MONTREAL — Acknowledging that Quebecers are among the highest taxed people in Canada, the two top parties running in Quebec's election campaign held competing news conferences in the provincial capital on Monday to promise income tax cuts if they are elected on Oct. 3.
Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault said if he becomes premier again, his government would reduce by one per cent the rate of the first two income tax brackets, starting 2023. He also promised to cut income taxes by a total of 2.5 per cent over the next 10 years.
"Quebec, we know, has taxation levels that are very high," Legault said. The tax cuts, he added, are "going to help Quebecers have more money in their wallets to face inflation."
In Quebec, the first $45,105 in income is taxed at 15 per cent, and the second income bracket — up to $90,200 — is taxed at 20 per cent. In Ontario, by contrast, the first $46,226 in income is taxed at 5.05 per cent, and the second income bracket — up to $92,454 — is taxed at 9.15 per cent.
Under Legault's plan, Quebecers making $80,000 a year would save $630 in taxes per year, he said.
Later on Monday, Legault promised to cut cheques to Quebecers in December. If the CAQ is re-elected, Quebecers earning less than $50,000 would receive a $600 cheque, he said, while those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 would get $400. Earlier this year, the province gave a one-time, lump sum payment of $500 to all Quebecers earning $100,000 per year or less.
“We prefer to leave Quebecers the freedom to decide what they want to do with this money,” Legault said, adding that he would make two other promises during the campaign related to cost of living and inflation.
Meanwhile, the Liberals, who had promised before the start of the election campaign to reduce by 1.5 per cent the rate of the first two income tax brackets, repeated that promise on Monday and announced more ways they would reduce the pressure on voters' wallets.
The party proposed to freeze Hydro-Québec rates and abolish the Quebec sales tax on the first $4,000 of a client's annual electricity bill. The Liberals also promised to abolish the Quebec sales tax on basic necessities and increase a tax credit for the most disadvantaged.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade estimated that the total savings would amount to $5,000 per family of four. But she said that $5,000 in savings is also tied to measures that haven't been announced yet.
“We understood the importance of giving back to each Quebec family,” Anglade told a news conference.
The Conservative Party of Quebec has promised even deeper tax cuts than the ones proposed by the two leading parties. Party leader Éric Duhaime has pledged to cut taxes by $2,000 a year for a worker earning $80,000. He has also promised to suspend the provincial gas tax.
One political scientist says the tax-cut promises are being driven by inflation and cost-of-living concerns, but also by a financial situation in the province that is better than expected. There is also an element of competition involving parties on the right side of the political spectrum, Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said Monday.
"It's normally popular when you talk about tax cuts, but of course people don't always think about the trade-off," Béland said in an interview.
Béland said Quebec uses its tax revenues to fund services and programs that other provinces do not, adding that Quebec has also been effective in fighting poverty and in instituting progressive family policies and affordable child care — waiting lists aside.
Quebecers, however, are clearly dissatisfied with the management of their health-care and long-term care systems, according to polls.
As well, the provinces, including Quebec, are asking for increased health-care spending from the federal government while looking to cut taxes, which is an odd position to take, Béland noted.
"Yes, parties are saying they will act to fix these problems, but people will have to understand that tax cuts might mean less money for other things like health care, long-term care, so forth," Béland said.
Also Monday, the Parti Québécois announced in Montreal a series of commitments to protect the French language — measures that leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said can “really slow down and reverse” the decline of French in the province. St-Pierre Plamondon said his party would introduce a new Bill 101 — referring to Quebec's French-language charter — within the first 100 days of a PQ election win.
Québec solidaire was in Montreal, where spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said Quebecers don't need tax cuts. Instead, he said, Quebecers are looking for a stronger health-care system. He said his party, if elected, would improve the province's health-care hotline.
People who call 811 would be properly directed to the right health resource — an emergency room, a clinic or a pharmacist. Nurses on the 811 line would also be able to make appointments for patients, he said.
For his part, Duhaime was in the Quebec City area, where he discussed his proposal for a "third link" crossing the St. Lawrence River. He also called for Cybersecurity Minister Éric Caire to resign, because Caire had pledged in 2018 to leave provincial politics if the government failed to start construction on a third link — a new bridge or tunnel — during its first mandate. The CAQ did not, as promised, start building the link.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2022.
— With files from Caroline Plante and Patrice Bergeron in Quebec City, and from Lia Lévesque, Stéphane Rolland and Frédéric Lacroix-Couture in Montreal.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press