will be spending without counting. We will continue to manage public finances rigorously."
The past 12 months were marred by ongoing street protests by students and public sector workers demanding an end to the cuts and budget compressions of the last two years, particularly in the education and civil service sectors.
Couillard touted his government's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30 per cent from 1990 levels and stated his government has brought back political stability to the province.
His opponents, during their respective end-of-session news conferences, tried to portray the Liberals as a party that has acted ruthlessly by cutting budgets and causing untold damage to the province's social services.
"Quebecers have come to realize the government of Philippe Couillard has no limit to the damage it is ready to cause to realize its austerity program," said Parti Quebecois Leader Pierre Karl Peladeau.
Budget cuts have had a "devastating" effect on the education sector, said Peladeau, who more than once this year joined protests outside public schools demanding more investment in education.
Peladeau used this week's Quebec Superior Court decision suspending the province's doctor-assisted suicide law to lobby for independence.
He said the decision, which states Quebec cannot implement the law because it contravenes the Criminal Code, shows once again "that we are not masters in our own house."
The PQ leader promised to work hard in 2016 to spread the message of sovereignty to Quebecers.
Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition for Quebec's Future, admitted 2015 was a difficult year as his party was overshadowed by the PQ leadership race and the federal election.
He said he's looking forward to 2016 in order to introduce Quebecers to his plan to unite nationalists with a project for an economically strong Quebec inside Canada.
Legault wants to use next year to show Quebecers they don't have to vote Liberal if they want an alternative, federalist option to the PQ.
"Couillard can't continue to go around Quebec saying his party is the only one working on a project to keep Quebec in Canada," Legault said.
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press