Monday afternoon’s speech from the throne celebrated the government’s accomplishments, and signalled people can expect more of the same.
The speech contained no big surprises. Premier Kathy Dunderdale made it clear people shouldn’t expect too much in the way of large scale spending.
On the one hand, she said the economy is “white hot,” but at the same time, with a forecast deficit, no one should expect big new spending from the government. Loss of Atlantic Accord transfer payments and oil production shutdowns have punched a temporary shortfall in the budget of close to $500 million.
“It’s time to rein in our spending on infrastructure particularly,” Dunderdale told reporters. “We’re going to maintain good service delivery. We’re going to meet the needs of the people of the province, but we don’t want expectations to be very high on new initiatives in the budget.”
Throughout the Monday afternoon throne speech, read in the House of Assembly by Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie, the government focused on fiscal prudence and economic management.
The government committed to doing a comprehensive review of operations in order to find savings.
“Each department will undertake a structured review of departmental functions to identify opportunities to do things better,” Crosbie read. “These reviews will be complemented by cross-departmental studies and ongoing reviews of the province’s regional health authorities.”
The government also laid out a few key areas necessary to support economic growth.
Steps coming to clear bottleneck in trades accreditation
First, the throne speech made it clear one of the governments’ top priorities is apprentices in the skilled trades.
A bottleneck in the training system in the province has left thousands of apprentices without the on-the-job experience to progress to journeyman certification.
“In this year’s budget, my government is introducing and expanding programs to help apprentices progress through to journeyperson status,” Crosbie read. “We are increasing employer participation and employment opportunities for apprentices.”
Second, the government talked about the need to diversify the economy, especially “the blue economy” — the ocean sciences sector, aquaculture and the fishery.
The government said it is working with members of the fishing industry on seafood sales consortia for “better market intelligence, export development and targeted promotion.”
Thirdly, the government devoted a lengthy section of the speech to the Muskrat Falls project, trumpeting the benefits of the $6.2-billion hydroelectric project.
One small surprise in the speech was the promise of a new funding formula for municipalities — likely not this year, but coming soon.
“We need to develop a new municipal operating grant structure with municipalities, and it’s turned out to be a more complex piece of work than we anticipated, so you know, we won’t be announcing that this year,” Dunderdale said. “We’re well advanced in the work, we’re consulting with municipalities. So there's a piece of work that will become clearer in the budget as we move forward, and hopefully when we get to this point next year we’ll have a new system of municipal operating grants in place.”