05/02/2014 12:58 EDT | Updated 07/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Quebec's Couillard Government Is Selling Austerity

The Quebec Liberal Party finally showed its true colours last week. Once the campaign ended Philippe Couillard wasted little time in commissioning two economists to prepare a remarkable for its pro-austerity slant.


On Tuesday morning Josée Legault did a radio interview with Marie-France Bazzo on Radio-Canada (audio starts around the 18-minute mark). You just can't beat Legault for consistency --one reason she's probably my favourite commentator is that she never changes her tune to please the governing party.

On Tuesday she spoke about the vision of the new Couillard government and, specifically, the media operation under way to sell austerity to Quebecers.

Fear mongering about Quebec's public finances

We all saw : The Quebec Liberal Party finally showed its true colours last week. At no point during the election campaign were we treated to such a clear statement of Philippe Couillard's intentions. But once the campaign ended Couillard wasted little time in commissioning two economists to prepare a remarkable for its pro-austerity slant.

When Josée Legault describes one of the report's authors, Claude Montmarquette, as Quebec's "number one alarmist" on fiscal matters, with an approach "as subtle as a bull in a china shop," she leaves no doubt as to just how predictable the report's conclusions were. Surprise, surprise, it's the same familiar story: we can't afford to keep on like this, and have no choice but to slash public services.

This week I'm not going to go into detail about why this vision is mistaken. I have all year for that. Instead, let's take a closer look at the QLP strategy. First of all, as the post title I borrowed from Legault makes clear, Premier Couillard's primary objective is to sway public opinion toward a certain view of the state of our public finances.

The new Minister of Finance has repeated ad nauseam to anyone willing to listen that balancing the budget by 2015 "isn't an obsession, it's an obligation." His word choice is loaded. Whereas we can usually get help for our obsessions, there's just no getting around obligations. All we can do is face the "facts," and accept them. And to this way of thinking there's only one remedy: deep cuts to public services.

But the Couillard & Co. aren't really addressing the general public. He is speaking directly to our membership. Couillard's message to 500,000 public sector employees is to simply "suck it up." The austerity project can only succeed if docile public employees roll over and accept that a neoliberal government makes all the decisions without them. Even though only 30 per cent of eligible Quebecers voted for QLP candidates, and even they did so unaware of the party's intention to impose an austerity regime, our new government believes it has a strong mandate because it holds 70 seats.

In her interview with Marie-France Bazzo, Legault noted that, with the CAQ sure to support the QLP's austerity program, the true question is whether the rest of us will toe the line. "The great unknown is whether the unions will mobilize and, if they do, whether civil society will follow."

This is the critical question. If the unions don't act, Philippe Couillard will have the green light to decimate our public services and further impoverish public sector workers.

Our work is far from done

We have been hard at work for over a year preparing to resist these austerity measures. We believe the vast majority of our members are going to say "no" to the poisonous austerity discourse the QLP will serve up repeatedly over the next four years. One thing is certain: expect the debate to heat up in the months ahead.

I'm afraid that, if unions and public sector workers don't stand up, we won't be able to stop the pillaging of our public services. From where we stand, no one is questioning Couillard's determination. In the coming months it will be our turn to show our determination. We need to tell the other side of the story to a public inundated with pro-austerity ideas that only benefit the very rich.

We are facing two sizeable challenges. The first is to stand together as a united front. For years now we've talked the talk: now it's time to walk the walk! The second challenge is for every union to think of the greater good. Once we do this, we will be ready to form a front united in spirit, not in name only.

We need to mobilize huge numbers of workers. For a year now our delegates have been saying that they want to build a true united front. Well, together we can! It's time to say no to austerity, make our voices heard at the negotiating table, and stand up for our public services.


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