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An avalanche of demands on the government



Consulting the population to prepare a budget is entirely healthy. Who can complain about a government that feels the pulse of citizens before spending?

But, there is a but. By knowing the grievances of the various groups, does the government not run the risk of wanting to satisfy them through electoralism? Doesn’t he run the risk of trying to pay a few million to certain pressure groups to obtain the votes of their members?

The question is all the more relevant since 2022 is an election year in Quebec. Voters are invited to the polls on October 3.

Unlike his predecessors, the current Minister of Finance, Eric Girard, makes public the requests of the various groups, called “briefs”. This is to his credit, since such a practice is not common in other large provinces or in Ottawa.

The exercise tells us about the avalanche of requests made to the government. This year, 317 briefs were posted on the Ministry of Finance website, three times more than when the minister decided to make them public four years ago. Progress is constant.

And according to an interlocutor well versed in the process, the publication of the requests could have prompted certain organizations to lengthen their list, for fear that their members would consider it too limited.

The applicants are heterogeneous. We find side by side the tobacco company Rothmans Benson & Hedges and the Quebec Lung Association. Or the Federation of Forest Producers and Nature Conservancy Quebec. Just like the Barreau du Québec and the Center justice et foi…

About 30 associations are among the plaintiffs, including the Trucking Association, the Book Publishers Association, the Brewers Association, the Insurance Companies Association, the Furniture Manufacturers Association, the Quebec Restoration Association, the Generic Drug Association, the Construction Association, the Technology Association, the Prosecutors Association and even the Railway Association1.

Women’s organizations are probably the most numerous. I count 27 “memoirs” in total, coming in particular from various women’s centers, such as those in Laval, Longueuil, Verdun, Forestville, the Matapédia valley, La Mitis… There is also Entre-Femmes de Rouyn -Noranda and Africa in the feminine.

Looking more closely, we realize that their requests are not directly related to the fate of women. Their demands, in consultation with other non-gendered groups, are exactly the same, namely the taxation of the wealth of the richest 1%, which would allow, according to them, to redistribute 4 billion dollars. Their letters are a summary of the brief of the Coalition Main rouge, a left-wing group supported in particular by the CSN.

The many trade union briefs, on the other hand, insist that the government strengthen social programs and avoid austerity. The Conseil du patronat du Québec, for its part, is asking for an increase in wealth and productivity, which is presented as a solution to counter the labor shortage.

On the list, there are also large companies, such as the cable company Cogeco, the pharmaceutical company Merck Canada, the mining company Agnico Eagle, Promutuel Insurance and the Festival international de jazz de Montréal (owned by Groupe CH), among others.

Among the applicants are also eight cities, including the largest (Montreal, Quebec, Laval, Longueuil, Gatineau, Lévis). There are also, of course, universities, CEGEPs and environmental groups.

In short, there’s something for everyone.

Which brings me back to my original question: isn’t the process likely to encourage clientelism, the sprinkling of funds to crystallize votes?

In economics, this sprinkling can be explained by what is called the political market. In principle, politicians are well-intentioned, but in practice they might have an interest in making electorally profitable decisions, the benefits of which are concentrated (on certain groups), but the costs diffuse (coming to the whole population).

An example ? The 10,000 members of a group will be happy with a grant of 20 million, which would each bring them the equivalent of $2,000. What a good political party!

On the other hand, the 6.8 million taxpayers will not complain, since the measure will only cost them $3 per person, on average. Concentrated benefits, diffuse costs. By multiplying these kinds of decisions, a party can consolidate its vote, with little political consequences.

That said, the decision makers of course have sincere motives. And many organizations have briefs that target much more than just their members.

This year, among the 317 briefs, there are two major groups strongly affected by the pandemic who raise their hands, namely the community and cultural sectors.

The cultural community is asking in particular for a relaxation of tax rules to encourage patrons to make donations. As for the community organizations, they deplore their great lack of funding and its effects on the recruitment of personnel, in this period of severe labor shortage.

The action of certain community organizations is critical and often remedies the failings of the State. Isn’t it essential to take this into account in the distribution of funds?

1. Association names have been abbreviated. To find out the exact names, consult the website of the Ministère des Finances.

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