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Quebec premier considering partial privatizing of liquor board and power utility

CLERMONT, Que. - Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard isn't ruling out the partial privatization of Hydro-Quebec and the province's liquor board as an answer to the province's budgetary woes.

Couillard told a news conference today he wants to examine all options, including the privatization suggestion made by two financial experts last week.

But the premier added that any move to privatize would not occur in the next fiscal year and that he will use more traditional measures in the upcoming provincial budget in June to improve public finances.

Economists Luc Godbout and Claude Montmarquette painted a grim portrait of Quebec's financial situation and suggested drastic measures are needed to salvage the province's economy.

The partial privatization of about 10 per cent of both Hydro-Quebec and the liquor board, known as the SAQ, were just some of the changes proposed by the pair.

The money would be used to pay down the province's staggering debt.

Couillard said he is committed to the previous government's objective of a $1.75-billion deficit this fiscal year

To do so, he'll have to find an additional $3.7 billion because of falling revenues and increased expenses.

The government is hoping to achieve a balanced budget in 2015-16.

Couillard has vowed to do so without raising taxes.

Complicating matters is the fact the deficit for the most recent fiscal year came in at $3.1 billion instead of the $2.5 billion the previous Parti Quebecois government mentioned prior to the election.

"This is the kind of question (privatization) that we'll submit to our committees, one on taxation and one on program revisions, and we will certainly, if we decide to go that route, to have public debate about it," Couillard said.

The Liberal government has also asked the province's auditor general to review the previous government's finances.

Couillard made his comments on Tuesday during an announcement in the Charlevoix riding that was home to his predecessor as premier, former PQ leader Pauline Marois, until she was defeated on election night.

The Canadian Press

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