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A new ferry for Newfoundland and Labrador, but still questions about 2019 federal budget

Provincial Finance Minister Tom Osborne speaks to reporters outside the House of Assembly on Tuesday.
Provincial Finance Minister Tom Osborne speaks to reporters outside the House of Assembly on Tuesday. - David Maher

Business and labour find good and bad in federal budget

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The 2019 federal budget has some goodies for this province — including a new ferry for Marine Atlantic — but critical details remain unclear.

The budget announced a new ferry to replace one of the four existing Marine Atlantic ferries in the province. The budget document is vague on the timeline or potential cost for a new ferry on the Marine Atlantic run, and says only that procurement will take place.

Provincial finance minister Tom Osborne didn’t have any additional details on that aspect of the budget, only to say it’s good news for the province.

“It’s a new ferry, a ferry replacement. One of them will go out of service and we’ll get a brand-new ferry for the province, which is great news as well,” said Osborne.

“I see a lot of very good things in this budget for this province.”

The 464-page budget document makes no mention of the Atlantic Accord, as negotiations between this province and Ottawa are still taking place.

“We weren’t anticipating anything announced today because the negotiations are still ongoing. They’re due to be complete by March 31,” he said.

“We are looking forward with optimism to the conclusion of those negotiations.”

Osborne said his department still has to sift through the document before announcing when the provincial budget will come down, but people should expect it in April.

“I see a lot of very good things in this budget for this province.” — Provincial finance minister Tom Osborne

Nancy Healey, CEO of the St. John’s Board of Trade, says the federal budget appears to target a large swath of the country, but the business community has some major wants that were not addressed.

“This government is racking up more debt in a good economic time when it’s time that we should be saving for a rainy day more than any other government in history, except for those that have been in recession or war,” she said.

“There doesn’t appear to be an excuse to be spending as much as we’re spending. That’s a concern because it creates uncertainty.”

Healey says businesses are still wary after the previously announced changes to small business taxation that drew protest from the 2017 budget. She says it’s time the federal government started a top-to-bottom review of income taxes.

“We think they missed the mark on changes and reform to the Income Tax Act,” said Healey.

Nancy Healey.
Nancy Healey.

“We just found more reference in changes to small business tax, which causes a great deal of concern for us. We want to dig into that more. We’ve been calling for a royal commission to look into the Income Tax Act. It hasn’t been reviewed since 1971.”

“There doesn’t appear to be an excuse to be spending as much as we’re spending.

Healey says she’s glad to see changes for first-time homebuyers and young people generally presented in the document.

“It’s certainly encouraging. Young people need all the assistance they can get to buy homes, to get relief from their student loans — there’s a program there to help borrowing rates,” she said.

"All those things are great for millennials entering the labour force. We want to make sure there are businesses for them to be employed in, and businesses want to see changes to that tax act.”

Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour president Mary Shortall says there are bright points in the budget, but to announce an independent review of instituting universal pharmacare instead of just introducing a universal pharmacare plan outright is disappointing.

“It would have been really good to see a concrete pharmacare announcement – maybe it’s something they’re waiting for the election for, I don’t know. But they’ve only just started to set up the arms-length agency to look at the cost of drugs,” she said.

“A lot of that work has been done over the years. It’s pretty clear even from the parliamentary budget officer that to invest in a universal pharmacare program would pump $11 billion into the economy every year.”

Twitter:@DavidMaherNL


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