PQ to table 2013-14 budget early, on Nov. 20

QUEBEC – The newly elected Parti Quebecois government will seek to protect itself against the threat of an opposition takedown by tabling its first budget far earlier than usual.

It announced Monday that the full 2013-14 annual budget will not be tabled in the spring, as is the standard practice, and will be presented in just two weeks.

That earlier-than-expected Nov. 20 budget could keep the minority government afloat longer.

It will be tabled while the Opposition Liberals are still embroiled in a leadership race, and while the new Coalition party is building its young organization.

That means that even if the other parties oppose the PQ fiscal policies — as they have so far — they might be hesitant to topple the government and risk an election.

The PQ has faced criticism from other parties for its tax policies.

It was quickly rebuked for planning to eliminate a $200 health tax, an election promise it made, and replace that lost revenue with income-tax hikes. The government will also have to grapple with the loss of revenues following its cancellation of the Charest Liberals’ university tuition hikes.

But the PQ is casting its unusual budget date as a matter of fiscal responsibility, and not in political terms.

As is common when a new government takes office, it has declared that its own accounting shows that the fiscal picture is gloomier than the previous government claimed. It says it has identified a $1.6 billion hole in public finances. So it calls a new budget an urgent priority.

“Waiting until spring 2013 would only slow down the identification and introduction of measures necessary to return Quebec to a balanced budget next year,” Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau said in a statement.

“Despite the difficult situation we face I’m reaffirming the government’s promise to return to a balanced budget next year. Delaying that timetable could have major consequences for the finances and the economy of Quebec.”

This is the first time the Quebec government has tabled a fall budget since 2001, when the global economy was plunged into sudden turmoil after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.