As Finance Minister Tom Marshall was in the House of Assembly delivering his budget speech, Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones was in the lobby questioning his spending choices.
“If you were reading this budget today, you’d think we all lived on an oil platform as opposed to living in a fishing, coastal province,” Jones said.
“It lacks investments in the renewable resource sectors like the fishing industry, the forestry sector, which are very critical components to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
In particular, Jones questioned an allocation of $348 million to Nalcor Energy to support development in investments, including the Lower Churchill project.
Jones said the money represents more than what the government will spend on roads, bridges and ferries and a host of other programs.
“If you combine all of those investments together, they still fall short of what the full investment to Nalcor Energy will be,” Jones said.
“It’s about choosing priorities and we’ve said right from the outset that people of the province will pay dearly under the Muskrat Falls deal that this government has negotiated; this is just the beginning of all those payments.”
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For NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, there was one budget item she couldn’t possibly criticize.
The government committed to rebate the provincial portion of the HST on residential electricity and home heating — something the NDP has been looking for since 2003.
“Yes, it was a surprise, but I’m delighted,” Michael said. “Right now I can say: we got it!”
But on other major government initiatives, Michael was less excited. She said the government’s signature child care plan won’t go far enough.
“The budget document says that it can possibly lead to 400 child care seats over the next two years, but there’s absolutely nothing that indicates how that might happen,” she said.
“Once again government hasn’t got a plan in place for the development of a uniform child care plan, and that really bothers me.”
The government committed to increasing the grants for people who start up regulated child care centres in their own homes.
Other initiatives were harder to criticize; Jones said committing to replace the Waterford Hospital was a good move by government, and one-time increases to municipal operating grants will also be good for communities.
But overall, both Jones and Michael questioned the government’s spending habits, and whether they’ll be sustainable as oil production and royalties decline in the coming years.
“One third of our revenues today come from the oil industry. We know those revenues are going to start dropping off, so we wanted to see something sustainable around our budgeting this year. We didn’t see that,” Jones said.