“We are going to be extremely open and transparent when we release our budget,” Finance Mnister Cathy Bennett told reporters Tuesday.
© James McLeod/The Telegram
Finance Minister Cathy Bennett speaks to reporters outside the House of Assembly Tuesday. Bennett has said she won’t provide specific details about money the government has saved through discretionary spending reductions until the budget is released later this year.
Bennett would not give any sort of comprehensive breakdown of the the $97 million she says she has saved the government since December, and she spent a big chunk of question period in the House of Assembly fielding questions on the topic from both the Tories and the NDP.
When Opposition Leader Paul Davis asked Bennett for itemized details of the $97 million in cost cutting, she told him that he was asking the wrong questions.
“I am happy to continue to stand on my feet in this House and answer all the questions that the member opposite wants to ask about the $100 million,” she said. “I believe the people of the province, though, want to hear questions about the important situation that we're in. Quite frankly, I would remind the member opposite that when they made decisions to increase the debt that the people of this province are carrying to the tune of 69 per cent since 2003 — I would argue that those are the questions that people at home and people in our districts throughout our province are asking.”
Bennett never did actually answer the question about the itemized list of spending reductions.
Only a week ago, Bennett stood in the House of Assembly and excitedly said the government had saved roughly $100 million through cuts to discretionary spending.
At the time, she said, “I'd be happy to provide the leader of the Opposition with the exact details, and also be happy to provide that to the media.”
The following day, those “exact details” amounted to a single sheet of paper with three numbers on it:
• Savings identified in Fiscal Update $118,054,100;
• Revised Savings Projected as of March 9/16 $215,616,900;
• Additional Spending Savings Identified 97,562,800.
Bennett has indicated some of the savings have come from cutting political staff; under the Tories, some ministers had more than one executive assistant, whereas the Liberals have one EA per minister, and the staff in the premier’s office is smaller.
But last week, Bennett also indicated the numbers were “annualized,” meaning the actual budget savings would be much lower than $97 million.
But if people want to know all the details, they’ll have to wait for the budget, and the Liberals won’t even say when the budget will be brought down.
NDP MHA Lorraine Michael tried asking about the issue, too.
“The minister of finance tabled three numbers on a piece of paper on Thursday,” Michael said. “She has had a long weekend, so I ask the premier: have they been able yet to come up with more substantive numbers in detail during that time?”
Bennett’s reply didn’t offer any new substantive detail on the numbers.
“Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for noting the length of my weekend,” Bennett replied. “I can assure you that our officials in the Department of Finance, those that work in Treasury Board and myself were working all weekend to make sure that we are ready for a budget coming in the next couple of weeks.”