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Quebec budget-slashing review recommends cuts to municipalities, farmers

QUEBEC - Quebec municipalities and farmers are among those targeted by an advisory group set up to review government programs and cut spending.

According to information obtained by The Canadian Press, the commission will recommend slashing funding for municipalities and agriculture as the province aims to balance the budget by 2015-2016.

A preliminary report from the group, headed by former Quebec Liberal minister Lucienne Robillard, is set to be released Sunday with $2.3 billion in suggested cuts.

Premier Philippe Couillard's Liberal government has estimated $3.2 billion in reductions will be required to eliminate the deficit by next year.

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

The commission's final report is due in June 2015.

Quebec recently announced $300 million in cuts to municipalities, but the commission argues there is a need for further cuts and says the current funding model isn't sustainable. Municipalities received more than $3.5 billion in the form of transfer payments in 2014-2015.

The commission will propose changes aimed at keeping down municipal spending and containing the wage increases of municipal employees. It will also propose tax increases on certain services to make up for the shortfall.

The commission will also recommend major cuts to agricultural funding, including the elimination of a government program guaranteeing income levels, at a savings of $300 million.

It noted the financial assistance provided to Quebec farmers is higher than elsewhere in Canada and in other developed countries, and will suggest a review of these programs. Financial support for Quebec's agricultural sector is estimated at $1 billion annually in public funds.

It remains to be seen whether Couillard will choose to follow the recommendations.

Couillard has already chosen to go his own way when it comes to changes to the daycare system.

The commission had recommended to raise fees from $7.25 to $35 per day, with tax deductions available at the provincial and federal level to offset the hike.

But Couillard opted for a different formula, considered to be more politically acceptable, with a sliding-scale model based on parental income, topping out at $20 per day.

In addition, the commission will recommend the government reassess its promise to create 30,000 new day care spots and, in the health-care sector, consider an increase in ambulance fees. It will also suggest keeping closer tabs on ministerial budgets.

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