Parti Quebecois election campaign promises crumbling under minority government

The honeymoon was so short.

Just over a month after the Parti Quebecois squeaked in a minority victory over Jean Charest's three-term Liberals, it's backing away from some of its key campaign promises, according to the Globe and Mail.

Canadians are used to newly-elected governments suddenly discovering the books are in much worse shape than they thought, necessitating regrettable modifications to their election platform.

But for a party with a distinct ideological agenda, the PQ's post-election climbdown must be especially hard.

The PQ's narrow win came in part on a pledge to scrap the Liberals' hated $200 annual health tax.

But Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau announced Wednesday Quebecers will have to pay the tax after all, the Globe said. Instead of abolishing it, Marceau said he'll modify it into a more "progressive" form next year, requiring wealthier residents to pay more and those on lower incomes paying less.

Marceau has also abandoned plans to increase Quebec's capital gains tax retroactively to last Jan. 1 and to boost the dividend tax. Instead, he plans to introduce a new income-tax bracket to increase taxes paid by those earning more than $100,000, the Globe said.

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Marceau said the changes respect the "spirit" of the PQ's election promises but recognize the reality of trying to push them through as a minority government against an opposition that could force an election anytime, plus resistance from the business community.

"The position we are announcing today is a position of compromise," Marceau said, according to the Globe.

"It results mainly from the verdict of the Sept. 4 [election]. This verdict was one in which we are a minority government. Some of the changes … take into account the objections that were raised by the business community."

The PQ government is also dialing down its confrontational attitude towards Ottawa. It had promised voters it would push the Conservative government to transfer more powers to the province, such as administration of employment insurance and regulating communications.

But Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier told the Globe the government now will focus on files in which it can come to quick agreement with the Conservatives, such as a deal on infrastructure funding and ending duplication of government programs.

"We are starting with what is the most obvious, with files that are self-evident and that don't involve the Constitution," Cloutier told the Globe, while insisting the PQ has not abandoned its longtime goal of achieving complete autonomy from Ottawa.

Premier Pauline Marois is scheduled to have her first meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the upcoming summit of La Francophonie in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

[ Related: Harper arrives in Senegal ahead of francophone summit ]

The PQ is also abandoning some of its promised cultural initiatives, Montreal Gazette columnist Brendan Kelly noted.

Kelly cited comments by Culture Minister Maka Kotto to a La Presse reporter that financial pressures "are very strong, even a bit destabilizing."

Among the proposed initiatives on the chopping block, said Kelly, was a $30-million program to bring artists into schools and take students to more cultural events, and planned budget increases for the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Quebec (similar to the Canada Council) and La Société de développement des entreprises culturelles.

The PQ had also promised to step in and fund Quebec artists touring internationally after the Conservatives cut the federal budget for such trips.

"The international influence of our artists is a very important calling card for Quebec," Marois said before the election. "There is no question of letting down our artists who were victims of the Harper government."

Opposition parties jumped on the PQ government's reversals, especially the health tax.

''This was one of their major campaign promises and today Quebec voters have been betrayed,'' Liberal finance critic Raymond Bachand, who's also in the running to replace Charest as party leader, told CBC News.

''I had voters come up to me and tell me they didn't vote for me because of the health tax.''

The Coalition Avenir Québec said it would vote against the PQ's proposal to increase income taxes for higher earners.

"It's not the best time to do so," said leader Francois Legault. "We are in competition with other provinces so we cannot do what we want. It's not only a question of equity. It's a question of competitivity."