Budget puts economics before health

0
60

Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

The budgets for the next fiscal year have been introduced by both the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec. While the federal budget has received extensive coverage by the media, the Quebec budget has been barely noticed. This may, in part, be due to the date the Quebec budget was presented in the National Assembly; March 17 was the same date that several prominent Quebec politicians were charged with illegal activities by the province’s anti-
corruption unit (UPAC). Notwith-standing this, there are some significant issues in Quebec’s new budget.
The Quebec budget projects a modest surplus. (British Columbia is the only other jurisdiction in Canada to post a surplus.) However, at 55%, Quebec’s ratio of
debt to GDP remains the highest in Canada. Thus many who were expecting
some relaxation of the draconian cuts introduced by Premier Philippe Couillard’s previous budgets will be disappointed in that there is little relief in the 2016 budget. There will be some small mitigation for parents with two children in daycare and a promise to eventually eliminate the extra health tax that Quebecers must now pay, as a result of cuts to pharmacists’ fees. 
While the budget did offer modest increased spending in education and health care, most economists and specialists agree that these are inadequate to address the needs, especially in health care.  Previous budgets resulted in Quebec’s healthcare system suffering serious cut-backs – in part due to reduced transfer payments from the federal government. Although the new Federal Government had promised to renegotiate transfers to the provinces, there was no specific
mention of this in their budget. So, the shortcomings of Quebec’s health system remain largely unaddressed for fiscal year 2016 – 2017.
There is one announcement from the Quebec government that further exasperates the problem; the decision to terminate the independent health watchdog – the health and welfare commission, created by Premier Couillard while he was health minister in 2006. The commission had the task of reviewing Quebec’s health and
welfare system and identifying areas that needed improvement as well as areas where efficiencies could be made. In abolishing this watchdog, Quebec has lost one of its best agencies for improving health care. The small sum of money saved will not replace the functional gains the commission was uncovering and
implementing.
While the Quebec budget does try to address some significant economic issues, the solution presented does not address major heath issues. These are issues that affect the less advantaged of society – the elderly, the handicapped, those recovering from or dealing with serious illness. The budget priorities also indicate that these health and welfare issues will remain as a lower concern, showing economic numbers have become more important than healthy lives.