Le Devoir’s further adventures in making stuff up

The Ontario budget gave the paper a chance to start getting its coverage right. No luck.

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Perhaps you are wondering how Le Devoir continues to cover the budget of Quebec’s government, led by Philippe Couillard, after I demonstrated the wee newspaper’s spotty memory; I showed that Lucien Bouchard led a government that cut health and education spending much more drastically than Couillard plans to do; and after Couillard started quoting my arguments to the National Assembly press gallery.

The answer is, not well.

Thursday’s Ontario budget provides a handy test. Ontario is, as a matter of public notoriety, situated one province to the west of Quebec. It is the only province with a larger population than Quebec’s; its premier, the notorious (or at least reputed) squishy leftist Kathleen Wynne, has struck up a noteworthy working relationship with Couillard; and it struggles with high deficits, just as Quebec does.

Let’s take a peek into this morning’s Le Devoir. There’s a translated Canadian Press story about the Ontario budget that (and here I’m translating from French back to English) says, “The return to balanced budgets in Ontario won’t be done with an axe [but] with the light touch of a scalpel.” Key programs, including health and education, will see small budget increases, the story says. It’s all so lovely.

Over on the op-ed page, we have a column by Lise Payette, a regular contributor and former PQ cabinet minister, who characterizes the budget handed down last month by Couillard’s finance minister, Carlos Leitao, as follows:

“They have therefore prepared a budget with a chainsaw. I cut off your arm, but I leave you the stump so you can give us more years of work. I cut off your ear, but you are lucky enough to have two, so what’s your problem? I cut off access to the air you claim to need, but you’re so resourceful, I’m sure you’ll come up with something.”

Again, we are interrupted by the facts, or at least you and I are; none intrude into Le Devoir‘s coverage. The CP story on the Ontario budget is, of course, correct: Wynne addresses her budget deficit over several years by constraining growth in spending, more than through real cuts. But the same is true of Couillard and, a month later, nobody at Le Devoir can bring themselves to admit as much.

Once again, the dreary facts. Table A.10 of the Quebec budget shows health spending growing at these rates: 4.2 per cent in 2014-15, 1.4 per cent in 2015-16, 1.9 per cent in 2016-17 and 2.9 per cent in 2017-18. Table 2.19 of the Ontario budget shows health spending growing at 2.7 per cent in 2014-15, 1.2 per cent in 2015-16, 1.8 per cent in 2016-17 and 1.9 per cent in 2017-18.

Spending on health in Ontario grows more slowly than in Quebec in every one of those four years.

Comparing education is difficult because Ontario separates the file into kindergarten-to-Grade-12, and post-secondary. K-12 spending will grow more quickly in Ontario than in Quebec, for two years, then slow to zero growth by 2017-2018. Spending on colleges and universities will not grow in Ontario at all over the four-year planning horizon. It will increase, by small amounts, in every year in Quebec.

Over the next three years, total spending on all programs will grow in Quebec by 2.07 per cent. In Ontario, it will grow by 0.3 per cent. That’s a seven-fold difference, in Quebec’s favour, if you’re the kind of person who likes to see governments spend money.

Le Devoir has spent a month using metaphors of starvation, suffocation and dismemberment with power tools to describe a budget that is far less drastic than the budgets of a recent predecessor of Couillard’s, Lucien Bouchard, and far less drastic than the budget that was just introduced by the government of Quebec’s closest and most comparable neighbour. The paper’s budget coverage has been a pathetic and non-stop campaign of lies.