N.L. Fi­nance min­is­ter won’t give break­down of $283 mil­lion in cuts

The Compass - - Classified -

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Cathy Bennett re­peat­edly re­fused to pro­vide de­tails of her 2017 bud­get de­liv­ered ear­lier this month when asked by re­porters and op­po­si­tion politi­cians.

In­stead, she said in­for­ma­tion will be pro­vided at an ob­scure House of As­sem­bly process known as “es­ti­mates com­mit­tee” and it won’t all be re­vealed pub­licly for al­most a month.

The is­sue dom­i­nated ques­tion pe­riod in the House of As­sem­bly Tues­day, with op­po­si­tion politi­cians say­ing that the pro­vin­cial government is be­ing se­cre­tive and mys­te­ri­ous about their bud­getary de­ci­sions.

Bennett said all in­for­ma­tion will be pro­vided — even­tu­ally.

“Peo­ple of the prov­ince will have full vis­i­bil­ity into the num­bers through the es­ti­mates process,” Bennett said.

In fact, most peo­ple of the prov­ince would strug­gle to view an es­ti­mates com­mit­tee meet­ing even if they wanted to take dozens of hours to sit through the line-by-line ex­am­i­na­tion of the bud­get by MHAs.

The com­mit­tee meet­ings are not broad­cast pub­licly like reg­u­larly leg­isla­tive pro­ceed­ings. And while tech­ni­cally open to the pub­lic, vis­i­tors are so in­fre­quent, Con­fed­er­a­tion Build­ing security rou­tinely for­gets to un­lock the doors to the build­ing Amelia Cur­ran Singer/song­writer mu­sic in­dus­try takes you in­side the for the evening ses­sions be­cause nobody ever shows up.

But if the pub­lic wants to know how Bennett man­aged to cut $283-mil­lion worth of government spend­ing in this year’s bud­get — ap­par­ently with­out lay­ing off any work­ers or im­pact­ing any pro­grams or ser­vices — they’ll re­ceive no mean­ing­ful de­tail with­out lis­ten­ing to dozens of hours of es­ti­mates com­mit­tee.

In last year’s bud­get, the government pro­vided a lot of de­tail about the $251 mil­lion in spend­ing cuts, pro­vid­ing an item­ized list. Some of the more con­tentious items — like the elim­i­na­tion of 24-hour snow clear­ing — be­came a ma­jor source of po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy.

This year, Bennett only pro­vided the vaguest of head­ings.

For ex­am­ple, $65.9 mil­lion was saved through “zero-based bud­get­ing” a process by which de­part­ments have to start from scratch and jus­tify ev­ery expenditure. More money was saved by, “re­view­ing ex­pen­di­tures of agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions for an­tic­i­pated sav­ings of $42 mil­lion.”

All the other head­ings were sim­i­larly vague.

In the House of As­sem­bly, when asked was in­volved in those spend­ing cuts, Bennett said the op­po­si­tion should ask in es­ti­mates com­mit­tee.

Op­po­si­tion Leader Paul Davis was flab­ber­gasted.

“Ques­tion pe­riod is the place to ask ques­tions, and that’s where we’re bring­ing those ques­tions, and they’re just re­fus­ing to pro­vide that in­for­ma­tion,” he said.

“The min­is­ter has got hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in sav­ings that she will not ac­count for.”

Davis said he’s con­vinced there will be job cuts com­ing.

“I think what they’re go­ing to do is they’re go­ing to be­gin to make lay­offs in small num­bers, but do it many, many times,” he said.

New Demo­crat Leader Earle McCurdy was sim­i­larly frus­trated.

“To­day there was an in­com­pre­hen­si­ble an­swer to our ques­tion about the re­duc­tion of money al­lo­cated for salaries and ben­e­fits,” he said.

“We just tried to find out what was that fig­ure, and how many jobs did that cor­re­spond to? And the an­swer that came to that was ab­so­lute gob­bledy­gook.”

Tues­day evening, MHAs re­turned to the House of As­sem­bly for one of those es­ti­mates com­mit­tee meet­ings — re­view­ing the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Land Re­sources.

The Tories asked for an item­ized list of the peo­ple em­ployed in the depart­ment — a sim­ple or­ga­ni­za­tional chart — to get an idea of any job cuts.

Min­is­ter Steve Crocker said he didn’t have that in­for­ma­tion on hand, but he’d get it for the op­po­si­tion par­ties later.

Bennett said that the government will pro­vide a full item­ized list — if peo­ple are still ask­ing af­ter the es­ti­mates com­mit­tee meet­ings are con­cluded on May 9.

JAMES MCLEOD

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Cathy Bennett would not give de­tails of the $283 mil­lion in spend­ing cuts made in this year’s bud­get. Op­po­si­tion leader Paul Davis said he thinks lay­offs are com­ing.

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