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The Quebec government is preparing residents for what it calls a "cultural revolution" in a province that prides itself on low-cost access to public services.

The province is talking about fee hikes.

Finance Minister Raymond Bachand told a business audience Monday that he wants Quebecers to reflect on the services they use, and what those services should actually cost.

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He used the example of motorcyclists - who already pay more for their licences because their injuries cost the public purse more, per capita, in health costs than those of drivers.

He also applauded hunters who, he said, had demanded better services from government and expressed a willingness to pay more for their licences in order to get those services.

Mr. Bachand suggests that kind of logic should apply in more areas.

"If we can reflect on each service . . . (and say), 'What is it fair for me to pay, what is it fair for society as a whole to pay?' then we will start, I think, to see a cultural revolution and will ultimately arrive together at a good solution," Mr. Bachand said.

His warning comes two years after a government task force concluded that Quebec's generous public services were hurting the province's economy, because they resulted in painfully high taxes.

The most famous of those services is Quebec's $7-a-day daycare plan. Residents also enjoy cheap electricity and heating bills.

The flip side, however, is that Quebec workers are among the most heavily taxed people in North America.

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Two years ago, a task force headed by economist Claude Montmarquette urged the government to boost user fees and move some of their fiscal burden away from personal and corporate taxes.

Those politically risky suggestions were, at the time, ignored by the Charest government.

But the province is now looking for ways to cut $3.9 billion from its budget over the next four years in order to balance its books.

The government has suggested it does not want to replicate the tactic used by the former PQ government in the 1990s to wipe out a then-$6 billion deficit: severe cuts to services, like health care.

"The idea is not to cut services, but to do things differently," Bachand said.

"In health care, there are a lot of productivity gaps."

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Aside from cutting costs, increasing tax revenues would be the only other way to balance the books.

Bachand suggested that, compared with Ontario, services to residents cost the Quebec government $17.5 billion more each year.

He said that's not only because Quebec offers more services, but because residents are charged lower fees for them.



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