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Budget abandons Liberal election promises


The Liberal party’s election platform is in tatters.

Dwight Ball.

For months, it was clear the government led by Premier Dwight Ball would break at least a few election promises.

The Liberals laid off civil servants — cutting about 650 jobs — despite categorically promising during the election campaign that they wouldn’t do so.

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett also raised the HST two percentage points, despite vocally opposing exactly that tax hike for months in the lead-up to the election.

A year ago, then-Liberal Leader Dwight Ball posted on Twitter, “I am committed to reversing the HST increase. It is a job killer, a growth killer. RT if you agree.”

On Friday, a day after Ball’s Liberal government raised the HST two percentage points, the denizens of twitter were gleefully sharing Ball’s tweet, to highlight the broken Liberal promise.

But it wasn’t just those two big, signature promises; it was little stuff, too.

In the Liberals’ election platform, the party promised to spend an extra $1 million each year on tourism marketing.

Sure enough, the press materials released with the budget Thursday tout $13 million in spending on tourism marketing. But that’s the same amount the Tories budgeted last year, which means the extra $1 million fell by the wayside.

The Liberals also promised to review and simplify the tax system, and their platform promised that work would get underway immediately.

“The objective is to ensure the tax system is competitive and fair,” the platform said.

“Liberals understand it is critical for our province to remain competitive if we are to position Newfoundland and Labrador as an attractive place to live and work. A more competitive and less cumbersome tax system will attract investment and provide an incentive for young families and businesses to put down roots in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

The budget this week sure did a lot of things with the tax system, but it didn’t do anything to simplify it. Taxes were hiked across the board — and, in fact, new taxes were invented — but it now sounds like the review will be put off until sometime after the 2017 budget.

There’s no money immediately evident for an all-party committee to study democratic reform, either. According to the Liberal platform, there was supposed to be $50,000.

The Telegram emailed the Department of Finance to ask about that, but got no response as of press time.

There was also no explanation for what happened with the Premier’s Task Force on Educational Outcomes. That was one of the early signature promises Ball made in the lead-up to the 2015 election, and it was supposed to cost $200,000.

Somehow, it seems like the task force is over-budget before it even got off the ground, though. In budget documents, the government has allocated $277,000 for it.

The Liberals didn’t abandon everything, though.

True to their word, the government budgeted $250,000 to start an independent statutory Office of the Seniors’ Advocate.

The budget has $2.5 million for continued planning work on a new mental-health hospital to replace the Waterford Hospital, although that’s only a quarter of the $10 million the party committed to spend in the election platform.

A promised $50,000 Economic Impact Analysis of Snowmobiling study is nowhere to be found, but a promised Fisheries Advisory Council is still happening, with $200,000 in funding over two years.

When Ball was asked Friday about the biggest broken promise — the HST hike — he said he wasn’t lying during the election campaign.

“It was disappointing for me as well,” he said. “It was a commitment that I campaigned on. It‘s one I fully intended to keep, but when we really got in and saw the information that was being put to us, really a looming $2.7-billion deficit facing us, the best thing for me to do was to put aside, take the politics out of it and make the decision that was right for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”

Memorial University political science professor Kelly Blidook had a different interpretation. Blidook said that beyond debating whether or not they made the right decisions with the budget, the discussion is about whether or not voters can fundamentally trust the government.

“We want governments to make good policy at the end of the day, not just make keep promises,” he said. “But we should also ask, what were they thinking? And what were they doing? And what was their respect for the electorate when they made these promises?

“What goes through their head to think that this is acceptable behaviour? And I think that’s a big problem.”

Blidook said the way all this has occurred feeds into voter cynicism, and a blanket distrust of politicians.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

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