Quebec budget drops amid student protests

Concordia will shut on Thursday
Photo by Tim & Selena Middleton on Flickr

As students prepare for a national day of action on Thursday to protest a $1625 tuition fee hike, today’s provincial budget will serve as a reminder of Quebec’s wobbly financial picture.

In an interview with the Montreal Gazette, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand said he will not raise income taxes, which are already the highest in Canada at 16 to 24 per cent. By comparison, Ontario’s max out at 11.16 per cent.

But even with high taxes, Quebec’s debt has grown from $133 billion (53.5 per cent of GDP) in 2003 to $184 billion (55.5 per cent of GDP) in 2012. That means credit ratings agencies will be looking to Bachand for fiscal restraint.

The $1625 rise in tuition fees is just one way that Bachand plans to wrestle down the debt. He notes that while income taxes won’t go up, payroll deductions for pensions and parental leave will rise, the new $200 health charge will be fully implemented this year, the sales tax was already increased to 9.5 per cent in January, an extra gasoline tax has been added and hydro rates will increase.

But many student associations believe that taxpayers can and should continue subsidizing tuition to the point that Quebec’s students pay less than half what the average Canadian student pays.

Protesters blocked access to Montreal’s Champlain Bridge Tuesday morning. It was a prelude to the demonstrations expected to cripple the city on Thursday when as many as 100,000 may march.

Meanwhile, Concordia says it will shut down campus on Thursday “in light of security concerns” as it expects 15,000 students will gather there before marching to the bigger rally at Canada Place.