Charest forgoes PST hike in favour of increasing fees

While we're busy yakking about Quebec's identity, we're missing the government's hand as it's getting ready to dig deeper into the pockets of many Quebecers.

Mini-budget fédéral - 30 octobre 2007

While we're busy yakking about Quebec's identity, we're missing the government's hand as it's getting ready to dig deeper into the pockets of many Quebecers.
Its targets are multiple: low wage earners, people on fixed income and much of the middle class. Its method is two-fold: higher public services rates and more private health-care services to be paid for in cash or through private insurance.
Case in point: two committees set up by the Liberal government. The one headed by Claude Castonguay is looking into the finances of the health-care system. It is set to report on Dec. 20, right before Christmas. But don't look for any gifts.

Although his work is done behind closed doors, Castonguay is a longtime proponent of increased privatization, user fees and private insurance coverage. Sitting on that committee is a like-minded representative of the Action démocratique. As for the Parti Québécois, its consultation document handed to its members sounds sympathetic to some of those ideas. So chances are the report will suggest Quebecers pay more out of their pockets and that privately covered services be expanded.
Economist Claude Montmarquette and former PQ minister Joseph Facal are on another committee looking into public-service rates, according to La Presse. They are members of the famed right-wing group "Les lucides," set up by Lucien Bouchard. One of its many mantras happens to be a considerable increase of public charges, such as electricity rates. Facal is also a close adviser to Pauline Marois.
In a province where the average salary hovers around $35,000 and the minimum wage is $8 an hour, rate hikes and privately covered health services mean less disposable income and decreased access to services for those with the lowest incomes.
This is all the more troubling when the government has turned up its nose at billions of real tax dollars. Last year, it refused to increase provincial sales taxes when Ottawa cut the GST by one per cent. This week, fearing it might jeopardize its recent rise in the polls, the Liberal government refused to take advantage of the new one per cent cut by Ottawa. Doing this, the premier deprives Quebec from a recurrent, annual transfer of at least $2 billion. That's $10 billion over five years.
This spring, it also pooh-pooed $700 million when it channeled that part of Ottawa's answer to the fiscal imbalance into tax cuts most people didn't want. Still, not a day goes by without stories about the growing needs in the health-care and education systems, social services or community-run organizations. Squeezing more money from Quebecers who can't spare it is clear that these choices are driven by ideology.
If the government truly wanted stronger public services, instead of favouring the private sector, and if it wanted more social equity, instead of raising fees to further reduce many Quebecers' disposable income, it would use the GST money and be proud to do so.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet said "secular fundamentalism" is threatening our moral fabric and that we need a new "evangelization" to answer "the distress of youth, the sharp drop in marriages, the weak birth rate and the frightening number of abortions and suicides."
As one of many Catholics here who have faith but are non-practising because they can't identify with the social anachronism of the high clergy, might I humbly offer a few changes the church could make to help ease at least some of the problems the cardinal sees. For more weddings: Let priests marry, women join the priesthood and accept gay marriage. For more babies and fewer abortions: Lobby for more family services, better sex education in schools, the use of condoms and other health-safe types of contraception as well as showing respect for women's intelligence when they do make the choice to abort.
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