Austerity cuts draw more fire
Quebec Solidaire candidate dissects Liberal “slash & burn”
Charmain Levy, Quebec Solidaire’s candidate in Pontiac-Aylmer for last two provincial elections, spoke to the Bulletin d’Aylmer about the cuts and re-structuring announced by Premier Couillard last fall. The Bulletin interview is presented in two parts.
BA: Ms Levy, Pontiac-Aylmer voted heavily for the Liberals in the last election, but there was no hint that the Couillard Liberals would launch into a Steven Harper-type austerity campaign. Were we misled? Was Mr Fortin, our new MNA, misled? Or were we voters just not paying attention?
CL: We didn’t vote for Mr Couillard -- we voted against the PQ and against sovereignty. Mr Couillard can’t claim that as support, especially for an austerity program he never mentioned.
We always vote Liberal here, and that means we have no leverage whatsoever. The Liberals have no reason to invest in the Pontiac, because they know they’ll win, no matter what. The PQ won’t invest here for the same reason; they are sure we’re going to vote Liberal.
BA: Pontiac’s voting strategy has been lose-lose?
CL: We have to pay more attention, even today. This austerity budget, this pay-down of the public debt is not the real target; austerity is a pretext to restructure government -- to restructure government services. This is where we lose. Charest wanted to restructure services, too, but Couillard is doing it much faster and earlier in his term.
BA: Restructure government?
CL: Restructure government services, mainly health and education. They want to separate health from social services; there’s a conservative agenda at work to limit social services. These are ideological goals, not practical ones. They want to close the Carrefour Jeunesse services which help unemployed youth, for example; yet this program costs very little and closing it down will add almost nothing to the goal of reducing spending – but it fits an ideological drive which says lower class and even middle class people are getting too much, more than they deserve. Quebec’s day-care plan is another example—no increases planned to meet population growth.
BA: Doesn’t the Liberal government say everyone has to pay their share now?
CL: They say this, but is it true? The wealthiest people aren’t paying their share. There’s no mention of raising taxes on the richest people—they pay about the same rate as middle income earners. The Liberals are privatising peripheral services, increasing fees, bringing in user-pay policies – but none of this hurts the approximately 18,000 people in Quebec who earn more than $500,000 a year, the wealthy 1%.
Look at education; public school boards will have their budgets cut, their administrations merged, all sorts of constrictions – but the religious schools, which are private schools, are not being cut at all. Quebec pays about 50% of the budgets of private religious schools—much more than Ontario—and this isn’t even discussed. That’s an actually benefit for the wealthy, who can afford private schooling. Quebec Solidaire would slowly phase out public funding for all private schools. Public funds should go for public benefits.
BA: Have the Couillard Liberals really said they are privatizing government services?
CL: User-pay is a form of privatization, isn’t it? Social programs which help everyone, and help the whole community stay cohesive, these should be universal programs, but they are being cut up and reduced. That’s privatization.
BA: Health care privatization?
CL: It’s already here. There are many private health services now, services you have to pay for – or not get.
BA: What about the repatriation of clients from Ontario’s health system?
CL: That was a PQ plan and even they’ve dropped it. The Liberals consider that getting health services in Ontario is normal and we shouldn’t duplicate services we can get over there. But Quebec Solidaire points out we have to pay Ontario; those services aren’t free. We’re not saving in the long-run. The question we ask is, are the Liberals improving health services? No. They have been unable to serve the population, which is growing here in the Outaouais. There’s no shortage of family doctors across the province; it’s a function of government planning, where those MDs are going. We could produce doctors here at UQO, that was a big plan. Not now.
Services on the fringe get privatized first. People don’t notice. And I’m convinced we haven’t seen all of Minister Barrette’s austerity plan yet.
See Part Two of this interview in our next edition. Ms Levy will outline her party’s three-point alternative, plus discuss the
growing distance between the rich 1% and the other 99% of the population, pressure to privatise Hydro Quebec, rising day care costs; she argues citizens must protest these cuts and protect the services we have.