Quebec review recommends $2.3 billion in cuts as province seeks balanced budget

QUEBEC – Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says he’ll consider the recommendations of a report laying out $2.3 billion in spending cuts, but it will be up to his government to make the final call.

Couillard says he’s satisfied with the work of the advisory committee, set up this summer by his Liberal government to help find savings as it works to balance the budget.

Couillard has estimated $3.2 billion in cuts will be required to eliminate the deficit by 2015-2016.

Lucienne Robillard, a longtime Liberal politician leading the review, says the province is living beyond its means and needs to find a way to deliver services at a lower cost.

In a preliminary report released Sunday, Robillard argued Quebec should scale back funding for municipalities and agriculture.

Further hikes to the cost of daycare, ambulance fees and tuition for international students are also among the recommendations.

Robillard said Quebec already pays $11 billion in interest every year and can’t afford to go any further into debt.

As it stands, paying that interest is “the third highest government expense,” Robillard said at a news conference in Quebec City.

If the government decides to implement her recommendations, much of the cuts will come from eliminating roughly $1.3 billion in transfers from the province to municipalities.

The report also suggested major reductions in agricultural funding, including the scrapping of a government program guaranteeing income levels, at a savings of $300 million.

The recommendations came under swift criticism from farming groups, labour unions, and the opposition Parti Quebecois, who argued the review was far from independent and failed to examine the consequences of the proposed cuts.

Couillard has already taken measures to trim back spending, including reforming the pension plans of municipal employees. That plan has led to rounds of protests from the workers affected, including firefighters and police officers.

Couillard also announced a hike in daycare fees last week, moving from the current $7.30 per day to a sliding-scale model based on parental income, topping out at $20.

The premier said he would take a closer look at all of the report’s proposals before making any decisions.

“The committee makes recommendations, but it is the elected government that decides,” Couillard told reporters in Montreal, adding that he would get into budget specifics at a later date.

Robillard’s final report is due in June 2015.