AUSTERITY IN QUÉBEC
by Melissa Gonzalez Ley
You likely see the term “fiscal austerity” in various media outlets a couple of times a day and vaguely understand the ominous- sounding word’s meaning, but ignore its consequences. After all, you’re most probably just a student who doesn’t own a home or pay much in taxes and therefore assumes that economic policy doesn’t affect you much anyway. That’s where you’re wrong.
Whether you’re for or against the recently announced spending cuts in education and health services, it is undeniable that the government’s budget affects your quality of life on a daily basis. If you’ve ever had a pharmacist patiently explain the confusing instructions on a bottle of antibiotics which you came close to taking the wrong way, the provincial government’s cutbacks affect you. If you have witnessed or been the beneficiary of the tremendous hard work and sacrifice of teachers, you are at risk. If you went to daycare in the province as a child or have a sibling who does and thus benefits from the 7$-a-day daycare system, your family is about to be stripped of that benefit. This and other social services’ funding is being slashed and in some way or another, services you have rightfully grown accustomed to receiving will worsen or disappear.
Described above are the soon to be felt repercussions of the budget that was announced on March 26th by Quebec’s Finance Minister Carlos Leitao. In the budget, the Minister specifically calls for “$700 million in publicservice job cuts; $300 million less in payments to municipalities; and $200 million in cuts to the province’s complex health-care system, among other measures” (Montreal Gazette). The government is doing all of this in the hope of paying back the province’s $275 billion in debt and balancing the budget (Ideas for a More Prosperous Society). If this seems like a staggering amount of debt, it’s because it is as “Quebec has the largest government debt relative to the size of its economy of any Canadian province” (Fraser Institute). Or as the Premier Philippe Couillard said recently, everyday the Quebec government pays 30 million dollars it owes to investors before it even spends anything on its own social services (CTV News).
When taking into account the province’s sizeable fiscal issues it is easier to see the need for some austerity measures, but I strongly believe not all are justified. Additionally, it is of paramount importance that we remember there are alternatives to austerity measures. These include, but aren’t limited to, finding ways to increase the Gross Domestic Product: eradicating corruption, which we have yet to see the Charbonneau commission do as new accounts of the Mafia’s monopoly on building contracts surfaces, and reducing the funding and tax breaks on fiscally irresponsible companies like Bombardier.
Essentially, we live in a broken system where the poor and middle class are made to suffer for a deficit they had little to do in creating. Sadly, the most vulnerable in society, such as young children and the mentally and physically handicapped, are usually the first to be affected by governmental cuts. It is our duty to inform ourselves on their behalf and for our own sake as well. Perhaps once you do, you’ll be tempted to join the protesters marching in the streets being branded as anarchist and misguided, entitled youth.