Carlos Leitão buys Lowa shoes

2014-06-10

Montreal Gazette, June 3, 2014

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitão pulls out a pair of walking shoes he bought for the occasion on Tuesday, June 3, 2014, but will not wear them for his budget speech on Wednesday.
Photograph by: Jacques Boissinot , THE CANADIAN PRESS

QUEBEC — Quebec’s auditor general, in a report Tuesday, said the provincial government must trim $3.9 billion from its spending to meet the goal of a $1.75-billion budgetary deficit this year.

Finance Minister Carlos Leitão, who presents the provincial budget on Wednesday, said he takes the report seriously as he showed reporters his new shoes, respecting the pre-budget tradition of Quebec finance ministers, who buy new shoes when they deliver a budget.

His “transition” budget will focus of economic recovery and cleaning up of Quebec’s public finances.

“Transition to what?,” the minister said. “Transition to a situation where we again master out public spending, to be free in our choices.”

The minister said he did not buy dress shoes, like other Quebec finance ministers, but walking shoes — to show he means business.

“It reflects the recovery of the economy. It is evocative of the Plan Nord, the maritime strategy,” Leitão told reporters summoned to his office in Quebec City’s converted old courthouse.

“But at the same time, I am keeping my old shoes I bought about a year ago. There is no reason I won’t use them. They have served me well, especially on the election campaign. They are very comfortable.

Leitão’s size 10 1/2, Iowa Hudson walking shoes, imported from Germany, cost $279, he told reporters. And he paid for them from his own pocket.

Leitão said he believes reports that Quebec’s auditor general projects the province is heading for a higher deficit this year.

In his report, presented in the National Assembly, interim auditor general Michel Samson said that while former Parti Québécois finance minister Nicolas Marceau projected a two-per-cent cap on new spending in his February budget, in fact, if the demands of all government departments were met, spending would have increased by 6.7 per cent, which would add $3.9 billion to the deficit.

Before the auditor general’s report was released, reacting to rumours of $5-billion deficit, Marceau told reporters the auditor general was referring to a “potential deficit,” and that the finance minister and treasury board make choices to rein in spending.

Marceau said the additional amount Samson identified represents the “wish lists” of the government departments.

“So it is a deficit in a world where the government does not manage, does not decide, does not make choices, does not set priorities,” the former PQ minister said. “It’s a deficit where the government plays Santa Claus.”

Marceau said new spending by a PQ government would have come from cuts in existing programs.

Marceau’s budget was not adopted because former PQ premier Pauline Marois called an election her party lost, making it necessary for the Liberals to present a new budget.

Samson reviewed Marceau’s November financial update after the combined Liberal and Coalition Avenir Québec opposition parties outvoted the minority PQ government to adopt a motion calling for the review, which was presented on Feb. 19, one day before the Marceau budget.

The review of Marceau’s February budget was ordered by the new Liberal government, through a cabinet decree, on April 24.

In November, the auditor general identified a $4-billion “additional effort” this year, to be trimmed to attain the $1.75-billion deficit Marceau projected for 2014-2015.

The $3.9 billion shortfall identified in his report Tuesday represents a slight increase in revenues and a slight decrease in spending for a $143 million net gain.

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