Carlos Leitao reveals budget updateQuebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao announced Quebec’s budget update today, setting off what is sure to be a continuing series of protests against the cuts, austerity measures and fee increases. The Liberal government claims that this sort of painful pruning is necessary in order to rein in Quebec’s out-of-control finances and balance the budget. The opposition and those affected, of course, will claim otherwise.

But, cutting through the slogans and rhetoric, what does this update actually contain? The details are still pending, of course, but at first glance it reads to me as surprisingly… balanced.

The good

For one thing, the rich and corporations are being asked to shoulder the lion’s share of the cuts. This is far from a conservative approach. The budget includes such measures as suspended bonuses to senior executives, reduction in tax credits to large corporations, and added taxes on financial institutions, insurance companies and oil companies. Small and medium business, meanwhile, are getting some tax breaks.

Even the much-decried increase in daycare fees is largely limited to households making over $75,000 per year, and even that is an increase from $7 to $8. Most families will see an increase of only 30 cents per day, to $7.30. The only families who will pay the $20/day maximum are those with household incomes of $155,000 and above. The current system was very tough on lower income families stuck on long waiting lists — sometimes for years — for a $7/day spot. The updated pricing will be more expensive for wealthier families, to be sure, and might drive more of them to the private system, but this would mean the coveted public system spots will be more available to the people who need them most. Again, hardly Attila the Hun policy.

The budget update also contains a number of environmental measures, including registration fee increases for large vehicles, insurance fee premium increases for drivers, added taxes on fuel at the pump, and several green energy and anti-climate change initiatives.

The not-so-good

Yes, the general population will shoulder some of the burden, too. The most contentious austerity measures aim to trim back public sector pensions, which arguably needs to be done, but the government’s heavy-handed approach here is backfiring. Someone who has worked in a public sector job for their entire career on the promise of a certain pension should not be told, now that they’re close to retirement, that they won’t be getting what was promised. There simply isn’t enough time for them to go back in time and save more money. In addition, the MNAs had to be shamed into scaling back their own ridiculous pensions — something that should’ve been a no-brainer in “austerity” times. They did it, but kicking and screaming. However, on the whole, the private sector can’t afford to indefinitely shoulder the burden of such high public pensions, especially when the taxpayers supporting them largely have no pensions and insufficient retirement savings themselves.

The politically questionable

To make matters worse, the government has picked a fight with unions by reducing the tax credits for union dues. This will cost union members a mere $70 or $80 each on average per year, but the unions are powerful foes and are already angry about Bill 3. The last election saw many unionists break with the PQ in anger over Pierre-Karl Peladeau, the Charter of Values and a whole host of other things. But the unions and the PQ are traditional allies, and the small amount of savings that the Liberals will get from this tax credit scaleback (estimated at about $112 million per year) probably isn’t worth the political cost of driving them back together.

The bottom line

On the whole, this budget update reads refreshingly Liberal by Canadian standards, though perhaps not by Quebec ones. It’s not a Tory reward-the-rich-and-oil-companies-at-the-expense-of-everyone-else budget.

But the actual provisions may end up mattering very little when compared to the visceral opposition to the A-word: Austerity. A lot of people are angry.

The Liberals have little choice but to do their deepest cutting early on in their mandate, hoping that by the time the next election rolls around in four years, there will be enough of a recovery to shower the population with pre-election gifts. But in the meantime, it may not be pretty.

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Shots were fired on Parliament Hill this morning. A soldier guarding the National War Memorial was shot. The gunman then seized a car and drove to Parliament, after which there were shots reportedly fired inside the Parliament Buildings. The Globe and Mail has some dramatic video footage:

There were also shots reportedly fired by another gunman at or near the Rideau Centre shopping mall, and/or near the Chateau Laurier. It’s still unclear whether there are two or more shooters.

Downtown Ottawa is on lockdown, with the RCMP advising people to stay indoors and away from windows and rooftops.

I know it’s trite to say this, but this kind of thing is not supposed to happen in Ottawa, of all places. There’s not much information yet to go on, but Ottawa is the sort of place where you’re usually more likely to get bored out of your mind than shot. And I mean that as a compliment.

CBC has an updated live news coverage feed here.

Stay safe, folks!

Update: 3:45pm: What we know right now is that the soldier who was guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is dead, having succumbed to his injuries in hospital. He was a young reservist from Hamilton who was serving on guard duty this week. His name has not yet been released pending notification of next of kin, who are definitely in my thoughts today.

We also know that the gunman who then entered Parliament and started firing shots is dead, taken down by Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, who reportedly showed incredible courage in preventing further injuries or deaths.

Beyond that, nothing else is hard evidence. Everything else is speculation. Initial reports of a possible second shooter appear to be false (as they usually are) and the police have been very careful about releasing information, as the investigation is ongoing.

In times like this, I think it’s worth noting that finger-pointing, blaming politicians, speculating, advancing conspiracy theories, or otherwise wreaking havoc and inciting panic is a very, very bad idea. Please, everyone, take a breath. We don’t know what we don’t know. This isn’t about ISIS, Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, Thomas Mulcair, Pierre-Karl Peladeau, Rene Levesque, Barack Obama, George Bush, or your mom. This isn’t about the media making wild leaps and assumptions in order to fill air time and gain viewers. Please, think before you hit retweet!

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Quebec schoolboard elections: Why you should care

09.22.2014

Folks, this is important: Quebec is having school board elections in November, and for the first time, the position of Chair is directly electable by the population. My wonderful aunt, Suanne Stein Day, is running for re-election as LBPSB Chair. It’s because she’s wonderful, and not just because she’s family, that I’d urge you to [...]

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Scotland Is Not Quebec

09.18.2014

Today, as I write this, 4.3 million people in Scotland are voting in a referendum on whether they should separate from the United Kingdom. I’ve been following the debate in Scotland more closely than I thought I would. For one thing, I have quite a few friends in the UK and this impacts them directly. [...]

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“I’m Done Apologizing for Israel”

07.22.2014

Whenever tensions rise in Israel, my stress level goes way up as a proxy war gets fought in social media channels. People I respect, colleagues and acquaintances and people I think of as friends, sometimes post things that make my blood boil. So I’ve been not saying very much. Because I know that I wouldn’t [...]

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The war in Europe is over. Now, to turn our attention to the Pacific.

04.08.2014

“We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.” — Winston Churchill. For the past 18 months, it’s felt a bit to me like we’ve been fighting a war on two fronts: On the one hand, against Pauline Marois and [...]

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Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques goes Quebec Solidaire

04.08.2014

There will almost certainly be a recount in my home riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, won by QS’s Manon Massé by a margin of only 91 votes over Liberal Anna Klisko. Obviously, I would have preferred a Liberal victory over a Quebec Solidaire one here. The QS is staunchly pro-sovereignty, militantly anti-English, and has pie-in-sky ideas about [...]

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Quebec Liberals win resounding majority

04.08.2014

It’s a majority government for Philippe Couillard and the Quebec Liberal Party! It’s been a really ugly 18 months, and an even uglier campaign. But tonight, my faith in the people of this province I call home was restored. It’s hard to believe that scarcely five weeks ago, the PQ called this election and was [...]

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Marois then and now

03.24.2014

What a difference 18 months makes: In 2012, Pauline Marois donned a red square and declared the PQ the party of the social left. In 2014, she stood by Pierre-Karl Peladeau and declared the PQ the party of business and the economy. A scant 18 months have gone by. A student-led coup d’etat? As I’d [...]

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A plea to my fellow Quebecers

03.05.2014

Rumours have been circulating for weeks, and now it’s official: Quebec will be heading back to the polls on April 7th. The Parti Quebecois has been in power for a scant year and a half. In that time, it has done more damage than even I would have thought possible. From a vitrol-laced election campaign, [...]

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