NB fac­ing tough choices to pay down bur­geon­ing debt: Olscamp

Sackville Tribune - - NEWS - BY KATIE TOWER STAFF RE­PORTER

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- With New Brunswick’s debt set to top $10 bil­lion in 2012, noth­ing is off the ta­ble when it comes to find­ing ways to re­duce spend­ing.

Tantra­mar MLA Mike Olscamp said the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is heav­ily com­mit­ted to find­ing sav­ings wher­ever they can in or­der to ad­dress the fis­cal chal­lenges bur­den­ing New Brunswick.

Olscamp said ef­fi­cien­cies are be­ing sought through­out the sys­tem, from the top down, and noth­ing is sa­cred when it comes to the nec­es­sary cuts.

“There’s a cul­ture that needs to be changed,” Olscamp said dur­ing a re­cent town­hall style meet­ing he hosted at the civic cen­tre in Sackville.

From top-level bu­reau­crats to civil ser­vants to the ev­ery­day tax­payer, the cul­ture he speaks of is one that per­vades right through the sys­tem, he said, and changes will need to be made at ev­ery level to find economies sig­nif­i­cant enough to make a dif­fer­ence.

With not enough rev­enues com­ing in to pay the ris­ing deficit rate in New Brunswick, Olscamp said there’s go­ing to have to be some tough choices made in the next lit­tle while.

“We’re a prov­ince that is not bring­ing in any in­come,” he said. “And we sim­ply can’t af­ford to drive a Cadil­lac on a Volk­swa­gen bud­get.”

Al­ready tough de­ci­sions are be­ing made, said Olscamp, who noted that gov­ern­ment de­part­ments have been asked to find 10 per cent sav­ings within their bud­gets.

“So we’re start­ing to feel the pinch of that . .

But lo­cal res­i­dent Bill Evans isn’t con­vinced that the gov­ern­ment is headed in the right di­rec­tion when it comes to right­ing the econ­omy.

Evans said in­stead of ser­vice cuts or higher user fees, the premier should be look­ing at re­vers­ing the per­sonal in­come tax cuts, which were ini­ti­ated by the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral gov­ern­ment.

“The only pro­gres­sive in­come tax,” he said.

Evans said the gov­ern­ment’s “ir­re­spon­si­ble” tax breaks have led to cuts that have “dis­pro­por­tion­ately hit poor peo­ple” the hard­est.

“Why not put taxes back the way they were?”

But Olscamp ar­gued that, although rais­ing

tax

we

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is in­come tax is not off the ta­ble, the gov­ern­ment wants to look at other op­tions first.

“At the end of the day, a (elec­tion) prom­ise was made not to raise taxes right away,” he said. “The premier is ded­i­cated to find­ing ef­fi­cien­cies within the sys­tem first. We see an op­por­tu­nity here to change the cul­ture within gov­ern­ment.”

The MLA said it won’t be some­thing that hap­pens overnight ei­ther.

“Do we have to change the way we do busi­ness? Yes. How fast can we do it? Well, we prob­a­bly can’t cut the cord to­mor­row, but we can start tweak­ing it.”

But sev­eral other res­i­dents on hand for last week’s meet­ing at the civic cen­tre said the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is not look­ing at the big­ger picture when it comes to the fu­ture well-be­ing of New Brunswick­ers.

Heather Pat­ter­son, for in­stance, pointed out that a re­cent clo­sure of a health-care clinic in New Brunswick, one that en­cour­ages preven­tion mea­sures and of­fers pro­grams aimed at obe­sity and heart dis­ease, is a short-sighted decision made by the gov­ern­ment. She said well­ness and preven­tion should be one of the top pri­or­i­ties amongst the health-care depart­ment. Res­i­dents also crit­i­cized the lack of sup­port to trail or­ga­ni­za­tions in the prov­ince, say­ing prece­dence is be­ing given to mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cles in­stead of walk­ers.

And they also sug­gested there needs to be greater pro­mo­tion of groups like Tantra­mar’s Com­mu­nity-sup­ported Agri­cul­ture (CSA) or­ga­ni­za­tion, which of­fers fresh lo­cal pro­duce on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to area res­i­dents.

“How do we get gov­ern­ments to start think­ing long-term?” asked Penny Mott

Dur­ing the meet­ing, Olscamp also pro­vided in­for­ma­tion to res­i­dents on the new prop­erty tax de­fer­ral pro­gram for se­niors as well as the changes to the se­niors’ co-pay pre­scrip­tion pro­gram.

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