QUEBEC - The Quebec Liberals could be left with the unhappy task of propping up their arch-rival, the Parti Quebecois minority government, in a vote on the upcoming budget.
That's because the other opposition party, Francois Legault's Coalition, sent a signal Tuesday suggesting that it's unlikely to support the budget to be tabled next week.
Legault said his 19 elected members will all be present to vote against the budget unless it satisfies four conditions: no tax hikes, no delaying the return to a balanced budget, scrap a $200-a-year-health tax as promised in the PQ election platform, and include an economic action plan.
Given the challenge of satisfying all those conditions — especially in a budget due to be tabled in just a few days — that leaves slim chances of the Coalition propping up the government.
That would leave one other option: the Liberals.
The official Opposition, which was turfed from power in September, is in the midst of a leadership race and therefore less likely to trigger an election.
The PQ even timed the release of its budget to coincide with that race. Provincial budgets are usually tabled in the spring, and this one is coming out months earlier than usual.
The Liberals took a decidedly less strident tone Tuesday.
Former finance minister Raymond Bachand said the party wants to see the deficit eliminated by 2013-14, as planned, and wants it to happen without tax hikes.
He also warned against slowing down planned infrastructure projects — which the PQ has hinted it might do. Bachand called that idea irresponsible, given Quebec's recent history of tragic overpass collapses.
But the Liberals haven't drawn a definitive line in the sand.
"If the whole of what's written in the budget is unacceptable, destabilizes the economy, increases taxes, and undermines our responsibility to the next generation when it comes to the debt, we will assume our responsibilities," Bachand said.
The Marois government has only a four-seat lead in the legislature and needs the support of the Liberals or the Coalition to pass legislation or, in this case, to survive a confidence vote.
Legault is leaving little hope that his party will be the one to save the PQ.
He says he's not encouraged by what he's seen from the government so far, and adds that Premier Pauline Marois is "living in a parallel universe" if she thinks Quebecers will easily accept tax hikes.