Ben­nett sees pos­i­tive im­pact of fed­eral bud­get

Board of Trade would have liked more fo­cus on deficit re­duc­tion

The Labradorian - - FRONT PAGE - BY GLEN WHIFFEN

Pro­vin­cial Fi­nance Min­is­ter Cathy Ben­nett saw a num­ber of mea­sures in the fed­eral bud­get that will ben­e­fit New­found­land and Labrador and, in turn, likely en­able her to meet com­mit­ments made in ad­vance of the up­com­ing April 6 pro­vin­cial bud­get.

“We are cer­tainly pleased the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is con­tin­u­ing its com­mit­ment to in­fras­truc­ture spend­ing,” Ben­nett told re­porters March 22.

“We’ve also seen a pos­i­tive in­vest­ment in child-care spa­ces which we think will be very help­ful to our prov­ince, as well as recog­ni­tion un­der the care­giver tax credit. We have a lot of in­di­vid­u­als in our prov­ince who are pro­vid­ing care to el­derly peo­ple in our com­mu­ni­ties and it’s pos­i­tive to see that tax credit re­fined and clar­i­fied for those in­di­vid­u­als.

“We an­tic­i­pate there will be lim­ited im­pact on the plans that we’ve had so far, and one of the re­ally pos­i­tive things we saw in the an­nounce­ment from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is the in­vest­ment and changes to the labour mar­ket agree­ment and the en­hanced EI el­i­gi­bil­ity. Both of those will pro­vide us a unique op­por­tu­nity in our prov­ince to look at job train­ing and op­por­tu­ni­ties for con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion in what is a chang­ing econ­omy in New­found­land and Labrador.”

The fed­eral bud­get came in short on new spend­ing, but lays out the de­tails on where money from last fall’s fed­eral eco­nomic up­date will go. Key points in the bud­get that could ben­e­fit New­found­land and Labrador in­clude $7 bil­lion over 10 years for new child-care spa­ces; a new care­giver ben­e­fit up to 15 weeks; and $950 mil­lion over five years to sup­port in­no­va­tion and what is de­scribed as set­ting up busi­ness su­per clus­ters.

Dorothy Keat­ing, chair­woman of the St. John’s Board of Trade, said mem­bers are pleased there were no sub­stan­tial new taxes an­nounced in the fed­eral bud­get. The board is anx­ious to get de­tails of the skills and in­no­va­tion agenda and the po­ten­tial it holds for busi­nesses.

The down­side of the fed­eral bud­get, she said, was a weak plan for ad­dress­ing the fed­eral debt.

“… they are not pro­ject­ing to be in bal­anced bud­get un­til 2021-22, so we would like to have seen them ad­dress that a lit­tle stronger. But I guess we un­der­stand, with the un­cer­tainty of what’s hap­pen­ing in the United States, there’s po­ten­tial that when we get into the fall there may be some up­dates there, with re­spect to what’s go­ing to hap­pen with ex­port tax­a­tion and what our friends to the south may or may not do with re­spect to bor­der taxes, and how that would im­pact our mem­bers here in New­found­land be­cause we have a num­ber of com­pa­nies that do ex­port.”

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is run­ning a deficit of about

When it comes to a re­build­ing plan for the north­ern cod stocks, the Fish, Food and Al­lied Work­ers (FFAW) union wants the gov­ern­ment to re­mem­ber why it’s im­por­tant to plan for the longevity for the ground­fish off the prov­ince’s north­east coasts.

“That fish­ery and the way it was, was the lifeblood of many, many com­mu­ni­ties around ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador,” FFAW sec­re­tary trea­surer Dave Decker says. “It’s im­por­tant that as we are re­build­ing that stock … we keep fo­cus on why we’re re­build­ing fish­eries and it’s to re­ju­ve­nate the same com­mu­ni­ties. I think it’s cru­cial.”

Decker took com­fort that towns and har­vesters af­fected by a cod mora­to­rium that will cel­e­brate a 25-year an­niver­sary this year weren’t for­got­ten in a stand­ing com­mit­tee on fish­eries and oceans re­port tabled in the House of Com­mons last Mon­day.

In ad­di­tion to rec­om­men­da­tions for a com­pre­hen­sive re­build­ing plan for the stocks that takes into ac­count “the best avail­able science” and ecosys­tem con­sid­er­a­tions and im­pacts, the re­port called for the De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO) to con­duct an­nual as­sess­ments of not just cod stocks, but also caplin, one its main food sources.

“If you have a pe­riod when your stocks are rel­a­tively sta­ble then you can go to multi-year as­sess­ments, but at a time of rapid change, which clearly we’re go­ing through now, and en­vi­ron­men­tal shift where things are chang­ing fairly sig­nif­i­cantly, I think it’s im­por­tant to have more an­nual as­sess­ments,” Decker says.

The re­port also rec­om­mends that DFO take into ac­count the in­for­ma­tion col­lected by the FFAW and the New­found­land and Labrador De­part­ment of Fish­eries, Forestry and Agri­foods.

Decker says the data col­lected by har­vesters, com­bined with their knowl­edge, is cru­cial to this process. “It needs to all flow through one point, but the stock-as­sess­ment process needs to in­cor­po­rate all that in­for­ma­tion from what­ever sources to come to the best con­clu­sion of the over­all state of the re­source,” he says.

Ken Mcdon­ald, Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Avalon who ini­tially mo­tioned for the study last Fe­bru­ary, is hopeful that in­vest­ments into DFO last year to cre­ate 135 new jobs for re­search sci­en­tists fol­low­ing years of cut­backs will help fa­cil­i­tate those as­sess­ments.

“I think 17 or 18 of those are go­ing to be for New­found­land and Labrador to look at the fish­eries here. I’m hop­ing a good por­tion of that will be put to­wards look­ing at the cod stock, where it’s to now and where it’s go­ing and how we can do bet­ter to make sure it sur­vives,” Mcdon­ald says.

As it stands, the most re­cent as­sess­ment showed that the stock’s spawn­ing biomass in ar­eas 2J 3K and 3L im­proved from three per cent in 2005 to 34 per cent in 2015. While it rep­re­sents a dras­tic in­crease above the crit­i­cal low point ex­pe­ri­enced in the mid 1990s, it’s still far be­low the av­er­age spawn­ing stock biomass ob­served through the 1980s.

As far as the DFO is con­cerned it’s still pru­dent to en­sure fish­ing is kept to a min­i­mum to al­low the stock time to con­tinue re­plen­ish­ing.

While Mcdon­ald rec­og­nizes now is the time to pre­pare for the stock to re­bound to a point where it be­comes sus­tain­able, a full-fledged com­mer­cial fish­ery, it’s not the best course of ac­tion right now.

“I think if I’m cor­rect, around 1997 or 1998 they did open up a com­mer­cial fish­ery again and it wasn’t ready,” Mcdon­ald notes. “It did more harm than good.”

The FFAW, mean­while, feels that be­cause the crab and shrimp are part of the north­ern cod diet, the suc­cess of one species is com­ing at a cost to the oth­ers. As such it may be time to ex­pand the cod fish­ery in or­der to mit­i­gate the pain felt in the shrimp and crab in­dus­try that’s helped keep ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties alive fol­low­ing the mora­to­rium.

“With the feed­back loop, clearly there will be some re­duc­tion in crab and shrimp quo­tas this year and that’s prob­a­bly go­ing to con­tinue as there’s suc­cess in cod,” Decker says.

“It’s cru­cially im­por­tant right now and the time is piv­otal that we start re­build­ing a ground­fish in­dus­try and if we don’t fo­cus on re­build­ing that in­dus­try now, we’re go­ing to cause ma­jor pains for our com­mu­ni­ties.”

In con­cert with the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions, both Mcdon­ald and Decker agree that when­ever a po­ten­tial cod fish­ery be­gins pro­duc­tion, that har­vest­ing prac­tices yield the best pos­si­ble prod­uct.

$1.6 bil­lion, and Ben­nett said she is “very op­ti­mistic” it will meet its deficit tar­get for the com­ing year of $800 mil­lion.

The April 6 pro­vin­cial bud­get will not in­clude any tax hikes or in­creased fees, she said.

Last Fri­day, Premier Dwight Ball un­veiled a five-year in­fras­truc­ture plan, promis­ing nearly $3 bil­lion in spend­ing on roads, schools and other ma­jor projects.

“We have a sig­nif­i­cant amount of debt in our prov­ince and we are work­ing very hard and have been for the last year to im­pact the deficit,” Ben­nett said. “We have very clear fis­cal tar­gets es­tab­lished and we are on track to hit those tar­gets. Part of that is where we are with the debt, the in­vest­ments in in­fras­truc­ture, cer­tainly, are com­ing at a time when we would have to bor­row for that, but we be­lieve that bor­row­ing is pru­dent based on the eco­nomic im­pact of the in­fras­truc­ture plan that we’ve put in front of the peo­ple of the prov­ince.

“We are very com­mit­ted to bring­ing the prov­ince back to a sur­plus in 2022-23 … I’m very con­fi­dent when we get to April 6 we will be able to give the peo­ple of the prov­ince some good news.”

Keat­ing said the idea of busi­ness-led clus­ters is a pos­i­tive idea. She said hav­ing a suc­cess­ful busi­ness or busi­ness leader in a men­tor­ship role for a new busi­ness would be of great ben­e­fit. And, the most im­por­tant el­e­ment for the up­com­ing pro­vin­cial bud­get, Keat­ing noted, is that there be no new tax sur­prises for busi­nesses in the prov­ince.

“The (gov­ern­ment) has to fo­cus on max­i­miz­ing what ben­e­fits they have with re­spect to the money they have,” she said. “We cer­tainly are hop­ing that some of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in­fras­truc­ture money we are see­ing come in the prov­ince, and we are very pos­i­tive with how they’ve re­cently an­nounced the P3 ini­tia­tives (pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships). We see that as a very pos­i­tive step for­ward that the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is do­ing in terms of lever­ag­ing th­ese funds and tap­ping into the ex­per­tise of the busi­ness com­mu­nity to de­velop th­ese projects.”


Pro­vin­cial Fi­nance Min­is­ter Cathy Ben­nett re­acts to the fed­eral bud­get an­nounced on March 22.

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