© — Telegram file photo
It didn’t have to be this way, Independent MHA Tom Osborne told The Telegram this week. With better planning and budget foresight, the government could have avoided cuts.
Osborne said the government has known for years that a fiscal crunch was coming, but it kept spending — and Osborne should know; up until last year, he was a member of the PC Party.
“Sitting around the caucus table in 2008 and 2009, we were talking as a caucus that there was going to be a decrease in oil production, and a decrease in oil revenues, and the Atlantic Accord transfers were going to run out. Yet the budget continued to grow. That’s the point that I’m making,” he said. “With the proper management, we could have been in the position where we had a slightly smaller budget without having to make the cuts today.”
Osborne doesn’t think it should’ve come to this, but he said this week that he believes this year’s budget cuts were necessary.
As the Liberals and the NDP move to condemn the deep budget cuts and layoffs, and the government struggles to defend its course of action, Osborne is walking a middle ground.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I will make a decision on which way I’m going to vote on the budget when the time comes to vote.”
On the one hand, he said, the government can’t just keep running big deficits.
“You can’t mortgage the province’s future and have our children and our grandchildren pay for what we’re spending today,” he said. “We do need sustainable spending; absolutely we need sustainable spending.”
Osborne said he’s still digesting the specific budget cuts, and he’s not convinced that all the layoffs were the right move.
But more broadly, he balked at the notion of the government’s new 10-year fiscal sustainability plan.
“The 10-year sustainability plan, as government calls it, … this government has been in power for 10 years, and their planning to date doesn’t give me any comfort or reassurance that this new 10-year plan is going to be effective,” Osborne said. “We’ve got a budget that’s doubled from approximately $4 billion to approximately $8 billion in eight or nine years. We’ve got a public service that’s increased by 24-25 per cent over that period of time.”
As Osborne weighs his options as an independent, he’s in the process of gauging public support for him to join up with either the New Democrats or the Liberals.
This month, he’ll be sending out his district newsletter, which asks people to get in touch and tell him which party to pick. Already, he’s been talking to plenty of folks and gauging opinions.
“Every day, without exception since I became an independent, I’ve thought about the decision,” Osborne said.
He said he doesn’t want to give any hints about what he’s hearing so far, because he doesn’t want to bias people’s responses. But he did say that he’s hearing lots of people suggest he stays an independent, and among the people who want him to join a political party, a lot more people are leaning in one direction than the other.
“But I am hearing one party considerably more than I’m hearing another,” Osborne said.
He wouldn’t give any hints about which party people are pointing to.
It’s worth noting that in the 2011 provincial election, Osborne won handily with 2,966 votes, but the NDP received 1,994 votes in his district. By comparison, the Liberals got 163 votes.
Osborne said he’s waiting to hear back from more people, especially in response to his district newsletter, before he makes any decision.