Health, education, infrastructure: the COVID-19 crisis has revealed persistent shortcomings in Quebec society, and the Legault government intends to give “the necessary pushes” to straighten the boat, says Eric Girard, who recognizes that the return to a balanced budget will be difficult.
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“The pandemic, it has shown our vulnerabilities,” launches the Minister of Finance in an interview with our Parliamentary Office on Friday, the day after the presentation of a mini-budget showing a deficit of 15 billion for the current year .
He loosely cites several issues that have jumped in the government’s face:
– Remote schooling when regions of Quebec do not have high speed internet, it is not easy
– There were not enough staff, attendants, nurses, remedial teachers, psychologists in the health and education networks
– Several public buildings are obsolete, “we must ventilate all the schools,” said the minister. This is a “hypothesis”, said his cabinet.
– Quebec companies were behind in digital transformation.
It is important to use the economic stimulus money to solve these problems at the same time, since Quebec’s resources are limited because of its debt.
And no tax hike in sight. “Quebeckers are doing their part. We have to be realistic, there is no question of increasing the tax burden, ”he says.
But without new income, Quebec will not do it alone and requires help from Ottawa.
“Quebeckers have made 25 years of effort to balance their budgets, to stop being told that they were in debt, that they were the poorest province. We are not ready to balance the achievements of 25 years of effort because there is a pandemic. ”
“Well-paid employees, orderlies, nurses, these are recurring costs,” he says.
That is why he is demanding, like the finance ministers of the other provinces, that the federal government increase its contribution to health care spending.
He’s asking for $ 6 billion more a year. “If they want to make a difference for Canadians, this is where they need to help,” he said.
He believes that the “context is good” to obtain significant sums, in particular because a federal election will come sooner or later, and that the political parties will have to position themselves.
For his part, Mr. Girard maintains his desire to return to a balanced budget in five years.
He does not intend to touch the bottom of the generations, which offsets the debt linked to investments in infrastructure.
The path to return to equilibrium will be “traced” in its budget, but we should not be under any illusions, “we will see that it is difficult”.
Civil society will comment, and, yes, we will adapt. But we know where we are going ”.
However, he is giving up on budget cuts. “The first two years of the previous government, we had 1% growth. That’s the chains in front of schools. Austerity is 1% growth, ”he said.
“I grew up in Sainte-Foy in the middle class. I studied at Cégep Sainte-Foy in pure science, then I had an important decision to make. I decided to study at McGill. This is what opened me up to the world of economic finance and allowed me to learn English. The only English I had at Sainte-Foy was the Red Sox at WPTZ Burlington. “
His time in finance
“I studied economics and finance at McGill with distinction, then I did a master’s degree in economics at the University of Quebec in Montreal. I worked for the central bank in Ottawa for a year, then I was hired by the National Bank, where I made a career of 24 years. ”
The financial brain of the National Bank
“The last seven years at the National Bank, I was the treasurer. The treasurer works in the financial brain of the bank. We don’t do business with clients, we manage capital, liquidity, investor relations and credit agencies. I would say that my education, training and experience means I have the skills to deal with the situation. I have faced several recessions and crises in my past responsibilities. ”
With a cool head during crisis
“When everything is going fast, and everyone is upset, panicked, that’s when you have to be the most calm. This is where you need to take a little more time to think things through and do the right things. The actions we take in an emergency must be consistent with what we want to do in the long term, because we don’t have that much ammunition. “