The Quebec government is preaching austerity and giving itself a raise

The anger of 550,000 public sector employees is palpable as Quebec slashes their funding in favour of government salaries.

Montreal teachers for change
Teachers protesting outside Westmount High, from

In union meetings across Quebec these days, members are showing up in record numbers and voting overwhelmingly to give their leaders a strike mandate as Quebec fumbles negotiations with 550,000 public sector employees.

One union found the government’s latest offers so insulting that they walked out of negotiations altogether. The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec, which represents 66,000 nurses, nursing assistants and respiratory therapists, left the table Tuesday and said they, too, would be looking at seeking a strike mandate and other pressure tactics.

Meanwhile, the Couillard government has pissed off another 65,000 workers, from police to blue-collar workers, by offering to give municipalities the right to impose contracts on their workers, a power that the government currently reserves for itself.

At the same time, the government is refusing to do anything to prevent departing MNAs from cashing in $150,000 bye-bye bonuses as they quit the jobs they were elected to in April 2014. The Liberal premier wants to make the abolition of the bonuses part of a pay-package reform for MNAs that will see their salaries go from $90,000 to $136,000 a year, ministers from $154,000 to $217,000 and his own from $186,000 to $272,000.

All this while offering public sector workers a pay freeze for two years followed by three one-per-cent annual wage hikes, a hike in retirement age by two years, and various increases in workload and work hours.

The contrast could hardly be larger, the message could hardly be clearer. While workers are expected to sacrifice their pay, their time and their pensions, while taxpayers are asked to pay higher user fees and accept reduced services in schools and hospitals, the prime advocates of austerity are proposing to increase their own paycheques by 40 to 50 per cent.


The anger is palpable. Teachers who have been writing to me say they’ve never seen their colleagues so incensed as the province moves to increase class sizes and work hours while their salaries will lose ground even in our low-inflation economy. (See their Facebook page here.) They are hoping that the strike mandate votes will convince the government to put some water in the wine, but there’s nothing to indicate Couillard or his treasury board henchman Martin Coiteux are listening.

For nurses’ union president Régine Laurent, the government’s first set of offers were so poorly thought out that many of the proposals were “incoherent and inapplicable,” she told Le Devoir. “In the initial offer, they wanted to cut off both arms and both legs. This time they told us: we’ll leave you a leg.”

Despite nurses walking from the table and teachers reacting with “anger and indignation,” however, Coiteux said he thought everything was going along swimmingly, allowing for “interesting” discussions about how to “further enhance the work of nurses (and) teachers.”

I don’t know what kind of medicine Coiteux is taking to maintain his rosy outlook — maybe he’s just looking forward to his big pay hike — but the Liberals are steering the ship of state straight into a massive storm of their own making.

Batten down the hatches, it’s going to be a very messy fall. ■
Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.