top of page
  • David Boudeweel-Lefebvre

Québec’s stout state needs a strict diet

The most recent Québec budget, tabled a few weeks ago, sent shockwaves through Québec society. The $11 billion deficit is the largest in the province's history. Of course, we can dissect the budget and find many expenses exaggerated, frivolous or no longer in line with the important missions of the state. In fact, the government is about to undertake a program review. But on closer examination, the vast majority of the deficit is due to one thing: the growth in the number of people employed or contracted by the state.

During the 2012, 2014 and 2018 election campaigns, François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) made downsizing the state its mission. Gone were the days of bigger government and costly new programs. Instead, we saw hiring freezes and tougher negotiations with unions.

Yet, in reality, since coming to power in 2018, the CAQ has added 10,000 civil servants, 14.4% more than on the day it was elected. Over the same time period, Québec’s population has grown by just 7.2%. The COVID-19 pandemic alone does not explain this dizzying increase. The current government has often had the reflex to say yes to everything, confident its once-favorable budget situation would continue. It is now paying the price for ill-considered hiring.

Added to this is the increasingly frequent use of external expertise, paid for by the state, whether in the legal, health, education or transport planning sectors. The result is a government that is becoming increasingly involved in sectors of the economy, albeit without any guarantee of effectiveness.

The most recent negotiations with public-sector unions, particularly in health and education, have also contributed to the problem. Faced with a population anxious about the quality of services, the government has loaded a lot of expensive ballast on wages and also on the quantity of hiring. Add to this the reduction in the use of private healthcare agencies, and you have even more workers who will be added to the payrolls supported by Québec taxpayers.

The solutions to the problems are few, and stark. Reviewing programs to find efficiencies will not be enough. There needs to be a real reduction in the missions that the state has given itself. The survival of quality health and education services depends on two things: giving up certain other services and releasing the resources associated with them, and increasing efficiency and productivity by supporting economic and workforce development. This overdue shift must happen quickly.


bottom of page