By Robert Frank
Today’s pain is tomorrow’s gain was the message that Martin Coiteux brought to Laval last week. The Quebec Treasury Board President signaled that relief is at last in sight for North America’s highest-taxed jurisdiction.
Union militants, whose protests have marred previous provincial cabinet visits to Laval, were conspicuous by their absence during Coiteux’ Chamber of Commerce luncheon speech at Chomedey’s Chateau Royal Hotel, March 5.
Coiteux, who spearheads the Quebec government’s efforts to rein in the province’s lavish government spending, acknowledged that his job entails making tough choices. That includes hammering out a new labour agreement with Quebec civil servants, whose current contract expires April 1.
He remained steadfastly optimistic, nonetheless, in selling the silver lining of his budget discipline.
“Controlling our spending means not just eliminating the deficit but also making room for decreases in taxation,” he told The Suburban in an interview afterward. “Our intention is to reduce taxes on Quebecers. The only way that we can do this is to bring the budget back into balance.”
Laval to gain
Quebec has already moved ahead by lightening the burden on small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), which are the biggest generators of new jobs in the province.
“This will benefit Laval in particular, because of the number of those businesses here,” Coiteux enthused. “We’re talking about the 11,000 companies that operate in Laval, most of them small ones. That will have a big impact.”
Laval will also benefit from some of the $90 billion that Quebec City plans to spend on the province’s infrastructure during the coming decade, he added.
“In 2014-2015 the figure was $11 billion just for that year,” Coiteux noted. “So these are huge investments, some of which will be made in Laval.”
Laval executive committee vice-chair David de Cotis welcomed the impending influx of infrastructure money, but wanted to know more about what it will be spent on here.
“I found it interesting that $1.3 billion has been [earmarked] for Montreal,” he told The Suburban. “Laval, which is Quebec’s third-largest city, only received $63 million.”
“Obviously this is a very encouraging way to stimulate the economy,” de Cotis said in an interview. “It would have been even more encouraging, had Laval had more than $63 million. Laval is no longer a suburban city. It is becoming more and more a metropolitan city.”
Coiteux hinted that more money might be in the hopper for the major infrastructure development that Laval wants, like new metro stations, the Highway 19 extension, road repair and other public transit improvements.
“Transport Minister Robert Poëti has already announced [the] one particular investment worth $63 million,” Coiteux observed, “but there will be other investments made.”
He credited Laval’s six representatives in the National Assembly with helping him to keep his finger on the pulse of the rapidly growing city, whose economic growth has, for several years, outpaced the province as a whole.
“They let me know the realities in Laval and how we can adapt our programs and our approaches so we can take into consideration the needs of a city like Laval and its role as a leader in the metropolitan area,” Coiteux affirmed.
He also underscored that the budget discipline exercise that he is overseeing steers clear of cutbacks to those most in need.
“We undertake these reforms paying attention to the fair distribution of income and to ensure that people pay according to their capacity to pay,” Coiteux said. “We devote special attention to low-income people as well as the most vulnerable people.”
“We have no intention of specifically reducing our programs for low-income people,” he continued. “It’s quite the opposite. Bringing the budget back into balance will permit us to adequately fund these programs, which are important to maintain.”
“Spending control will give us that margin for manoeuvre in the future,” he concluded.
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