Before releasing the 2012-13 provincial budget, Finance Minister Tom Marshall downplayed expectations of spending increases and warned of belt-tightening measures.
Tuesday afternoon, with the budget unveiled, labour leaders said the budget’s cost-cutting measures weren’t as harsh as they were expecting — but neither did the budget fully address deficiencies in services.
Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, called it a “business-as-usual” budget.
“It includes a number of new investments, baby steps almost, in some areas, whether it’s health care, child care, business development. So there are new investments to add on to basically the direction the government had been headed to last year,” she said.
“There’s not a lot of what I would call bold new initiatives.
“And certainly it was not the austerity budget that some folks had been promoting out there, which is good, because we live in a province with prosperity now, and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a taste of prosperity,” Payne said.
More support needed for apprenticeship
“I suspect they would have looked very poorly on a government that was bringing in an austerity budget,” Payne said.
She acknowledged it’s a tough day for the approximately 45 temporary employees whose jobs are expected to be eliminated this year.
“Hopefully, there will be some other job openings throughout the public service that might be able to accommodate them,” she said. “Having said that, there were some new areas of looking at apprenticeship, which I think is a critical piece of what I think we need to be doing around the labour market. Government really has to figure out a way to have a particular conversation with employers in our province around supporting in a bigger way the apprenticeship system. There’s a lot of financial support through government for the apprenticeship system to help employers out, and I think not enough of them are taking advantage of it for a number of reasons.”
Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public Employees, said she was worried when she heard Marshall say the government is looking to reduce the public service through attrition in the coming years.
“You know, we’ve only just rebuilt the public service,” she said. “We had many cuts back in the early ’90s. We’re only now just rebuilding that public service; that happened over the past five years.”
Furlong added the province’s good economic fortune belongs to all residents.
“We don’t just have the oil industry now to deal with. We’ve got a mining industry now that is expanding, and it’s going to bring money into this province as well, so we know now we’ve got money, more money coming into this province, and people of this province expect that they’re going to be the beneficiaries of all that.”
Payne said more needs to be done to improve child-care services.
“We really need to go at this in a big way,” she said. “I’m hopeful that the 10-year strategy that’s going to be announced — I hope soon — will at least tackle this in a bold fashion. And if we’re going to be doing things like offering grants to facilities, to private operators, then we should be having strings attached to those operating grants. We should be capping fees, for example, so that child care is more affordable for families and also making sure that there’s a certain level of quality of child care being delivered in those centres.”