Agen­cies, boards on no­tice: min­is­ter

No de­tails yet, but leg­is­la­tion com­ing

The Western Star - - FRONT PAGE - BY ASH­LEY FITZ­PATRICK

New leg­is­la­tion tar­geted at New­found­land and Labrador’s agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions — in­clud­ing post­sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions, health au­thor­i­ties and Nal­cor En­ergy — is on the way.

What ex­actly it might con­tain is un­clear at this point, but Fi­nance Min­is­ter Tom Os­borne said it is meant to as­sure greater ac­count­abil­ity, while push­ing for “op­er­a­tional ef­fi­cien­cies” and re­duced spend­ing.

With his first fis­cal up­date as min­is­ter Tues­day, Os­borne said all agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions of the prov­ince have been put on no­tice.

He told re­porters the re­quests and rec­om­men­da­tions com­ing from the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment have not been met with co-op­er­a­tion.

“We can’t sim­ply just ask and hope they de­liver. We need to en­sure we get our spend­ing un­der con­trol. This leg­is­la­tion will be brought in. Whether it has an im­pact on this up­com­ing bud­get re­mains to be seen. It de­pends on tim­ing and the reg­u­la­tions and the abil­ity of these agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions to do their piece of work,” Os­borne said. “But to date, we’ve seen great progress within (gov­ern­ment) de­part­ments, we’ve seen at­tri­tion mea­sures within de­part­ments. We haven’t yet seen that with the agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions.”

He high­lighted 60 per cent of all cur­rent gross spend­ing by the prov­ince — a fig­ure ex­clud­ing debt ser­vic­ing and pen­sions — goes to these agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions.

As for the over­all fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion of New­found­land and Labrador, to­tal ex­penses for 2017-18 are still pro­jected at about $8.1 bil­lion, while pro­jected rev­enues are down by about $79 mil­lion from the fore­cast on bud­get day, with the lat­ter largely due to lower-thanex­pected oil roy­al­ties.

De­spite a higher pro­jected deficit of $852 mil­lion, ver­sus $778 mil­lion on bud­get day, Os­borne said credit-rat­ing agen­cies re­main sat­is­fied with the prov­ince’s per­for­mance.

Progressive Con­ser­va­tive fi­nance critic Keith Hutch­ings told re­porters he was a lit­tle sur­prised by the up­date and that any is­sues with spend­ing were not ad­dressed by the Liberals be­fore now.

So why didn’t the Progressive Con­ser­va­tives take sim­i­lar ac­tion?

“We had a num­ber of dis­cus­sions with the boards and agen­cies go­ing through, in re­gards to ex­pen­di­tures … but we also went through a process of growth in terms of driv­ing our post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions,” Hutch­ings said.

“But if there’s a need to do that, we’re all in sup­port of that, for them to do it, and take it on now.”

Hutch­ings said he is also wait­ing to see the de­tails of what’s be­ing pro­posed.

NDP MHA Lor­raine Michael said she is frus­trated by a lack of specifics, and Os­borne was “beat­ing around the bush” when asked about the pos­si­bil­ity of bud­get cuts next year and this in­com­ing leg­is­la­tion.

“Gov­ern­ment ac­tu­ally con­trols how much money (agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions) get and if they put in leg­is­la­tion that’s go­ing to force them into cuts, then that’s gov­ern­ment forc­ing de­ci­sions into the hands of these bod­ies, yet it’s gov­ern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause of what they’re do­ing,” Michael said.

In­de­pen­dent MHA Paul Lane said he wants to see some de­tails as well. How­ever, he also would like to see the bud­gets for agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions go­ing through some­thing akin to Es­ti­mates Com­mit­tee meet­ings for gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. These meet­ings of­fer a set time for mem­bers of the House to get fur­ther in­for­ma­tion on de­part­men­tal bud­gets, line by line. The record­ings are made avail­able on­line.

The Tele­gram con­tacted a col­lec­tion of provin­cial agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions (ABC) to ask about Os­borne’s no­tice, with lim­ited re­sponse be­fore dead­line.

In a state­ment, an East­ern Health rep­re­sen­ta­tive said the health au­thor­ity — sub­ject of the lion’s share of ABC spend­ing — con­tin­ues to work with the gov­ern­ment on fi­nan­cial mat­ters.

“As a re­gional health au­thor­ity,” the state­ment read, “we are ac­count­able

for pub­lic funds and will ad­here to any leg­isla­tive re­quire­ments im­ple­mented by gov­ern­ment.”

As for pub­lic-sec­tor union ne­go­ti­a­tions, in the con­text of the bud­get up­date, Os­borne said he isn’t in­ter­ested in ne­go­ti­at­ing in pub­lic.

Wayne Lu­cas, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Union of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees in New­found­land and Labrador, is­sued a state­ment Tues­day af­ter­noon say­ing the gov­ern­ment should not cut ser­vices or in­crease taxes in the spring, re­gard­less of the deficit.

“Aus­ter­ity mea­sures will sound alarm bells and dis­cour­age in­vest­ment in our proud and strong prov­ince,” Lu­cas stated.

Con­sul­ta­tions on the next provin­cial bud­get are set to be­gin on­line be­fore Christ­mas — ear­lier than usual. Pub­lic meet­ings will fol­low in the new year, with times, dates and lo­ca­tions to be an­nounced.

JOE GIBBONS/THE TELE­GRAM

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Tom Os­borne speaks Tues­day at a news con­fer­ence in the me­dia cen­tre at the Con­fed­er­a­tion Build­ing.

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