What’s the deal with austerity?
According to the Quebec government, it’s simple. We’ve been living beyond our means, and now we must tighten our belts to get our financial house in order. To hear them tell it, they’re stern but fair parents to a cranky province that needs a nap. But austerity means deep cuts to the public sector, including education, health and social services. It’s more of an ideological project than a descriptive term, and it has spread like wildfire across the globe. It relies on a fiction that compares public finances to household budgets and suggests essential services are unaffordable extravagances. To this way of thinking, protesters might as well be asking for a pony.
But what’s really going on with Quebec’s money?
According to think tank IRIS, between 2000 and 2008 successive Parti Québécois and Liberal governments eliminated $9.8 billion from public revenues through a series of tax cuts that disproportionately favoured the wealthy. In 2011 the government eliminated the capital gains tax on banks, one of the most profitable and least mobile types of business in the province, costing the treasury another $1.9 billion.
These cuts were made, ostensibly, to stimulate the economy and make Quebec more attractive to business, but there’s little evidence that companies have done much more than pocket the money. All told it’s a hole of $12 billion in the government’s coffers. And that’s only the beginning. Writing in La Presse, economists Pierre-Antoine Harvey and Erik Bouchard-Boulianne argue that the new Quebec budget will hide a surplus of $1.6 billion in its claims of a zero deficit. Where’s that $1.6 billion going? To pay down debt, without any public debate over the drastic cuts being made to public services to do so.
Harvey and Bochard-Boulianne go on to skewer the idea that these cuts are necessitated by extravagant spending on social programs such as education and daycare. They cite Statistics Canada data showing that the average cost of public services per inhabitant in Quebec is $18,381, which is actually lower than the Canadian average of $18,815. In health (~$419/person) and education (~$265/person) Quebec actually spends significantly less than the Canadian average.
This excerpt is taken from a larger article written by Ethan Cox. Read more here: Everything you need to know about Quebec’s latest student strike | Ricochet.