LISTEN: Economy, jobs, taxes the subject of CJAD 800's first election debate

Three of the four main parties were represented in the CJAD 800 studios Friday morning for the first major issues debate of the election campaign.

The Liberals, the CAQ and Québec Solidaire sent their would-be finance ministers to meet with Leslie Roberts to discuss the economy and taxes — incumbent finance minister Carlos Leitao, the CAQ's Eric Girard and Québec Solidaire's Simon Tremblay-Pépin.

The Parti Québécois did not respond to CJAD 800's invitation.

Carlos Leitao province's finances were a mess when the Liberals took over in 2014, and he took credit for changing that.

"The Quebec economy is in very good shape," Leitao said. "We've accomplished a significant feat over the last few years. We now have the lowest rate of unemployment that we've had in almost a generation. And especially, we have great business confidence and consumer confidence. That leads to increased spending, increased economic activity, and then from that, we have increased government revenues, and the financial position that allows us now to invest in the public services that we all want — health, education, family, justice, et cetera."

The CAQ's Eric Girard, meantime, says Quebec should be putting more money in people's pockets.

"What we want is for Quebec to lead the Canadian economy," Girard said, "and to do this, we have to catch up in terms of GDP per capita and disposable income per capital, wehere we've been lagging for a long time. And how are we going to do this? We're going to do this by stimulating business investment and private investment and increasing the graduation rate right here in Quebec. Education is very important to achieve what we want to achieve."

Quebec Solidaire's Simon Tremblay-Pepin says issues like climate change need to be part of any conversation on the economy.

"The only important economic question that is absolutely absent in my two colleagues' statements is ecology and climate change," Tremblay-Pepin said. "What we need to do right now is to change the economy of Quebec so it can be ready to halt climate change."

Tremblay-Pepin also defended his party's plans to fund its $11 billion in promises with tax increases on the wealthy and businesses — something Leitao dismissed as bad policy, which would cost the province jobs.

"We've seen that that does not work. The federal government, they did that in 2015, in their first budget, to do a tax reform where they would increase the tax rates on higher-income individuals to pay for lower rates for lower-income individuals...and now, they are short $4 billion."

At one point in the debate, during an exchange on fixing labor shortages with newcomers to Quebec, Tremblay-Pepin said if elected, his party would make sure that 25 percent of the people hired in the public service would be from quote — "minorities and people of color".

When Roberts asked again whether anglophones and allophones would be considered minorities under his scenario, Tremblay-Pepin replied, "I'm speaking mostly of people of color, but we can work for allophones, yes."

But does that mean anglophones, too? "Anglophones are not in a situation of high unemployment right now," he said.