'One of the worst crises in Quebec history': Pandemic leaves $15 billion provincial deficit

Eric Girard 3 (CTV News)

Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard confirmed today what many were expecting — measures taken since the COVID-19 pandemic began have put a huge dent on the province’s finances.

To be exact, they've resulted in a $15 billion deficit for the fiscal year.

The announcement came during an economic update to the province Thursday by the Legault government, revealing the extent of the damage COVID-19 has done to the province's finances.

The deficit is a far cry from the $3 billion surplus announced in the Girard budget back in March, just a few days before the pandemic came to Quebec.

The CAQ also announced new investments Thursday, totaling $1.8 billion over three years, to help the province’s battered economy.

Quebec spent the most of any province to fight COVID-19. Thursday’s investments, together with previously announced measures, amount to $13 billion since March.

Despite the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, Girard said he remained optimistic in the province’s ability to rebound, during a press conference in Quebec City.

“There’s no doubt that the next six months are going to be difficult,” said Girard. “I think we need to be ambitious and positive for what’s coming after.”

Amid positive vaccine news this week, Girard said he was banking on Quebec’s economy to pick up in the spring.

“If it’s not enough, we’ll provide more,” he said.

THE BREAKDOWN

Of the new measures, announced, close to $300 million is for help to Quebeckers affected by the pandemic, including:

• $100 million for better access to mental health services, as announced last week

• $50 million for daycare services

• $57 million to adapt classrooms, and for distance learning

• $10 million to support vulnerable Quebeckers

The other $1.5 billion is to jumpstart the economy, and includes:

• $459 million to help Quebeckers join the job market, in health care, construction, IT and cinema

• $477 million to support research and innovation, as well as rural economic development

• $547 million to encourage green initiatives and local food production

It will take a few years to pay things off, as the government is also planning to run a deficit for the following two years — $8.3 billion in 2021-2022 and $7 billion in 2022-2023.

NOT THE TIME TO BALANCE THE BUDGET: GIRARD

Girard said the time will return for a balanced budget, but right now the focus was on managing the crisis.

“We must collectively face one of the worst crises in Quebec history,” he said.

“The government will do whatever is necessary to strengthen our health system and help citizens and businesses that have been hard hit.”

Quebec is also asking the federal government to increase its health transfers to the provinces by a few hundred million dollars, to hire more orderlies and nurses, enhance home care and fund seniors homes.

Quebeckers can expect the books to be balanced in five years, said the Legault government, adding it is not planning to cut services or increase taxes to reach a balanced budget.

By law, Quebec is not allowed to run a deficit for more than five years.

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