Racking brains on a budget deficit
CBN, Placentia residents take part in pre-budget consultations
It’s anyone’s best guess as to how the provincial government will deal with a projected budget deficit of almost $2 billion for the next fiscal year. To help get some feedback from the public, the Office of Public Engagement is holding meetings across the province where attendees are asked to share there thoughts on ways to generate revenue and create efficiencies in government. Meetings took place last week in Carbonear and Placentia.
There was no shortage of thoughts and opinions when it came to assessing this province’s fiscal future at a pair of meetings in Carbonear and Placentia last week.
The provincial government’s consultation process, held in the face of an enormous deficit, looked for answers to a series of questions. Hosted by Trinity-Bay de Verde-Carbonear MHA Steve Crocker and Placentia-St. Mary’s MHA Sherry Gambin-Walsh, the meetings gave residents the opportunity to share ideas about what government should consider before it hands down the next provincial budget.
A projected deficit of close to $2 billion has left the new Liberal government scrambling for ways to cut costs and generate revenue. The world market for oil has plummeted over the last year and hurt Newfoundland and Labrador’s bottom line hard.
Both meetings followed similar paths. There were four questions posed to the meeting attendees, who broke off into groups and took notes that will be shared with government and the general public through the “Our FISCAL Future” website — http://gov.nl.ca/OurFiscalFuture.
Although time was allotted to address each question, conversations often deviated away from the topic at hand to instead focus on what services need to be protected and areas where government spending was deemed inefficient.
A few common themes shone through the dozens of ideas put forth by the close to 60 residents who showed up for the meetings.
There were suggestions to cut jobs at the management level in an effort to save money, as well as the idea of shared services amongst town.
While some in Carbonear thought full-day kindergarten should get the axe moving forward, a Placentia resident said teachers in the K-12 system are so essential to this province’s future and that if cuts come in education, they should be made outside the classroom.
A similar argument was made in relation to health care, though it was suggested there’s potential to create efficiencies when looking at how service is provided. Nurse practitioners with a varied skillset could be utilized to greater effect and reduce the need for the public to access physicians.
When it came to generating hard cash, participants offered up ideas like property taxes for local service districts and unincorporated communities, as well as the sale of crown lands and liquefying other assets such government-owned vacant buildings.
“Tough decisions have to be made now, not 15 months from now,” said one man in Placentia, His comment preceded a suggestion that the new Liberal government failed to make a tough decision when it came to the two-percentage point increase to HST. The Liberals promised during the election campaign last fall to reverse the previous government’s planned increase and did just that. Multiple people at Thursday’s meeting in Placentia agreed the Liberals made a mistake there.
That echoed similar sentiments in Carbonear the previous evening.
“I hope that the government listens to the people and implements some of the changes that people are asking for,” said Bryant’s Cove Mayor Kim Sheppard. “They’re going to have to dig their heels in and do something drastic. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
There was some talk in Placentia of how private-public partnerships could benefit the province down the road. One person suggested government should proceed with caution on that front and avoid compromising services. Again, it was a sentiment shared by discussion participants in Carbonear.
Another person in Placentia said it should at least be looked at if costs can be reduced without impacting services the public rely on.
On revenue, it was generally agreed Newfoundland and Labrador needs to become less reliant on oil. Technology was cited as an area of opportunity, and multiple people suggested more measures be put in place to encourage small businesses.
“I don’t think it’s ‘Are we willing to do it?’ I think we have no choice in doing it,” said Crocker. “We can’t go on accumulating debt at this rate and in five years time we’re going to be paying over a billion in interest alone. We can’t do it.
“We would never dig ourselves out of the hole … we have no option.”
Consultations in the Trinity-Conception-Placentia area continue Tuesday, Feb. 16 in Spaniard’s Bay at the Royal Canadian Legion Building, where local MHA Pam Parsons will host a meeting at 7 p.m.
Placentia-St. Mary’s MHA Sherry Gambin-Walsh chats with a few folks who attended Thursday’s meeting in Placentia dedicated to getting feedback on Newfoundland and Labrador’s fiscal situation.
Trinity-Bay de Verde-Carbonear MHA Steve Crocker hosted a public budget consultation session at the Royal Canadian Legion in Carbonear on Feb. 10.