QUEBEC - The Parti Quebecois minority government, which has been forced to retreat on several key policies since it took office last fall, continued down that rocky path Wednesday as it reversed itself on a decision to cut $63 million in funding for environmental protection and health research.
The measure had been introduced last November in the provincial budget, a document that also had the government having to cancel plans to retroactively raise taxes on high-income Quebecers after an outcry.
Wednesday's reversal came a day after the government mistakenly approved a symbolic legislature motion slamming itself over cuts to university funding.
Premier Pauline Marois told the legislature that the $63 million in cuts were "perhaps too much."
"We are aware that the effort required is big, perhaps too big . . . and from that, we have worked to dislodge some funds," she said.
Marois has said the previous Liberal government had left her Parti Quebecois administration holding the bag for an undisclosed deficit of more than $1.5 billion. Chopping research was one of the ways the PQ said it had out of the financial mess.
However, the government managed to scrape up $26.5 million to distribute to three research projects, $8 million of it going to health research.
The plan to cut research funds had generated a storm of protest, including from a cancer sufferer at a news conference.
Researchers argued labs would be forced to close and projects would need to be shelved.
"The government has listened to us, it was sensitive to our demands and our demands were not big," said Serge Rivest, director of the Quebec university hospital centre.
"We asked simply that our budgets be renewed to allow us to continue our research without major cuts."
Of the $26.5 million, $15 million comes from consolidated funds, $6.5 million comes from the ministry for sustainable development and the rest from funds for higher education.
Interim Liberal Leader Jean-Marc Fournier said the government should just cancel the research cuts altogether.
"There are $63 million in improvised cuts," he said.
"You already admitted you've made a mistake. Can you at least admit it completely? You cut $63 million."
One person who did fess up to an error on Wednesday was PQ deputy house leader Martin Traversy, who a day before had mistakenly put his entire party behind a joint Liberal-Coalition party motion criticizing cuts to university funding.
Traversy, who was distracted when he made the call on Tuesday, chalked his blunder up to inexperience.
"We'll get more experience," the 29-year-old said.
"Listen, youth, it's something that leaves room for learning. So we'll continue working and we'll turn the page and we'll move forward."
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