Last week, Quebec finance minister Raymond Bachand released the provincial budget for 2010-2011, filled with plans to eliminate the province’s $4.3 billion debt, and increase funding for health care and public transportation. This is all good news, but this money has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is going to be the average citizen’s pocket.
What this will lead to, essentially, is a raise in taxes and the introduction of new fees. Individuals will have to pay a new health-care fee, which will be $200 a year by 2012, and the gas tax will go up one cent per litre in the next four years to subsidize road work. In Montreal and Quebec City the gas tax will go up another 1.5 cents to subsidize public transit. By Jan. 1, 2012, the provincial sales tax will also go up two points to 9.5 percent.
This increase in sales tax will give the provincial government an extra $400 million in 2010-2011, $1.9 billion in 2011-2012 and $3.1 billion in 2012-2013 according to a Globe and Mail Business Week calculation. And Quebec already has the highest tax rates in Canada according to the Conference Board of Canada.
In an interview with CBC, Bachand said “In the 21st century, if we want to preserve access to health, access to education and repair our roads, we need to realize that as a citizen when I use a state service there’s a cost. It’s not free. It’s $69 billion worth of services.”
The problem with this plan is that everyone in the province will end up paying the same price for health care and education. Students, single parents and people living on a fixed income will all have to fork out the same amount of cash as Quebec’s wealthiest citizens for government-run programs. This is the part that does not make sense.
The finance minister should have followed Ontario and British Columbia’s plan. Both provinces have started charging fees for health care, but those fees increase as the person’s income rises. In the end, people who make less money are not charged as much on their income tax.
Bachand’s plan also includes a tuition hike for university students. The province has had a 13-year freeze on tuition hikes instated by the Parti QuÃ©bÃ©cois, which was partially lifted in 2007. That freeze ends in 2012, and you can bet the government will take advantage of this opportunity to increase university fees.
Quebec currently pays about two-thirds of the cost of a university students’ education, and students pay about an eighth, which is substantially better than any other Canadian province. Bachand would like to see individuals pay more so their costs can be at par with the rest of Canada’s students.
The only tax increase that seems appropriate here is the increase on the price of gas. The extra revenue would go to funding Montreal and Quebec City’s public transit system, and with these improvements, people may feel encouraged to leave their cars at home, thus reducing traffic and pollution. Owning and driving a car is a luxury, after all.
Although Premier Jean Charest and minister Bachand are putting the province in the right financial direction, it looks like Quebecers are going to have to tighten their belts and dig deeper into their wallets in the coming years. In the end, the money has to come from somewhere, like the minister said. The problem is they’re taking too much from the wrong people.
The opposition will fight this budget, and people should continue to protest. Hopefully this will send a clear message to the Charest government to go back to the drawing board and rewrite this unfair budget; otherwise they will lose our quickly fading trust.