Quebec premier Pauline Marois.
Credits: STEVENS LEBLANC/JOURNAL DE QUEBEC/QMI AGENCY
MONTREAL — Gas-exploration firms are mulling a massive lawsuit after Quebec's new separatist government suggested there will be no shale-gas drilling on its watch.
Sources tell QMI Agency the firms will demand compensation for the $250 million they have already spent exploring Quebec's significant gas reserves, should the Parti Quebecois impose a moratorium.
The industry was thrown for a loop last Thursday when Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet — on her first full day on the job — shut the door on further exploration.
"I don't see the day when there will be technology that will allow safe exploitation," she told reporters before entering her first cabinet meeting.
It's one of several moves from the Parti Quebecois that critics say will hurt Quebec's already slumping economy.
Earlier this month, even before Pauline Marois took office as premier, the Conference Board of Canada said economic growth in Quebec is well below the national average.
The think-tank blamed high debt, taxes and fees coupled with weak investment, low productivity and stagnant labour growth.
That hasn't deterred the PQ, a staunchly leftist party, from preparing the following measures:
- Income-tax hikes for Quebecers who earn more than $130,000 a year.
- Increased corporate taxes, plus capital gains taxes that would skyrocket to 75% from the current 50%.
- No economic development minister, with Marois choosing instead to split the file between three ministers.
The Quebec Employers Council, the largest business group in the province, expressed "deep concern about the negative impacts" of the PQ tax hikes, and economist Brigitte Alepin warns Marois could chase away the richest taxpayers.
"I am extremely worried," Alepin said this week. "The PQ does not realize that taxpayers are already sick of paying taxes. History shows that renegotiating the fiscal pact leads to deep crises."
Ouellet denied her government will be hostile to the business community.
"I would tell them not to worry," the former Hydro-Quebec manager said. "We want to develop natural resources in Quebec in the public interest and for that, we will work in collaboration with businesses."