Newfoundland and Labrador is facing a serious and increasingly challenging fiscal circumstance. The impact of the oil price drop is so significant that we require a long-term fiscal plan to get us through the revenue crunch we’re facing.
However, the province can’t wait 15 months until 2017 for a Liberal plan. We need a plan now, in advance of Budget 2016.
Our Progressive Conservative-led government announced a long-range plan in 2015, and we were well on our way to implementing it. It included measures like decreasing government costs through attrition rather than layoffs, putting certain infrastructure projects on hold and raising new revenue through the HST — an unpopular decision, but the fairest way to raise the extra revenue we require to meet our immediate needs without slashing core programs and hurting the people who rely on them. The HST could be raising extra revenue right now while protecting the most vulnerable and lowest income families by expanded tax credits.
So far, the new Liberal government — which consulted on policy for more than two years before assuming office — has offered no new, comprehensive or long-range strategies to cope with the crisis our province faces. They have re-announced many of our policies, such as full-day kindergarten, tourism marketing, broadband and public-private partnerships for long-term care, but they have also reversed course on parts of our plan, increasing the deficit by hundreds of millions of dollars in doing so.
We are deeply concerned that their 15-month pre-budget dialogue plan is too lengthy and not the focused action that is needed to find the solutions we need right now.
It’s time for leadership. That does not mean making harsh decisions that hurt the vulnerable or leave our economy in shambles. It means making the right decisions that strike a proper balance and lead to growth rather than decline.
The premier needs to be active and effective in bringing Ottawa onside as we tackle the challenges. Saskatchewan and Alberta have been very vocal in calling for federal action to aid their provinces, which face similar crises to ours because of the oil price decline. They are campaigning publicly for equalization reform, infrastructure investments and stimulus initiatives. We need to be standing at the front of the pack, alongside Alberta and Saskatchewan, in demanding Ottawa’s intervention and fair treatment on equalization, transfer payments, infrastructure investments and other measures that will stimulate growth when and where it is needed.
We need to ratchet up our tourism campaign away from home, now that the low dollar makes Canada’s tourism product more attractive. We need to be aggressive in fighting for market share. Thousands of our people in rural communities will benefit as a result.
Ottawa should act right now to reduce Marine Atlantic ferry rates to drive tourism growth. We need to be out there calling for that, but we are not hearing much from our government or seeing evidence that anything they may be doing behind the scenes is making a difference.
We also need Ottawa’s promised share of the CETA fisheries investment fund to kick in right now, so plants can modernize to prepare for trade opportunities in Europe and elsewhere. The federal Liberals promised to deliver on that fund. Demand that they deliver, right now.
Those are just a few of our suggestions, but they are far-reaching and will make an enormous difference if they are implemented sooner rather than later.
The House of Assembly should be opened now so we can discuss this openly, draw together the best suggestions, firm up a long-range plan, stand together in demanding federal action, and make any budgetary and legislative decisions that are required to implement the actions right now that are going to keep our province strong and growing stronger.
Time is a luxury that Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t have to waste. The government was elected to deliver. It’s time to start delivering.
Leader of the Official Opposition