Fearsome financial outlook

Ball announces budget consultations amid grim fiscal picture

Published on January 12, 2016
Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Premier Dwight Ball is flanked by Siobhan Coady (left), minister responsible for the Office of Public Engagement, and Cathy Bennett, minister of Finance and president of the Treasury Board, at a news conference at Confederation Building Jan. 13 to announce prebudget consultations.

Premier Dwight Ball launched the province’s pre-budget consultations Tuesday with a grim tone and an expansive message.

“It’s very different. It’s much more intense,” Ball said. “It’s not just a budget consultation process at all. It’s about how we reshape the future of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Budget consultations happen every winter, and every year government politicians insist they really want to hear public input before presenting a financial blueprint in the spring.

In recent years, the consultations amount to a parade of special-interest groups asking the government for money, but this year, that probably won’t fly.

The government is running a deficit of nearly $2 billion, as oil prices have plummeted to $30 per barrel, and Ball is talking about the need for the government to fundamentally alter course to avoid drowning in debt.

Ball came to Tuesday’s news conference with three questions for voters:

• Thinking of all the things government spends your money on to provide residents of the province with services, what are three things you think the government should stop doing to save money?

• Given the financial challenges facing our province, what three things do you think the government could do to raise money or increase revenue?

• How can the government do things differently to provide quality service, at a lower cost?

The premier will personally conduct the first pre-budget consultation meeting in Rocky Harbour in two weeks, followed by other meetings in St. John’s, Corner Brook, Port aux Basques and elsewhere in the coming weeks.

Neither the Opposition Tories nor the NDP thought too much of Ball’s news conference.

“There’s nothing new here,” Tory MHA Keith Hutchings said.

“Apparently we’re going to wait for a few more months to find out what direction there is, and what things they’re going to think about in terms of dealing with the situation we’re in now.”

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy was also impatient to actually hear what the new Liberal government stands for.

“At some point they’re going to have to govern,” he said. “I think (the consultations will) just punt the tough decisions down the road a couple months.”