Quebec program review recommends $2.3 billion in spending cuts
Published Sunday, November 23, 2014 2:34PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, November 23, 2014 7:11PM EST
An independent committee of experts appointed by the Couillard government has released its eagerly-awaited first set of proposals on how to slash government spending to balance Quebec’s books.
Lucienne Robillard, a former Liberal cabinet minister, says Quebec already pays $11 billion in interest every year and can't afford to go any further into debt.
As part of a preliminary report released Sunday, Robillard says Quebec should cut funding for municipalities by $1.3 billion, give $300 million less in aid for agriculture workers and increase public daycare fees to $35 a day, among other measures, to reach a balanced budget by 2015-2016.
Increased ambulance fees and tuition for international students are also among the recommendations.
In all, she suggests $2.3 billion in cuts, with her final report due in June 2015.
“I think the government will have to make a choice here. If (Premier Philippe Couillard) doesn't (implement the recommendations), OK, where will he find the money?” Robillard said.
Couillard has estimated $3.2 billion in cuts will be required to eliminate the deficit by next year.
The province's polticians react
In Montreal, Couillard said he welcomes the report and thanked commissioners for their work. He said the takeaway from this exercise is that Quebec’s program offering is unique.
“We are very generous, we have a lot of programs that are way more generous than in other provinces. We should certainly think hard about how to keep them going forward,” he said.
Without sharing his specific thoughts on the recommendations, Couillard stressed that they are only proposals and that the government makes the final decisions.
He did say, however, that he knew about the committee's proposal on daycares but chose to ignore it.
When asked about the proposed $1.3 billion in cuts to the municipalities, he said they will be consulting the municipalities before making a decision.
“We do spend a lot in Quebec to support our municipalities but we want to keep it that way. We want to have a negotiated settlement with them,” he said.
The CAQ says the Liberals need to clean up their own house before cutting programs.
“We feel that the government has to evaluate its own operations, that there's lots of money to save in its own operations,” said Claude Surprenant, the CAQ’s Treasury Board Critic.
And the PQ believes the commission is merely serving Liberal interests.
“I think it was put in place to paint a portrait of very serious cuts so the government can justify their actions by saying ‘Look, what we want to do is not as bad,’” said Alain Therrien, the PQ’s treasury board critic.
Targeted parties unhappy with proposals
Westmount Mayor and President of the Association of Suburban Municipalities Peter Trent says this move amounts to a double whammy for municipalities – the government is taking away the money they use to pay for their employees’ remuneration, which he says is higher than in other public institutions.
“We continue to pay 38 per cent more than the rest of the public sector for our employees and on top of that they cut revenues? I don’t understand the logic,” he said.
Bill 3 is supposed to be the government’s attempt to help with the pension portion of employee remuneration, but as Trent points out, the bill may be diluted due to union pressure even if it does pass.
Trent says the government is continuing in the same vein as they did in the 90s -- trying to stick it to municipalities because they have no way to fight back.
“They’re taking advantage of their plenipotentiary power to make us pay things we shouldn’t be paying,” he said.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said in a tweet the city will review the recommendations before commenting.
Rapport Robillard. Nous allons prendre le temps d'analyser le rapport avant de réagir. Chose certaine Montréal fait déjà ses efforts— DenisCoderre (@DenisCoderre) November 23, 2014
The Union of Quebec Municipalities, the CSN union and the university student union as well as other groups have also come out in opposition of the proposals.
-- with files from The Canadian Press