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Lame-duckism sets in early for Charest government mars 25, 2009

Posted by jay2go in Économie et crise financière, Politique québécoise.
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Petite trouvaille sur le site du journal The Gazette – écrite par Don MacPherson – qui résume bien ma pensée concernant le budget 2009 du gouvernement Charest. Désolé si l’anglais pose problème.

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Look on the bright side: In the political outlook for Quebec following the tabling of Finance Minister Monique Jérôme-Forget’s budget this week, at least there is no plague of locusts.

But job losses, political uncertainty, labour unrest causing disruptions in public services, cuts in government programs, social tensions, and increases in taxes and fees, culminating in a few years with the election of a new government with a secessionist agenda? Yep, all there.

It must have required considerable effort for Liberal members of the National Assembly to force a smile when they rose to their feet to applaud the finance minister at the conclusion of her budget speech on Thursday.

For what they had just heard increased the probability that if they run in the next election, only those with safe Liberal seats will be returned to the Assembly, and then only to the opposition benches.

Yes, six months is an eternity in politics, and so there are several eternities left until the next election, due in 2012 or 2013. That’s more than enough time for the Parti Québécois to have at least one internal crisis over referendum strategy.

But even before the budget speech, the odds were that the Liberal government’s new term would be its last. Jean Charest, the Gambler, was already playing with house money after becoming the first Quebec premier in more than 50 years to win three consecutive terms (well, two and a half). And in the past, recessions have proven fatal to Quebec governments’ chances of re-election.

The budget speech must have been a strong indication to Liberal MNAs that, only three months into their new term, the finance minister and her boss have already given up on their chances of re-election three or four years from now.

If not, then it was an audaciously unconventional re-election strategy that was outlined in the speech.

Usually, a government plans to get any unpopular but necessary measures out of the way in the first half of its term to give the voters time to get over them, then spends the second half campaigning for re-election.

But the headline items in the budget speech were increases in the sales tax and fees – to start in the third year of the government’s term.

Also, starting next year, and for the three following years, spending on government programs will be cut back by an average of nearly $1 billion a year. Since Jérôme-Forget said this will be accomplished without « slashing » spending on health and education, programs in other areas will suffer deeper cutbacks.

And the budget plan says the government will still have to find additional, combined revenue increases and spending cuts rising from $450 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year to $3.8 billion in 2013-14.

This will inevitably make for especially difficult negotiations with the public-sector unions when their collective agreements come up for renewal next March. More than half of program spending (54.7 per cent in the coming fiscal year) goes to pay government employees.

In addition to protests by interest groups against cuts to their favourite programs, there could be disruptions of public services caused by union pressure tactics. The Charest government’s third term might start to look a lot like its first, when the government set records in unpopularity it is already breaking.

The government’s credibility with voters was already shaky. Now, after obtaining a legislative majority to deal with the economic crisis, it has tabled a budget that the Conference Board of Canada said yesterday « will provide virtually no new economic stimulus in 2009. »

The budget fuelled speculation that Jérôme-Forget, who is 68, will soon retire, forcing a cabinet shuffle, and that Charest will not lead the Liberals into another election. A government that had promised political stability in an economic crisis looks even more like a lame duck.

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