Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Tables Balanced Budget as It Aims to Slice Its Massive Debt

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Tables Balanced Budget as It Aims to Slice Its Massive Debt

Article excerpt

Quebec tables balanced budget with debt in mind

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QUEBEC - Quebec will post a balanced budget this year and tightly control government spending as the province aims to slice its massive debt over the next decade, says Finance Minister Carlos Leitao.

With a gross debt of $197.1 billion as of March 31, 2014, Quebec was by far the most indebted province in the country.

Leitao's 2015-16 budget, tabled in the national assembly Thursday, contains no new taxes and ends a string of six consecutive deficits that added $16 billion to the debt.

"The return to a balanced budget is not the end,'' he told the legislature.

"Quite the opposite, in fact, it is a point of departure and gives new momentum to Quebec.''

The ratio of Quebec's debt to gross domestic product last year was a crippling 54.3 per cent, the highest in the country.

In comparison, Ontario followed at 45 per cent, while Alberta had the best ratio --seven per cent.

In tabling the budget, Leitao was looking as far ahead as 2026 when, he hopes, Quebec's ratio will have dropped to 45 per cent.

More immediately, Leitao stressed the importance of keeping the lid on government spending if the province wants to achieve its goals.

Quebec also came out with its 2015-16 spending estimates Thursday, making it clear that previously announced cost-cutting measures are only the beginning of a long-term strategy to downsize government.

Various agencies will be merged, the number of government employees will be reduced and those who remain will be offered salary increases that "respect taxpayers' ability to pay.''

"Government spending must be contained,', said Treasury Board president Martin Coiteux. "We can no longer spend more than the revenues we receive.''

A Quebec budget wouldn't be complete without a plea for more money from the federal government -- and Thursday's was no exception.

Leitao, who before entering politics to run in the 2014 election was ranked as the world's second-best economist by Bloomberg News, called on Ottawa to boost transfers in health, social and equalization payments and to invest more in infrastructure in the province. …

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