Quebec weighs asset sales in long-term program review

MONTREAL (Reuters) - The Canadian province of Quebec is weighing privatization of government-owned corporations as part of a long-term review of all programs that it is undertaking, Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said Monday.

While the heavily indebted province has no plans now to sell, or partially privatize, any assets, Leitao said the government is looking at the idea as it works to deliver balanced budgets through 2020.

Among government-owned companies, known in Canada as Crown corporations, in Quebec is the massive power utility Hydro-Quebec ], which had earnings from continuing operations of C$3.4 billion ($2.8 billion) in 2014.

“At this point there are no concrete plans. But like everywhere else, we are also involved in a significant and deep review,” Leitao said in an interview. “This ongoing review of all government programs includes Crown corporations.”

The government of the neighboring province of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, revealed plans last month to sell up to 60 percent of the government-owned electric power transmission system Hydro One Inc and spend the billions raised on transit and other infrastructure.

Leitao said Quebec’s Liberal government does not need to sell assets to meet its target of balancing its budget in the 2015-16 fiscal year. He said this will be accomplished by “constraining spending”.

Quebec, the second-biggest provincial economy in Canada, has one of the highest public debt loads of any province.

Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson; and Peter Galloway