The newly minted Liberal majority government in Quebec has tabled its budget - and as expected, it's all about austerity.
Why does this not seem like news? Because in point of fact, Quebec governments have been tabling austerity (or neoliberal) budgets since the mid-1980s.
The Liberal budget continues a proud tradition of ruling class budgets, with a plan to eliminate the deficit by 2015-2016, a public spending limit of 1.8 per cent, and a public sector hiring freeze—taking a page from Stephen Harper's playbook for the federal public service, which has endured years of spending and hiring freezes.
The notion that these cuts will not affect front-line services is nonsense. At least 15,000 public sector jobs are expected to be affected; though many may be retirements, the plan is not to re-hire.
Much has been made of the Liberals' reduction of corporate tax credits by 20 per cent. Less talked about is the reduction in taxes for small- and medium-sized businesses—from 8 per cent to 6 per cent.
The Liberals have also made a pathetic attempt to look consultative by announcing two commissions—one on taxation and one on programs—ostensibly to consult on those issues, but really to co-opt voices to making a "choice" about where to cut. In reality, the cuts are a fait accompli. And they're intended to be permanent. After the deficit is gone, the Liberals intend to use future surpluses to reduce the debt and cut taxes.
Negotiations with the 430,000 – strong public service over the next year will be hot, since the Liberals signalled their intent to limit wage increases.
This is the same old neoliberal logic we've been facing for decades. Three billion dollars in deficit-cutting—on the backs of women, the poor and workers—still reigns supreme. The spending announced for public programs falls fall short of Liberal promises from the election campaign.
Other gems from this document include increasing childcare fees and tuition fees ((both indexed to inflation), tax increases on alcohol and tobacco, and policies that will lead to increased Hydro prices.
The movement against austerity in Quebec is gaining momentum. The Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics plans to mobilize around the tax commission consutlations, which they argue are a sham, since the government has already announced its intention to cut taxes.
The Coalition, student groups, and left political party Québec solidaire, among many others, propose instead to find new sources of revenue, such as increasing the number of tax brackets, a tax on capital gains of the banks and financial institutions, and taxing the rich. These mobilizations will be crucial to stop austerity.