The provincial Progressive Conservatives are promising not only a continued freeze on post-secondary education tuition, but the elimination of provincial student loans in favour of needs-based grants.
The party is also pitching a new court to deal with people accused of less serious offences committed because of alcohol or drug addiction.
Those promises are part of a new 80-page Blue Book of policies the party said Thursday will cost $135 million a year. However, the promises are not itemized and the PCs have provided no specific costs for the various initiatives.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale said she will provide more detail about individual promises as the campaign goes on.
The PCs are counting on economic growth to reduce the province’s debt and interest costs, and to lower taxes and prop up health care.
They say they’ve reduced the province’s net debt by a third since taking the reins in 2003 — from $12 billion to $8.2 billion.
“This is our time now, more than ever before,” Dunderdale said in the document’s introduction.
The spending would be paid for by non-renewable resources — basically equity stakes and offshore oil royalties.
Dunderdale unveiled the “New Energy” platform in Grand Falls-Windsor Thursday morning, insisting fiscal responsibility is its underlying theme.
The book promises to set a ceiling on new spending each year and if fiscal priorities “need to change,” she pledged to consult the public.
The Blue Book outlines a plan for jobs, health care, stronger partnerships and continued resource development, Dunderdale said.
“We reserve the right to slow down implementation of all of these initiatives if the fiscal situation of the province is not sound enough to carry them forward,” she told reporters, adding it depends on the ebb and flow of oil and other commodities.
“We forecast $50-million surplus this year, and we ended up closer to $1-billion surplus, so the forecasting that we originally had in our budget for next year has changed. We’re still in the planning stages with a number of these initiatives.
“We feel very confident that we can do this, and do it responsibly. We’re not interested in increasing our debt, even for Blue Book initiatives.”
The premier was joined by Health Minister Jerome Kennedy and Finance Minister Tom Marshall, who heralded an eventual end to the payroll tax, which businesses have long lobbied for.
The PCs have promised to eliminate that tax over six years, cutting it by $10 million a year over the next four years.
“It’s a tax on jobs. None of our neighbouring provinces in Atlantic Canada have that tax,” Marshall said.
The mix of new and previously announced policies run the gamut from fisheries to fitness.
Dunderdale insisted some of the spending will actually save money, such as reducing health-care wait times.
Liberal leader Kevin Aylward quipped to party supporters during a stop in Daniel’s Harbour that half of the Conservative platform had already been announced by the Liberals.
The promises include:
• Emergency response: undertake a comprehensive review of emergency response services throughout the province, including ambulance services, ambulance operators, emergency responders, paramedics, other services and personnel.
• Broadband: work with the private sector and the federal government to provide province-wide, high-speed Internet access within four years.
• Business: make revisions to reform procurement and capital works tendering projects to make them more amenable to local suppliers bidding on contracts.
• Oil and gas: establish a policy to obtain a 10 per cent equity position in all future oil and gas projects requiring development plan approval, where it fits the party’s strategic long-term objectives.
• Lifestyle: introduce a provincial fitness tax credit.
Blue Book web/link