The budget presented by Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau includes a raise in taxes on banks and the wealthy, and an increase in sin taxes on products such as tobacco and alcohol. Individuals earning more than $100,000 per year will see their income taxes increase by 1.75 per cent to 25.75 per cent; combined with federal taxes, Quebec’s highest earning residents will pay nearly 50 per cent of their salary in taxes.
The provincial government also backtracked on its electoral promise to remove the health-care tax initially implemented by the Charest Liberals. The proposed plan shows a shift in the health-care tax, which will now be factored by income. Adults earning less than $18,000 per year will not be required to pay and those earning more will contribute $100, $200 or up to $1,000 annually. The budget also introduced a tax break for parents with children engaging in sports or cultural activities, and a scaling back of Hydro-Québec rate hikes due to begin in 2014.
The Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec, the two opposition parties, did not approve of the provincial budget which may trigger a snap election in January that could potentially remove the PQ from power. While the Liberals were quick to criticize Marceau at first, party members backed down from their threats to potentially form a coalition. Since the PQ holds a minority provincial government, it requires the support of the opposition to move forward with the proposed budget.
One area that received little attention in the new budget was post-secondary education. Universities and students hoping for more information on future funding were left in the dark as the budget specifically mentions that as the government does not know “the decisions that will flow from the summit on higher education” they cannot make specific plans.
“Another reason why not to trust that elections will resolve problems,” said Vanier College student and Mob Squad member, Anthony Kantara. “It just encourages us to further mobilize.”
What little information is available in the budget’s section on universities may be disappointing for some students. With the tuition fee increase cancelled, the budget outlines the amount of money this has cost the government, starting with $24 million this year and continuing upwards at the same rate each following year. Additionally, the PQ plans to reduce the money available to students for loans and bursaries to 2011-12 levels after this year, undoing the increase that the Liberal government put in place. The cancellation of the tuition hike is the reason cited for this reduction.
A single line in the universities section of the budget indicates that, as previously stated, the government “could compensate universities for the shortfall stemming from cancellation of the tuition hike” but does not provide any details.
Concordia University spokesperson Chris Mota said that Concordia’s position was reflected in a statement issued by the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec, which represents 19 universities in total including McGill University, Bishops University and Université Laval. In the statement, CREPUQ raises several concerns, including the impact the budget will have on research in Quebec, its commitment to compensating universities for the reversal of the tuition increase, and for the fact that no commitment to compensate universities for additional costs incurred by student protests has been made.
Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, told The Concordian that she did not believe universities had truly lost money to the cancellation of the tuition hikes, saying that “when you’re good administrators, you’re planning for the worst, you’re not planning for the best. It’s their problem if there is a loss because they should have planned for this first, because we didn’t know if the tuition fees would be going up.”
Desjardins also said that FEUQ was disappointed with the lack of research funding, and that many items on the budget would be brought to the upcoming education summit for discussion.
“Every little part of the budget will be discussed, hopefully, in the summit, but right now we have a lot of concerns,” she said. “We’re very disappointed that the PQ are using the same financial plan as the Liberals were proposing last year, so we still have the same structure.”
With files from Kalina Laframboise.