Inflation checks blasted by business group, social activists

The checks will do little to help those with lower means in the long term and could worsen inflation in the short term, the groups say.

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Groups representing businesses and the most vulnerable agreed on one thing Wednesday: $500 checks promised by the province to ease the strain of inflation will only provide temporary relief to those most in need.

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In tabling its budget Tuesday, the CAQ government has pledged to make a one-time $500 check per adult with a net income of $100,000 or less. That amounts to $3.2 billion in payouts to roughly 6.4 million Quebecers.

Saray Ortiz Torres, a community organizer with the housing and anti-poverty advocacy group Project Genesis, said the $500 checks will be a big help for those with lower means because it will help defray rising rents and food costs. However, it is a one-time payout that does nothing to help the systemic problems that cause poverty and the lack of affordable housing.

“There needs to be a real and robust investment in social housing,” Ortiz Torres said. “There were zero new social housing units announced in this budget. Another thing that can actually make the difference is raising the welfare rate, so that lower-income people can live in dignity. We need long-term solutions.”

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A group representing seniors agreed that the budget will do little to improve those who live on fixed incomes.

Pierre Lynch, the president of the Quebec Association for the Defense of the Rights of Retired and Pre-Retired Persons, said he was disappointed with the budget, saying it was a missed opportunity to improve the situation for the elderly, who represent 20 per cent of the general population.

“The impoverishment of the elderly is continuing,” Lynch said, adding that his group made nine recommendations to the government on how to help the elderly on fixed incomes. “The government hasn’t listened to any of our demands.”

Lynch explained that with inflation rising, the one-time payment will only be a temporary relief for those living on government support and on pensions.

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“This isn’t a long-term solution, it’s a solution that seems to reflect an electoral solution, to please everyone,” he said.

Michel Leblanc, the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, said there was good news for businesses in the budget. For one, he was pleased that the province is setting aside more money to better integrate immigrants, which could mean helping them find jobs at a time when there is a labor shortage. He’s also pleased that the province is supporting private investment to increase productivity.

Leblanc said, however, the $500 handouts could in fact worsen the inflation situation.

“It means $3 billion more in the pockets of citizens, so during an inflation period, you’re fueling the fire,” he said. “Maybe the idea should have been to help those who are lower-income individuals so we could help increase supply as opposed to supporting demand.”

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“If you provide $500 to 6.4 million adult Quebecers, what you are in fact doing is just increasing the pace of the economy,” he said. “It’s just creating an ability to spend, so as you see the checks coming, that money is not likely to be stay in bank accounts. The only thing you are doing is increasing the inflation of the prices of goods and services.”

In Quebec City, Premier François Legault defended the $500 payment, which was criticized by the opposition parties who said the government is giving money to many people who don’t need it. The opposition said under the conditions set out even MNAs in the legislature could have access to the funds.

“The opposition would have preferred we give the checks only to the most poor,” Legault said. “Too often we forget the middle class. It’s not true that people earning more than $40,000 or $50,000 a year are not affected by inflation.”

“Whether it is a nurse earning $85,000, a teacher or an MNA, I think these people are affected.”

Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said his MNAs will all donate their $500 checks to charities or non-profit organizations in need and invited the CAQ MNAs who are eligible for the money to do the same.

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Philip Authier of the Montreal Gazette and Canadian Press contributed to this report.

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