Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Low Birthrate Imperils Quebec's Future: Charest

Canoe C-News
October 12, 2004
Jean Charest says Quebec's future bleak because of
debt, low birthrate
By LES PERREAUX

ST-AUGUSTIN-DE-DESMAURES, Que. (CP) - Quebec faces a
bleak future with a declining birthrate and a heavy
debt load, Premier Jean Charest told a forum of
provincial leaders on Tuesday.

Charest painted a grim picture in the opening speech
of a three-day forum on the future of the province
where he tried to sell ongoing plans to cut taxes and
reduce the size of government.

Charest said a declining birthrate threatens to put an
even heavier burden on Quebecers. The province already
has the biggest debt and the highest personal tax
burden among the provinces, he pointed out.

"The status quo in Quebec is not a choice," Charest
told about 100 leaders from Quebec business, labour
and social groups.

"We're not here to get a consensus at any price, or to
find the lowest common denominator."

While Charest said a demographic crunch is increasing
pressure on the province, he said the situation is not
hopeless.

"We must understand and anticipate this shift, then we
must do what we can to get out of this tight scrape,"
Charest said.

"We can change this situation. But if the problems
were easy, if the answers were obvious, someone would
have answered them for us long ago.

Outside the conference, a few hundred union protesters
chanted slogans and blew whistles.

On their way into the meeting, business leaders said
they will argue the government should pursue promised
tax cuts while labour leaders said they will call for
more public spending.

"They're trying to make everyone believe in the
bogeyman and it's not going to work," said Henri
Masse, president of the Quebec Federation of Labour.

"The government's observations on Quebec's financial
situation are too alarmist. The government's
interpretations of demographic trends are too dark."

Other prominent participants suggested not much was
likely to get done at the meeting.

"I'm trying to remember what we accomplished at the
last one of these things and I can't," said Quebec
City Mayor Jean-Paul L'Allier.

"I'm not sure how useful it can be."

Charest won the 2003 election promising to cut taxes
by $1 billion per year and to dramatically reduce
bureaucracy.

So far he has delivered direct subsidies to families
and much smaller tax cuts also aimed at families in
the face of protests by social, labour and other
pressure groups.