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Fiscal responsibility: Since 1944, Parizeau, Couillard, and Bouchard have shown the most discipline

  • The size of the Quebec government reached a historic high of 28% of GDP last year.
  • François Legault is ranked 12th out of 14 premiers in terms of fiscal responsibility.

Montreal, November 29, 2022 – Former Premier Jacques Parizeau takes the top prize in terms of fiscal responsibility, according to a ranking of Quebec premiers since 1944 published this morning by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI).

“Contrary to popular belief, neither Jean Charest nor Philippe Couillard was the most rigorous manager of public funds; rather, it was PQ leader Jacques Parizeau,” says Vincent Geloso, senior economist at the MEI and author of the study. “With provincial spending gobbling up one in every four dollars of economic activity in Quebec, the Legault government would do well to emulate him.”

The provincial government’s spending reached 28% of Quebec’s GDP last year. Even adjusting for inflation, spending per person has grown almost constantly since 1944.

According to the MEI’s ranking, the premier with the best fiscal record is Jacques Parizeau, who reduced the size of government as a share of Quebec’s GDP by an average of 3.4% per year during his mandate.

Two other premiers reduced the amount of space the Quebec government takes up in the economy: Lucien Bouchard (-1.5% per year) and Philippe Couillard (-1.2% per year).

All the other Quebec premiers increased the size of the government in the economy. The one who grew it the most was Jean Lesage (+11.6% per year).

François Legault comes in 12th out of 14, having grown the ratio of public spending to GDP by an average of 5.2% per year during his mandate, up to the historic high of 28% of the economy in 2022.

“The history of public spending in Quebec is a long stretch of government growth, interspersed with a few rare instances of rigour,” explains Vincent Geloso. “Contrary to the story of disengagement we hear about, the government has never been as big and as spendthrift as it is today.”

If the Legault government followed the example of budgetary rigour of the Bouchard government, it would be 2030 before the provincial budget returned to its pre-pandemic level as a share of Quebec’s economy.

By following the Couillard government’s example of budgetary rigour, spending would return to this level by 2026.

The MEI study is available here.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent public policy think tank. Through its publications, media appearances, and advisory services to policy-makers, the MEI stimulates public policy debate and reforms based on sound economics and entrepreneurship. 

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