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Eric Girard pessimistic in view of the federal budget ;April | 2024 Federal Budget

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Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard does not expect much from the federal budget which will be presented on April 16 by Chrystia Freeland. (Archive photo)

  • Jérôme Labbé (View profile)Jérôme Labbé

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Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard does not expect much from the federal budget which will be presented next month by his counterpart Chrystia Freeland.

In a conference Monday morning before the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM), Mr. Girard declared that he did not expect any positive surprises to emerge from the financial framework in question. In short, his expectations are low – very low – in view of the budget, expected on April 16.

Already, Eric Girard says he learned last December that Quebec's revenue from federal transfers will decrease in 2024-2025 – nothing to help a province whose anticipated deficit amounts to $11 billion, or 1.9%. of gross domestic product (GDP), within the meaning of the Balanced Budget Act.

Said transfers, which appear in the budget tabled by the minister in the National Assembly last Tuesday, will go from 31.3 to 29.4 billion dollars next year – a decrease of 6% which can be explained, among other things, by a reduction in equalization.

However, current forecasts from the Quebec government show an increase in spending of $6.5 billion for the same period, or 4.4%.

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In this context, an additional helping hand would be welcome, explained – without having any illusions – Minister Girard on Monday.

Health transfers, for example, would benefit from being increased, according to him. Especially since the federal offer of $9 billion over 10 years – budgeted for 2023-2024, while Quebec and Ottawa have been negotiating the conditions linked to this payment for more than a year – cannot be considered as a recurring sum.

The end of the Integrated Bilateral Agreement (relating to the “Investing in Canada” infrastructure program) also complicates the life and finances of the government Quebecers, argued Minister Girard on Monday.

My main request from the federal government, in addition to adequately financing health, would be that there be a new infrastructure plan, he declared Monday, during an exchange with the president and CEO of the CCMM, Michel Leblanc.

Ottawa's disengagement in the public transport sector, moreover, exposes Quebec to pressure from transportation companies, who would like to benefit from the same government support they enjoyed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, added Mr. Girard.

However, it would be surprising to see the Trudeau government announce new sums for this purpose next month, according to the minister. I don't have much hope, he said on Monday.

Added to this are several demands raised recently, such as the request for withdrawal with full compensation from the federal dental care program ($3 billion over five years) and reimbursement of $1 billion over three years for services offered to applicants. asylum.

This latest request will be examined by a working committee made up of federal and provincial officials, Justin Trudeau said Friday after a meeting with François Legault. However, the evaluation has already been carried out in Quebec, argued Minister Girard in the press scrum on Monday.

All this has already been done, he assured. We have presented the expenses associated with asylum seekers to the Federal Ministry of Finance. It was detailed, explained… What it takes is political will to help us.

Faced with federal transfers which must only increase by 0.5% per year for the next five years, Minister Girard invites the federal government to review its priorities… and to draw inspiration, to do so, from the late Brian Mulroney.

Let me say that recently we lost a great Prime Minister of Canada; that in the Meech Lake agreement, there was a clause which said that we were going to limit the spending power in the responsibilities of the provinces; and that in exchange, there would be financial compensation, he recalled Monday.

Now, what is happening now? The federal government wants to create a dental care plan [and] a drug insurance plan, underlined the minister in his speech to the CCMM – interesting initiatives in themselves, but which have already been implemented in Quebec by the government provincial.

Before creating new programs, existing programs must be funded, he declared to an audience of a few hundred people Montreal businessman.

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