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Liberals freeze community grants, cut discretionary spending

Money talk dominated the first regular sitting day of the House of Assembly spring session, with Finance Minister Cathy Bennett front and centre.

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett speaks to reporters outside the House of Assembly Wednesday. Bennett announced the government is freezing the grants to community non-profit groups for one year, while a review is done on the long-term status of the funding.

Bennett started off by announcing the government would not cut the $70 million in operating grants the government provides as core funding to community groups.

Frozen funding might not sound like a win for those non-profit groups that rely on the government for money, but when Bennett is looking for ways to slash up to 30 per cent of government spending in all provincial departments and agencies, stable funding means a reprieve.

Bennett said that over the next year, the government will review all the operating grants, and will “work together with our community organizations and bring clarity to their current funding arrangements.”

While the Tories applauded the move, the NDP said the community groups had already had their funding frozen for years, and what they really need is an increase.

A little later in the day, during question period, the Tories asked about the government’s attempts to reduce costs by paring back discretionary spending.

“I believe the number is somewhere in the vicinity of about $100 million,” Bennett said, “which is substantially more than the former administration's discretionary spending freeze that took place over the course of a much longer period.”

But it turns out the government hasn’t been able to save anywhere close to $100 million yet.

When Bennett spoke to reporters later in the day, she acknowledged the $100-million savings were “annualized.”

Since the government has only been in power for about three months, that means it has actually reduced spending by only about $25 million, and it is multiplying by four to extrapolate for the rest of the year.

“But certainly, the discretionary spending freeze that our government implemented was more comprehensive than the former administration, and I look forward to tabling that information in the House,” Bennett said.

All of this is taking place as the government draws together its budget, going through departmental spending line-by-line and figuring out how to tackle a $2-billion deficit.

Premier Dwight Ball has refused to put a firm date on it, but hinted the budget will be delivered in late April or early May.

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