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Quebec manages to pass its budget as current legislature session ends

QUEBEC - Controversy over a daring prison escape via helicopter added plenty of turbulence to the end of Quebec's current session of the legislature.

Premier Philippe Couillard was dogged by questions Friday about how his new public security minister handled the incident, which has been confused by conflicting information about security measures in place at the time of the breakout.

He acknowledged the issue complicated the last few days of the session.

"It's clear it added an element of controversy at the end of the session," Couillard said at a news conference Friday after the legislature wound up.

Public Security Minister Lise Theriault says she's not going to comment further on the escape, insisting she believes officials misled her and complicated her job.

Three men with links to organized crime escaped from a provincial detention centre near Quebec City on Saturday after a helicopter landed in the jail yard and whisked them away.

An international manhunt is underway for the trio, who police describe as dangerous.

Couillard says he has full confidence in Theriault.

He noted the government has asked for an internal investigation of the matter.

"When the facts are known and the investigator has done his work and submitted his report, we will see that the government, and Ms. Theriault in particular . . . has acted in good faith and the public interest," Couillard said.

The Opposition Parti Quebecois renewed their calls for Theriault's resignation to no avail.

The new premier says he is pleased with what his rookie government has managed to accomplish since being elected on April 7.

He said the escape controversy will not deter the government from its objectives of boosting investment and employment and bringing public finances under control.

The premier noted the government had adopted several key laws, including one on physician-assisted death for terminally ill patients who meet certain criteria.

The government also managed to pass its budget before the session ended.

Asked how he likes his new job, Couillard quipped, "I love it."

The PQ was less happy with the recent legislature session.

Interim PQ Leader Stephane Bedard says he fears for Quebecers.

He insisted the government's austerity measures suggest it will be seeking to balance its books on the backs of taxpayers.

"Quebecers need to be vigilant," he said. "It's rare that a fiscal revision exercise comes with a lowering (of taxes), especially in circumstances where the government is losing revenue."

— With files from Alexandre Robillard, Martin Ouellet and Jocelyne Richer

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