Economic statement draws fire on Quebec election trail
Published Friday, November 28, 2008 6:27PM EST
MONTREAL - While prompting political turmoil in Ottawa, the Conservatives' economic statement was also coming under fire Friday on the Quebec election trail.
The Tories' fiscal plan was being used by sovereigntists as ammunition against Premier Jean Charest.
The Parti Quebecois accused Charest of watching idly as the feds cut equalization payments to the province by $1 billion, and described the move as a catastrophic financial loss for the province.
PQ Leader Pauline Marois insisted the Charest Liberals knew in advance about cuts contained in federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's economic statement and did their best to cover them up.
"The facts have been hidden from us, we have been manipulated to make us believe things are going well," Marois said in Sept-Iles.
The PQ leader drew links between the federal economic statement and the financial update delivered by Quebec Finance Minister Monique Jerome-Forget on the eve of the provincial campaign for the Dec. 8 election.
Jerome-Forget has been accused of fudging the numbers and exaggerating the revenues anticipated from private corporate investment in Quebec.
The PQ suggests that was done to cover up the hole left by the reduced equalization payments.
Flaherty announced in his economic update on Thursday that the formula for equalization will be changed to make it more sustainable. It will also be tied to the country's economic growth.
The PQ attack takes direct aim at two of Charest's key sales pitches to Quebec voters.
Charest argues that his Liberals are the most capable stewards of the Quebec economy, although Marois has retorted she believes they are mere amateurs.
Charest also says he's the best positioned to handle relations with the federal government.
But the PQ leader huffed that Charest has no clout with Ottawa. She said the cut in equalization payments will be "20 times more" than that forecast by Jerome-Forget.
Charest, meantime, was heaping scorn on Opposition Leader Mario Dumont on Friday, accusing him of striking fear into the hearts of Quebec seniors by suggesting they should be concerned about their pensions.
But Dumont, who has consistently gone after Charest about the financial health of the Caisse de depot et placement pension fund manager, says he thinks an election is the best time to discuss such issues.
Charest delivered his salvos against the Action democratique du Quebec leader using the legislature as a backdrop, standing outside in front of reporters in a swirling snowstorm.
"The solvency of the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec is not compromised," Charest said firmly in Quebec City. "The pension funds are not threatened."
Charest accused Dumont of "sowing fear" among Quebec's most vulnerable citizens.
"He is using partisan ends to exploit the fears of our elderly," a clearly annoyed Charest said.
"I have rarely seen, in an election campaign, this type of cynicism. By injecting this odious fear into the campaign, Mr. Dumont is unworthy of representing Quebec's citizens."
Charest pointed out that Caisse managers said last week the institution had $20 billion in liquidity and its income outstripped its expenditures.
It's not the first time the premier has criticized Dumont for his remarks about the Caisse.
Dumont was undaunted.
He said Charest had been dismissive when the ADQ raised questions about Quebec's problem-plagued infrastructure network in the last election. Dumont noted that since then 150 bridges and overpasses have had their traffic restricted.
He added that Charest is the one instilling fear in seniors about pension cuts because he refuses to release the Caisse's financial results.
Both Dumont and Marois have called on Charest to release the figures. The Liberal leader has refused, saying the Caisse operates independently of the government.