By Louise Egan
OTTAWA Oct 7 The government of Quebec announced
a C$2 billion ($1.94 billion) stimulus package on Monday aimed
at creating jobs and jump-starting the French-speaking
province's sagging economy, which has underperformed the broader
Canadian economy this year.
Premier Pauline Marois announced the spending package, which
includes tax breaks and power subsidies for companies that
invest, amid speculation her separatist government might force a
snap election later this year in hopes of turning her minority
government into a majority.
But she denied any electoral ambitions and cited growth
downgrades by other major economies and the situation in the
United States, where a political deadlock has partially shut the
U.S. government and raised fears of an eventual debt default, as
a reminder of how "precarious" the external environment is.
"Our action has become more pressing because of the world
economic context," Marois said in a speech unveiling the
spending package. "The recovery has been slow to be felt
everywhere in the world."
"These are not policies that were written on the back of a
napkin in the expectation that there would be an election
tomorrow morning. Far from it," she added.
Quebec's economy contracted in recent months and job
creation has also disappointed, with the provincial unemployment
rate at 7.9 percent compared with the national average of 7.1
The government plans to eliminate its budget deficit in the
2013-14 fiscal year.
Marois promised four short-term measures aimed at creating
43,000 new jobs by 2017 and triggering public and private
investments of C$13 billion over 10 years.
These include tax credits for companies and individuals;
subsidizing electricity for companies that make major
investments, speeding up investments in infrastructure,
particularly schools and sports establishment; and investing in
a road and railway in northern Quebec.
Another prong of what Marois called a "restructuring" of the
Quebec economy aims to bolster research and innovation, develop
new export markets, boost manufacturing and become a world
leader in the creation of electric vehicles.
Some analysts speculate that Marois, whose Parti Quebecois
wants the province to break away from Canada, is betting the
opposition parties will bring down her government and force an
election, possibly in December.
The economic overhaul is the latest bold move by her
government in as many months.
A political storm was already raging over the government's
proposal last month to ban teachers, doctors and other public
workers from wearing Muslim headscarves, Jewish skull-caps or
other visible religious symbols.
It is not clear whether the so-called charter of values will
broaden support for the separatists, which have twice lost
referendums on separating from Canada, or backfire.
So far, polls suggest it has deeply divided the province and
the separatist movement itself. Three senior patriarchs of the
party have voiced their opposition and polls show the opposition
Liberals gaining ground.
The charter requires support from at least one other party
to become law, and it will certainly face legal challenges.