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Quebec program review to cost $3.8 million

MONTREAL - A commission set up by Quebec's Liberal government to review government programs and cut back on spending will cost taxpayers at least $3.8 million in its first year of operation.

That's according to a "conservative" estimate outlined in documents obtained by The Canadian Press under Access-to-Information legislation.

Salaries account for much of the projected cost.

Annual pay for the commission's president, ex-Liberal cabinet minister Lucienne Robillard, as well as four expert consultants is estimated to total $1.03 million.

Robillard's annual salary is set at $265,000, which breaks down as $1,100 per day for eight hours work over 240 days. The salary for each of the four experts is set at $192,500, or $800 per day.

Martin Coiteux, the province's treasury board president, said the aim of the review is to find out which government programs are most effective, which can be improved and which should be eliminated.

The ultimate goal of the commission, announced on June 11, is to cut $3.2 billion in government expenses by next year to help balance the province's books.

Coiteux defended the Liberal government on Sunday, saying the program review will be the first of its kind for Quebec.

"Over the years, the number of government programs has multiplied, without actually doing the review that will be implemented with the commission," he said.

The opposition Parti Quebecois and Francois Legault's Coalition party argue the commission is unnecessary and is tasked with a job Premier Philippe Couillard's government should be doing itself.

Elaine Zakaib, the PQ's treasury board critic, said it suggests a "lack of vision" under the current government and an attempt to skirt responsibility.

"Programs are something that should be continuously evaluated when you're in government," Zakaib said in an interview.

Guillaume Simard-Leduc, a spokesman for the Coalition party, said the commission's cost indicates the Liberals "weren't ready to govern" when they won a majority last April.

Other anticipated costs under the commission include an operational budget estimated at $1.2 million, primarily for the rent of an office space and equipment, as well as various contracts which weren't detailed in the documents.

Another $640,000 is set aside for eight employees of the commission's secretariat, who will each receive $80,000 annually. A similar amount is pegged for eight more staff assigned to work on the review.

Robillard is also eligible to have $300 in expenses covered per month, in accordance with a notice posted in the July edition of the Quebec Gazette.

In addition, $250,000 is budgeted for "websites," which will include a comment section for Quebecers to offer feedback on the commission.

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