Sharing the province’s wealth
Special interest groups present wish lists to finance minister at pre-budget hearings in Carbonear
The province’s finance minister wishes he had more money to hand out to groups and businesses, but doesn’t. Therefore he has to be thrifty with what his government does have to share.
“ There’s only so much money to go around and as a government we have to make sure we spend it wisely and where it is most needed,” said Tom Marshall during a Feb. 8 prebudget consultation meeting at Fong’s Motel in Carbonear.” It’s true a lot of money has been coming into Newfoundland and Labrador, but a lot of money also goes out. It gets spent to improve services and programs in the province.”
Marshall provided an update on the province’s current economic situation, which includes a deficit of $443 million.
“However, that’s a huge improvement of $307 million as compared to a $750 million deficit forecast in Budget 2009,” he pointed out. “Nevertheless Newfoundland and Labrador has not been immune to the impacts of the global recession. Industries, such as mining, fishing and forestry, have all been affected. The gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to decline 8.5 per cent this year, due to lower mineral, newsprint and fish production, as well as natural declines in oil production. But based on what experts tell us retention in the economy should come back; however government must be prudent in where it chooses to spend.”
Marshall said government will continue to take a responsible and cautious approach to future investments and planning.
“ We had unprecedented surpluses in the past that helped us become more self-reliant. However, the current global economic uncertainty dictates that we moderate our expectations to ensure our spending of public money is sustainable into the future,” he said.
While some feel the pre-budget consultations are a mere formality or a gesture to appease the public, Marshall says nothing could be further from the truth.
“ These sessions give people an opportunity to say how they want government to spend their money,” he said. “ We get to hear all about the local issues many people and organizations are facing and what they would like to see for the future of this province.”
More substitute time
Representatives from eight groups and organizations showed up at the pre-budget consultation meeting in Carbonear to make their 2010 budget pitch for funding to the minister.
Lily Cole, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association (NLTA) was the first to present her concerns. Cole cited the need for additional funds for the substitute teacher budget and the number of leave days for the purpose of family leave separate from discretionary leave, as part of her presentation.
“ There’s a serious under funding of the substitute teacher budget for discretionary leave and it causes difficulties for teachers and school districts,” said Cole. The NLTA president also encouraged government to allocate more resources to support very small rural schools and provide additional teaching units for students with special needs, Grades 10-12, French Immersion, Kindergarten and specialist teachers.
“ Government is to be commended for the improved allocation of specialist teachers for Grades 7-9 and the application of the class size maximums at Grades 5 and 8, however there are still several areas of the new model which require additional resources,” said Cole. “ We urge government to provide additional teaching units to address those critical areas which still need attention.”
Cole also pointed out the need for government to provide the financial and human resources to ensure the recommendations made in a report by the ISSP/ Pathways Commission are implemented thoroughly and expeditiously.
“ The area of special needs and inclusion continues to be the most critical area where concerns are expressed by teachers over their ability to provide the necessary services with the current level of resources and supports,” said Cole.
Early childhood learning
Wayne Lucas, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Newfoundland and Labrador, commended government on a number of initiatives and encouraged them to stay the course, but feels more is needed.
“ We want you to continue to fight for fairness and equity in our dealings with the federal government and we want you to continue to ensure the resources of this province are used for our benefit,” Lucas told the minister.
While the CUPE president had numerous suggestions for polices relating to housing, literacy, postsecondary education, recreation, community supports and the environment, he focused his presentation on energy and power, early learning and childcare, pensions and green jobs and recycling.
Lucas listed out numerous improvements government has made in early learning and child- care, encouraging them to adopt a strategic plan that would be managed and mostly operated by local governments and education authorities.
“ This plan will provide the kind of advantage enjoyed by children in the world’s most progressive jurisdictions,” he said.
Quoting research on child poverty Lucas said, “One of the best ways to prevent poverty and ensure all children develop to their full potential is to invest in the early years. Conditions and experiences affecting children up to the age of six have a powerful impact on longterm development, health and economic status,” he said. “Children living in poverty often do not have the same access to developmental opportunities as do other children, particularly in the early years. This is often linked to low educational attainment, unemployment and poor physical and mental health as adults.”
Lucas outlined CUPEs vision for early learning and childcare and asked Marshall to consider redirecting the funding for the province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy into the creation of a public system, rather than into a patchwork of programs.
“If all the public money was consolidated and directed towards the creation of a public early learning and child care program, using the existing publicly owned resources of the province, for example schools, we could actually build a system our families could count on,” said Lucas. “ This public system, would also address pre-natal and post-natal care, parenting support programs, family resource and early intervention programs. We could begin to come close to the vision set by government in the March 2009 Throne Speech.”
Lucas also talked about the need to improve pension plans allowing seniors to retire with dignity.
He urged the provincial government to work with other provinces and the federal government to ensure the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan replacement rate moves from 25 per cent of the average industrial wage to 50 per cent.
“ The yearly maximum pensionable earnings should be increased from the current $46,300 and the Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) should be increased by 15 per cent to allow all seniors to live above the low income cut as established by Statistics Canada,” Lucas said.
The CUPE president concluded his presentation by encouraging the finance minister to coordinate a provincial recycling program with consistent standards throughout the province. ment. More funding for educational and employment resources is needed to help these women get back on their feet,” she said.
Walters also wants government to look at increasing services and supports to seniors and people with disabilities.
“I’d like to see more financial support given to home care providers, increased subsidies for medical expenses and for costs associated with seniors residential facilities and nursing homes,” said Walters.
“Increased financial support to organizations providing services to people with disabilities in this area is greatly needed as well. Government should also provide funding for a crisis response team to respond to individuals with complex needs.”
Mark Lane, executive director the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities (COD), urged government to remember those who already face a significant disadvantage when compiling the 2010-11 provincial budget.
“ Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with disabilities struggle when times are good to have their needs met. When times are bad, sadly, we are often the first to feel the effects of cutbacks in services and supports or loss of employment,” he said.
CODs wish list to government included ensuring all infrastructure investments are fully accessible, regulating and reminding industry about the importance of full inclusion of people with disabilities, establishing new initiatives to train people for new industries with a focus and allocation for people with disabilities within the Labour Market Agreement, and providing funding to install wheelchair accessible washrooms of a universal design in all the province’s acute car facilities.
“ Government must also address the need for more affordable and accessible housing, invest in the development of a disability awareness resource training program, alleviate the disproportionate poverty experienced by people with disabilities, and increase the labour market participation of person with disabilities in the civil service,” added Lane.
“ We recognise this government has a desire to promote inclusion in all aspects of society, but we can do better.”
GATHERING INFORMATION - Finance Minister Tom Marshall, left, and deputy minister Robert Constantine outline government’s fiscal situation prior to listening to suggestions on the 2010 budget in Carbonear Feb. 8. Denise Pike/The Compass
RECCOMENDATIONS - Wayne Lucas, left, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employee (CUPE) Newfoundland and Labrador and Mark Lane, executive director of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities give Finance Minister Tom Marshall a wish list for funding during a pre-budget consultation at Fong’s Motel in Carbonear.