Premier Kathy Dunderdale
This province already has a oil legacy fund, Premier Kathy Dunderdale argues. It's the millions and millions the Tory government has pumped into infrastructure in recent years.
"People talk about a legacy fund all the time and we respond to that by saying, 'That's our legacy fund, the investment in infrastructure.' Because unless you have roads and wharves and hospitals and schools, your economy can't grow," she says.
There have been calls or suggestions over the years for the province to put a percentage of its oil revenues into a legacy fund to help ensure a better fiscal future.
The most recent was courtesy of economist Wade Locke.
Addressing a Harris Centre forum on prosperity planning earlier this month, he mentioned a heritage fund as a potential option for the province to grapple with the post-oil possibilities of soaring debt and deficits. Locke estimated the debt could reach $10 billion within 10 years and that there could be $1.6-billion deficits by decade's end.
But Dunderdale told a Telegram editorial board last week that leading Canadian economists have congratulated the province on its invest-in-infrastructure approach.
She said the government has started to curb infrastructure spending because it pumped almost a billion dollars a year into it during the recession.
"You've always got to continue to make investments in it, but it doesn't need to be at the high level now because we've put so much money into the last few years."
Asked about the premier's perception of a legacy fund, Locke said infrastructure might be badly needed and it would be difficult to prosper without good roads, appropriate health services, state-of-the art education facilities and qualified health and education personnel. These things might even have lasting benefits, he wrote in an email, but "they are not a legacy or heritage fund.
"It is important to distinguish between keeping resources for future generations and spending on infrastructure that will improve the current situation and presumably have benefits into the medium term and maybe into the longer term with appropriate maintenance," Locke said.
"The current resources belong to all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and need to be shared appropriately with both current and future generations."
Locke suggested a sharing formula be determined by consulting widely on what the current needs are, and what the present and future priorities should be.
Meanwhile, while meeting with the editorial board, Dunderdale noted the province is also pumping non-renewable oil revenue into renewable energy projects like Muskrat Falls.
There is lots of energy to develop on the Lower Churchill and in Labrador, she said.
"We can't even talk about how much wind is in Labrador because it doesn't even make sense to do it, so we talk about 5,000 megawatts of wind. It could be just as easy 10,000."
The premier also said the province must continue looking at the offshore oil patch, trying to stimulate growth by encouraging more exploration and investment.
"There are exciting things happening in that piece," she said.
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