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Quebec Liberals promise more balanced budgets

The Canadian Press logoThe Canadian Press 2018-09-12 Julien Arsenault

MONTREAL - A re-elected Liberal government would ensure several more years of balanced budgets, leader Philippe Couillard promised Wednesday as he announced his party's financial framework.

Couillard said his government wouldn't have to dip further than already announced into a reserve fund despite some $2.4 billion in election pledges through 2022-2023.

As the campaign moved past the midway mark, the Liberals explained they are counting on using an estimated $950 million annual surplus to fund some of their promises.

Couillard said the party is also banking on higher levels of own-source revenue — which comes from sources other than Crown corporations and federal transfers — based on projected gross domestic product growth.

Liberal leader Philippe Couillard presents his party's financial platform in Montreal, on Wednesday, September 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson © Provided by thecanadianpress.com Liberal leader Philippe Couillard presents his party's financial platform in Montreal, on Wednesday, September 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

As outlined in their budget last spring, the Liberals would take $1.6 billion from a special reserve fund to balance the books this year and $936 million and $479 million the two following years.

The Liberal leader touted his party's record, which he credited with "turning Quebec around, both financially and economically," and promised to maintain the momentum if re-elected.

"The plan is working, and we are in a definitive swing forward," he said in Montreal. "Let's not break that, let's carry on."

It also identified some $250 million in "potential" savings from a review of government spending.

The Liberals are now projecting economic growth of 2.3 per cent in 2018 rather than the expected 2.1 per cent, which they say will allow the province to pocket an additional $200 million.

The party is also proposing to boost its education and heath budgets by a minimum of four per cent and 4.2 per cent, respectively, over the course of its mandate.

Couillard described his plan as a "prudent" one that only includes money the province currently has available.

He said it also accounts for possible disruptions to growth such as a looming labour shortage and the growing trade rift between Canada and the United States.

Parti Quebecois deputy leader Veronique Hivon was among the first to criticize the new plan, which she said contained insufficient funding for seniors and daycare-aged children.

Hivon said there's a "crying need" for more funding for seniors after years of Liberal cuts to health services.

"I think it's the worst message we can send to seniors today that austerity will still be there for them after they lived such difficult moments, such difficult years with the health cuts that touched them personally," she said in Montreal.

The party also accused Couillard of being "dishonest" by using growth projections that were in some cases higher than those presented in a pre-election report that received a stamp of approval from the province's auditor general.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec presented its financial plan last weekend and promised to increase health and education funding without raising taxes beyond the level of inflation.

Francois Legault's party forecast balanced budgets, with spending growth of 3.5 per cent in education and 4.1 per cent in health.

On Wednesday, Legault attacked the Liberals for promising to return only $1.2 billion to Quebecers, compared with his party's $1.7 billion.

The PQ is expected to unveil its own plan Thursday, just ahead of the first leaders' debate.

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