Legault says Quebecs $3-billion surplus will be short-lived

Legault says Quebec\s $3-billion surplus will be short-lived
We will not be dictated to: Legault warns as Ottawa threatens Quebec over health care
The premier said the figure did not reflect reality and that he had tasked the finance minister with rewriting existing accounting procedures.

“We will not finish the year with a $3 billion surplus — far from it,” Quebec Premier François Legault said Wednesday as he announced he had assigned the province’s finance minister to change the government’s accounting rules.

The premier also expanded on his comments last week, when he questioned the latest financial statements of the government that indicated a $3-billion surplus had been accumulated since the start of the government’s fiscal year in April. An accountant by training, Legault challenged without providing details the accuracy of the previous finance ministrys bookkeeping practices.

However Legault on Wednesday told reporters any budgetary surplus would disappear by the end of this year.

The premier said the $3-billion figure did not reflect reality and that he had tasked Finance Minister Éric Girard to rewrite existing accounting procedures.

Legault cited the example of publicly traded companies such as Transat (which he co-founded prior to entering politics), which must inform shareholders and the markets whether budgets will be respected or exceeded, a practice that does not exist in the management of Quebec’s public finances.

“In the Quebec government it can happen that spending announced during the year may only be applied after several months,” he said. “We are in a situation where there is a surplus but we know full well it won’t be there by the end of the year. I find that a pretty extraordinary form of accounting.”

Legault said that in the future, monthly financial reports could be replaced by quarterly updates or forecasts and revisions.

“At the moment the picture provided does not reflect the reality of public finances,” he said. “I want to improve the process.”

Ten days ago Girard announced that Quebec had logged a $3-billion surplus, an announcement Legault shot down a few days later.

However the opposition says Legault’s position is nothing more than a political ploy to manage the expectations of ministries that might have hoped to see their budgets increased. The Liberals want to know how Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec will manage to hide the $1-billion surplus that usually shows up in September’s accounting.

Former finance minister Carlos Leitao, perceived as the architect of the former Couillard government’s budget reform, said he was surprised and worried by Legault’s “improvised statement.”

The monthly reports produced by the finance minister are entirely technical, use proven accounting practices and involve “no political interference,” he said.

Quebec Premier François Legault told Ottawa on Wednesday to stay out of the province's business on health care.

"We will not be dictated to by the federal government," Legault told reporters in Quebec City as he entered his limousine.

The strong words were in reaction to news that Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor threatened the province last summer over its tolerance of private health-care services.

Petitpas Taylor wrote a letter to former Quebec health minister Gaétan Barrette in August, warning him that Ottawa would cut health-care transfer payments to the province if it continued to allow patients to pay out of pocket for medical exams.

The letter, obtained by The Canadian Press, said allowing patients to jump the queue in the public system and pay for private exams is "unjust" and a violation of the Canada Health Act.

"People prefer to enter the private system for certain exams — it's going to stay like that," Legault said.

"With health care, we have the jurisdiction. We will manage our health-care system the way we want. The federal government is not going to start telling us how to manage it."

She said Quebec's public system can't respond to current demand within prescribed wait times, so the province isn't going to limit access to private medical exams.

"For the moment, there is no way we are going to close the doors on people to access [medical exams]," McCann said.

The federal government transferred $6.2 billion to Quebec in health-care payments for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

In her letter to Barrette, Petitpas Taylor said access to medical care in Canada should be "based on health needs and not on the capacity or the will to pay."

She said Quebec's health-care system can include private providers as long as the costs are paid for by the public health insurance system.

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