November 20, 2012 – Quebec’s public sector debt now stands at 251.5 billion dollars. Following the tabling of the provincial budget, the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) updated its real-time Quebec Debt Clock. From now to March 31, 2014, the Clock will advance by 16.7 billion dollars, the equivalent of 22.9 million dollars a day or $265 a second.
With or without the Generations Fund, the government must at least maintain its current level of effort in reimbursing Quebec’s imposing public debt. Earmarking the funds collected from water-power royalties and other exceptional revenues every year to pay down debt is an essential part of this budgetary discipline, says Youri Chassin, economist at the MEI.
Created in 2006, the Generations Fund is a 5-billion-dollar financial reserve managed by the Caisse de dépôt et placement with the aim of reimbursing a part of the province’s debt. The strategy, which is to invest specific revenues in the markets and hope for a return that is greater than the cost of borrowing, entails a financial risk. The 2008-2009 year, which resulted in a 22.4% loss, illustrates this, although overall the Fund has not lost money since its creation.
In Mr. Chassin’s eyes, though, it is the political risk that is the most likely obstacle to reimbursing the debt. “The millions of dollars of installments that are paid into the Generations Fund could always be used for other purposes. It can be tempting for a politician to make ends meet with this money, but this would be a serious error in the long term,” warns the economist.
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