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Press release

2003-2004 Budget
A more caring society

Québec, March 11, 2003 - In the 2003-2004 Budget Speech, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Economy and Research Pauline Marois introduced a set of measures designed to enhance Quebecers' quality of life.

"Quebecers want their government to maintain balanced public finances and support job creation in all regions. They also want it to do everything possible to build a more caring society," stated the Deputy Prime Minister.

Québec has chosen, among other things, to facilitate work-family balance, create more stimulating, better-equipped schools, increase resources for the health sector, further promote solidarity and the fight against poverty, notably by making housing more accessible, enhance environment quality and support our cultural vitality in its efforts to gear government action to a more caring society.

Making it easier to balance work and family life

Ms. Marois indicated that the 2003-2004 Budget marks the start of a new chapter in the State's provision of support to families. "We want [that support] to be in Québec's image: a modern Québec that respects both individual choices and the need to give ourselves, as a society, innovative tools to address the realities of today's world."

"This Budget paves the way to helping workers and their employers, especially in small and medium-sized businesses, find satisfactory solutions together for balancing work and family life. Possible scenarios include a four-day work week, flexible hours, work-time organization and special leave for parents. We will devote $20 million a year to implementing specific support for businesses with fewer than 200 employees, so that they can finance the cost of setting up such programs," the Minister of Finance, the Economy and Research said.

Ms. Marois also added that Québec would provide the necessary funding to implement five-dollar daycare for all families that want it, to ensure that the objective of 200 000 available daycare spaces is attained by March 2005, i.e. a year ahead of schedule.

"I would also like to point out that parents who make other choices also benefit from government support. In 2002, we granted $180 million in the form of refundable tax credits to parents who had their child looked after in a private daycare centre, at home or in a summer camp," the Deputy Prime Minister emphasized.

Ms. Marois mentioned that during her pre-Budget consultations, the need for self-employed workers to have access to parental leave was brought up over and over again. Thus, despite the federal government's stubborn refusal, for the moment, to participate in the establishment of a Québec parental insurance plan that would cover all workers, a tax credit for parental leave for self-employed workers is being introduced in the 2003-2004 Budget.

This tax credit will be in effect as of the 2003 taxation year until the parental insurance plan is implemented. It will offer self-employed workers who give birth to or adopt a child financial assistance equal to 55% of their net income, for twelve weeks, to a maximum of $5 070.

Lastly, work-family balance is not solely the concern of young families. There comes a time when families must assume, over and above work responsibilities, obligations toward parents or a spouse who must be cared for or taken in. Today, the government is implementing a new type of support for "natural caregivers" to support them in their family duties. Ms. Marois thus announced the creation of a new tax credit for people who take care of a relative who is losing his or her autonomy. This new refundable tax credit will mean $600 a year for some 80 000 people. "I know that many families in all regions of Québec will see themselves in this measure, and I hope that they will find support and comfort in it. Women in particular come to mind," Ms. Marois declared.

Creating more stimulating, better-equipped schools

"A more caring society is achieved through more stimulating, better-equipped schools. Education has always been a priority of our government. We moved swiftly to develop vocational and technical training in order to close the gap that had widened in these areas over time. We invested in our universities, with regard to both infrastructure and the enhancement of training. We launched a major reform of elementary and secondary education," Ms. Marois affirmed.

Because there is a direct link between the schooling of the population, job creation and collective wealth, the 2003-2004 Budget Speech pursues and steps up the government's efforts in the area of education to reduce the drop-out rate and provide incentives for success and obtaining a diploma.

The Deputy Prime Minister pointed out that it was these efforts that provided the impetus for the creation of the Ça bouge après l'école program, scheduled to start in September 2003. Funding of $81 million over three years has been earmarked for the implementation of this novel program.

A two-hour increase in teaching time at the elementary level beginning in September 2004 was recently announced. This measure will represent an overall investment of $184 million and will allow for greater emphasis on physical education and the arts.

Finally, overall additional investments of $131 million will be required to continue upgrading and increasing the number of computers, and to enhance book collections in school libraries.

The education system must continue to meet job market needs effectively and be able to adapt to societal changes. To that end, Ms. Marois announced that the ministère de l'Éducation will receive an additional $42 million to address new priorities as of the next school year.

Thus, because there is a direct link between schooling and employability, four sectors in particular will be targeted:

  • vocational training at the secondary level;
  • technical training programs at the college level;
  • access to training in remote regions;
  • continuing education.

Increasing resources for health

"Quality, universal and accessible health care is a significant concern for Quebecers, as is the availability of social services throughout Québec," declared the Deputy Prime Minister.

The health budget for 2003-2004 will be $19.1 billion. That is an increase of $1.7 billion over last year's funding, and of $6.2 billion compared with six years ago. The share of the Québec budget allocated to health will thus rise from 36.3% to 41% between 1997-1998 and 2003-2004. This year's Budget will enable the government to pursue its efforts to make the health-care system more efficient, in particular through performance contracts and cost control, reduce the waiting lists for cardiology, oncology, ophthalmology and orthopedics, ease the pressure on emergency wards and improve front-line services.

Ms. Marois also announced that $70 million per year will be made available to the Minister for Health, Social Services, Youth Protection and Prevention to support the government's new emphasis on prevention in health care and social services, which comes in the wake of the adoption of new public-health legislation.

To address the shortage of professionals in the health sector, the 2003-2004 Budget Speech provides for increased enrolment in the faculties of medicine of Québec universities. Enrolment will also substantially rise in nursing and pharmacy programs in order to enable the health-care system to better meet the needs of Quebecers.

To accommodate this increase in the student population, the government will invest another $225 million in the coming years in the three-year capital spending program for the university network, in particular for the construction of new buildings as well as the retrofitting and renovation of existing buildings.

The Deputy Prime Minister also announced the reinforcement of a "health pole" for eastern Québec in our national capital, thereby allowing for the expansion and renovation of the Ferdinand-Vandry pavilion at Université Laval's faculty of medicine. Major projects will also be undertaken at the Université de Montréal and McGill University.

Other projects include the construction of buildings for the life sciences program at the Université du Québec à Montréal and the Université de Sherbrooke. These new facilities will strengthen Québec's position in the biotechnology sector.

Further promoting solidarity and the fight against poverty, notably by making housing more accessible

"A more caring society is one in which everyone shares in the prosperity. It is a question of dignity, a question of solidarity. Building a more caring society is therefore achieved by fighting poverty and social exclusion," the Deputy Prime Minister stated.

Ms. Marois thus announced that $50 million will be invested in 2003-2004 to support social development and combat poverty. For example, as of January 1, 2004, the $100 monthly exemption in respect of support payments will be extended to all households that receive social assistance and have a dependent child. Also, the Solidarité jeunesse program has been made permanent and extended to young people aged 21 to 24. Moreover, $66 million over three years will be devoted to the Fonds québécois d'initiatives sociales, and an additional $10 million per year will be allocated to increase government support for independent community action.

Giving everyone access to decent housing is also a means of combating poverty. To make housing more accessible, the 2003-2004 Budget Speech introduces new measures that will benefit close to 54 000 Québec households, mainly in the municipalities where the housing shortage is most acute, i.e. Québec City, Montréal and Gatineau.

The government is thus announcing today additional investments of $270 million in four areas:

  • more than 20 000 low-rental or affordable housing units will be built over five years;
  • 3 700 households will be spared the negative impact of the housing shortage;
  • 13 000 seniors or persons with disabilities will obtain a dwelling adapted to their needs, which will allow four times more requests for home adaptations to be met and the waiting list and waiting times of the Société d'habitation du Québec to be reduced;
  • the homes of 17 000 households will be renovated.

Enhancing environment quality

Because environment quality is an important aspect of the more caring living environment to which Quebecers aspire, the 2003-2004 Budget increases environmental spending by targeting two areas of intervention:

  • more effective control of greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • the implementation of the Québec water policy.

"Climate change is one of the most fundamental issues of our century. Québec therefore intends to pursue its efforts to better control greenhouse gas emissions, in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol," Ms. Marois said.

The government thus intends to invest $10 million to support businesses in their efforts to foster sustainable development, especially by recovering methane from landfills.

Furthermore, since one of the means of controlling greenhouse gas emissions is to promote the increased use of public transit, the 2003-2004 Budget contains a provision allowing employees to deduct the cost of their transit passes in the calculation of their

taxable income from now on. As a result, more employees will begin using this type of transport.

Lastly, the Deputy Prime Minister indicated that, thanks to the implementation of the Québec water policy, the government will support the planning of the optimal use of water in river basins and hopes to invest, in collaboration with the federal government and the municipalities, $3 billion in the coming years.

Supporting our cultural vitality

The 2003-2004 Budget also confirms the Québec government's commitment on behalf of culture.

"Culture is often said to be the soul of a people. I also think that, in the context of globalization, national cultures have a key role to play not only within each State, but also in the dialogue between nations," declared the Minister of Finance, the Economy and Research.

"With this Budget, the government is launching an unprecedented offensive on behalf of the film and audiovisual industries. I am therefore announcing today that our policy entitled Pour mieux porter le Québec à l'écran will be allocated $20 million a year," she added.

To provide assistance to all Québec creators, the 2003-2004 Budget Speech increases support to the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. Thus, over and above the additional $7 million already granted, a further $5 million is being allocated, and the tax deduction for copyright income is being broadened.

Moreover, the government confirms its commitment to the major events and popular festivals held throughout Québec with the announcement of an annual budget of $12 million, notably for the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée in the Gaspésie region, the FrancoFolies de Montréal, the Festival du cinéma international en Abitibi-Témiscamingue and the Québec winter carnival.

"Thus, the government is committing considerable new resources to support culture and its artisans. […] We are not merely supporting one of the manifestations of our identity as a people. We are also supporting a sector that creates jobs and that positions Québec advantageously in the world," Ms. Marois concluded.

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