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Measuring the effects of austerity on public services in Quebec

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Photo: Paul VanDerWerf/flickr

Quebec's government has radically reduced its spending growth because it has decided that we need to tighten our belts collectively. Since spending growth in some areas of health care and education is inevitable in order to maintain certain services, drastic cuts must be made elsewhere. The government maintains that it will not affect the services received by the population. However, this claim does not withstand closer analysis of the sums the government is planning on allocating to each department in the coming year. Let's look into who will be most affected:

Children with learning difficulties: School boards are set to have their budgets slashed by $150 million. Earlier this month, the Commission scolaire de Montréal has already announced that 25 positions in direct contact with students will be abolished: psychologists, psychoeducators, and special education specialists… already heavily in demand. Similar measures are being taken in Jonquière, in the Saguenay region, and in Longueuil, on the South Shore of Montreal: social workers and special education technicians are also being dismissed. With the coming budget reductions, more service cuts are to be expected.

Persons with disabilities: Having access to special-needs housing is central in the lives of people with disabilities. The government is taking $19 million out of the $28-million Residential Adaptation Assistance Program, removing two-thirds of the total funding! At the moment, it already takes more than two years to access the program. Huge sums will also be taken out of accessible transportation.

Vulnerable groups: Even if the health-care budget increases globally, that does not mean there won't be cuts. In the last few weeks, we've heard that 28 positions will be cut in health-care centres in Montreal, both downtown and in the multiethnic neighbourhoods of the north. Psychologists, nurses caring for the elderly, professionals facilitating the integration of immigrants: we're taking away the jobs of those taking care of the most vulnerable amongst us.

Victims: Assistance and compensation for victims of crime has just seen its budget reduced by $2.65 million. Legal aid, which allows less affluent people to have access to the justice system, is slashed by $5 million whilst wait times are already very long for those currently benefitting from its services.

People living in rural areas: A program known as RénoVillage allows underprivileged homeowners to look after their house. It has been served a $8-million cut out of a total budget of $16 million. Bad news also for farmers: support for farming and agri-food business development has been reduced by $4.9 million.

Women: The National Assembly has seen the number of women in its ranks drop to a meagre 27 per cent after the last election. It looks like the government wants to maintain this downward trend since it's taking away half of the funds from a program entitled "À égalité pour décider" ("On an equal footing for decision-making"). It supports women in their journey towards taking up leadership positions. Keeping the ball rolling, the government is also reducing allocations to the Conseil du statut de la femme, the Secrétariat à la condition féminine and the Commission de l'équité salariale (concerned with Pay Equity).

Jobless persons: People looking for work will have less resources given a reduction of $16 million in employment support measures. In Montreal, funds to support immigrant and youth initiatives will be cut in half. For those benefitting from social welfare, it has been announced that more investigators will be hired to ensure that there is no fraud, yet nothing in the department's data signals towards any increase in that respect.

Fans of Quebec films: Already, the budget has set the table for a decrease in the 20 per cent tax credit program at the heart of most productions' funding. Moreover, some are concerned -- though it's not confirmed yet -- that the government will also cut the Film and Video program of the Conseil des arts et lettres du Quebec. This $4-million fund offers small amounts for projects that don't always fit into the boxes of grant applications, a not infrequent situation in creative matters.

Museum-goers: A week ago it was announced that Quebec's big museums will see their budget reduced by $3 million. This cut will translate into the termination of certain activities, the closure of the Musée d'art contemporain's media centre, and possibly a decrease in school activities.

SAQ clientele: Government corporations have been asked to "improve productivity" in order to save the equivalent of 2 per cent of their payroll. We're starting to see what the corporation in charge of importing and selling alcohol has in store: reducing the size of branches to integrate new ones into supermarkets. Variety in which products are available can only suffer from multiplying the number of branches of the SAQ-Express sort and of like models.

These are only a few examples. In the next few weeks, we will hear more about other cases slowly emerging. That's how a budget works: the concrete effects are not immediate, they take time to implement. However, one thing's for sure: we already have a few answers in hand with which to respond to anyone claiming that the current cuts will not affect services offered to the population. In fact, lots of people will be affected.

Note: Considering the government's budget estimates is a long and tedious process. I have tried to bring together the elements which have popped up in the media and those raised by the opposition in the National Assembly. Some of these for the moment are only available through listening to the parliamentary commission: I cannot therefore offer any links. In the next few weeks, the documents will be made available online on the National Assembly's website.

This article was written by Simon Tremblay-Pepin, a researcher with  IRIS, a Montreal-based progressive think-tank.

Photo: Paul VanDerWerf/flickr

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