Plan­ning for the next bud­get

Pre-bud­get con­sul­ta­tion looks to bal­ance ef­fi­cient spend­ing with eco­nomic growth

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON TC ME­DIA edi­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

The 2017-18 provin­cial bud­get will once again need to face the re­al­i­ties of a low rev­enue stream linked to a down­turn in the price of oil. Gov­ern­ment is once again talk­ing about the need to cre­ate ef­fi­cien­cies, and at­ten­dees of last Thurs­day’s pre-bud­get con­sul­ta­tion in Harbour Grace had the op­por­tu­nity to talk about that and a host of other things.

A year ago, the provin­cial gov­ern­ment was keen on find­ing ways to more ef­fi­ciently serve New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans. At the pre­bud­get con­sul­ta­tion last week in Harbour Grace, the news was much the same.

Once again, there’s a hefty pro­jected deficit on the hori­zon, with the one for this cur­rent fis­cal year es­ti­mated to be around $1.5 bil­lion. Talk last Thurs­day at the SPLASH Cen­tre in Harbour Grace for the lone con­sul­ta­tion in Trin­ity-Con­cep­tion-Pla­cen­tia area cen­tered around look­ing at mak­ing the cost of ser­vices sus­tain­able, job cre­ation and get­ting the most out of ev­ery dol­lar spent.

With just over 20 peo­ple in attendance be­yond gov­ern­ment staffers and Trin­ity-Con­cep­tion MHAs Steve Crocker and Pam Par­sons, there were plenty of ideas bandied about. On the topic of mak­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies and de­part­ments more ef­fi­cient, it was sug­gested gov­ern­ment as a whole needs to be more ac­count­able.

One per­son said there’s a col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity for un­sus­tain­able spend­ing in New­found­land and Labrador, with some de­part­ments privy to mas­sive in­creases over the years with lit­tle in the way of net value to show for it.

Stream­lin­ing the civil sec­tor in­stead of rais­ing fees and taxes was one rec­om­men­da­tion on the ta­ble. An­other per­son said that al­though we might be in a state where provin­cial in­fra­struc­ture is un­af­ford­able, gov­ern­ment should not give up on es­sen­tial items like roads.

On sup­port for the pri­vate sec­tor and job cre­ation, ad­di­tional sup­port for small busi­nesses was iden­ti­fied as a need, with the pos­si­bil­ity of an agency serv­ing as a one-stop shop for po­ten­tial en­trepreneurs sug­gested.

Tak­ing into ac­count the ex­per­tise of peo­ple work­ing within gov­ern­ment, cre­at­ing more con­nec­tions with the pri­vate sec­tor was thrown out there as an op­tion to help mat­ters.

By fo­cus­ing on growth in­dus­tries, gov­ern­ment could also look to steer young peo­ple to­ward train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in fields where there’s a de­mand for work­ers. Red tape was an­other is­sue brought up.

The chal­lenge of serv­ing a small pop­u­la­tion over a large geo­graphic area was the next topic of dis­cus­sion. All groups spent time talk­ing about the need for small towns to look at re­gion­al­iza­tion as a po­ten­tial prob­lem solver in this re­gard. This lead to dis­cus­sion of un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas and the need for all prop­erty own­ers to con­trib­ute equally when it comes to taxes.

Tech­nol­ogy was men­tioned as a tool to ad­dress geo­graphic chal­lenges, with op­por­tu­ni­ties out there to in­crease its use for con­nect­ing peo­ple need­ing ed­u­ca­tion or health-re­lated ser­vices.

The free-for-all ques­tion of whether there were any ad­di­tional ideas on how gov­ern­ment can achieve bet­ter out­comes from its spend­ing in­spired lots of talk. One per­son won­dered whether gov­ern­ment should be so fo­cused on the de­creas­ing the bot­tom line if it’s at the ex­pense of a more ed­u­cated pop­u­la­tion, health­ier lives and pub­lic safety.

In what was per­haps a fit­ting fi­nal word for the night, an­other said if a con­sul­ta­tion like the one held last Thurs­day is meant to have mean­ing, gov­ern­ment must do its best to truly lis­ten.

ANDREW ROBIN­SON/TC ME­DIA

A cou­ple of dozen folks came out for last Thurs­day’s pre-bud­get con­sul­ta­tion in Harbour Grace at the SPLASH Cen­tre.

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