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