Finance Minister Charlene Johnson signals 'shared prosperity'
If the weather doesn’t keep her home today, Charlene Johnson will deliver her first budget since becoming the minister of finance.
Finance Minister Charlene Johnson
She was holding her cards pretty close to her chest Wednesday, but said the budget speech will mirror the direction set by Premier Tom Marshall when he took over in late January.
“I think it’s fair to say that when the premier was sworn in, he talked about principles of shared prosperity, fairness, social justice, so certainly, if that’s what the premier talked about when he came in, I think it’s fair to say that that would be reflected in the budget speech,” she told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Last year, then-finance minister Jerome Kennedy laid off nearly a thousand civil servants and delivered heavy budget cuts.
That was supposed to be year one of a 10-year “sustainability plan.” According to that same plan, the budgets of Memorial University, the College of the North Atlantic and the province’s four health authorities are supposed to be under the microscope this year.
But Liberal Leader Dwight Ball questioned whether the government is going to stick with it.
“We’ll see how committed they are to the 10-year sustainability plan,” he said. “That’s not something we’ve seen much of over the last year.”
Ball said that he’ll be watching the province’s debt closely as well; the most recent public forecast says that 2014 will be another deficit year, and the government has been sending signals that for the first time in a decade, it will need to issue bonds to pay for that deficit.
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael said she’ll be looking for political overtones.
“We’ll be waiting to see if it’s going to be an election budget,” she said. “What I would like to see — which I don’t think I will get — is a budget that will show long-term planning.”
Since Kathy Dunderdale retired as premier in January, the province will have to go to an election by early July of 2015. That means that next spring’s budget will likely happen on the eve of an election. But when Frank Coleman, Bill Barry or Wayne Bennett takes over as PC leader and premier, they might decide to call an early election.
But by the time you’re reading this, government officials may have decided to call off budget day altogether — at least for today.
With a major storm bearing down on Newfoundland and Labrador, Johnson said that the government is looking at the potential for moving budget day to next week, although she said that would only be a last resort.