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EDITORIAL: The budget’s back

Finance Minister Tom Osborne presents the 2019 provincial budget Tuesday in the House of Assembly.
Finance Minister Tom Osborne presented the 2019 provincial budget for the first time in the House of Assembly in April. The budget returned to the legislature this week with the Liberals’ new minority government. — Telegram file photo

Will the second time be the charm for Newfoundland and Labrador Budget 2019?

First, it was a virtually identical cabinet to the one before the election.

Then, Dwight Ball’s government tabled the exact same budget they’d put before the last legislature.

It’s déjà vu all over again!

At least with the budget, though, it’s a fair call: budgets aren’t written in a day, and a new budget would require an incredible amount of work. The Liberals, who dropped the writ and took us to the polls days after tabling this year’s budget, certainly can be forgiven for retabling their work.

That means that despite the chummy talk of collaboration in the legislature, ideas put forward by the two opposition parties won’t be making their way into this year’s spending priorities.

As Finance Minister Tom Osborne put it, though, that could change in the future, to a point: “I’ve had discussion with other members of the legislature. I believe that the spirit of collaboration and working in future budgets on things that can benefit the people of the province has to be balanced with maintaining fiscal stability.”

The Liberals, who dropped the writ and took us to the polls days after tabling this year’s budget, certainly can be forgiven for retabling their work.

It’s time, Osborne says, to look at priorities for next year’s budget: “There’s literally months of work that goes into preparing a budget and putting in place the line-by-line items.”

Absolutely true. Much of government’s budgetary plan will be framed up by the end of October, and individual departments will be sent back to their respective drawing boards to fine-tune and to find ways to save or reallocate funding.

It’s a lengthy process, and the time for looking at possible policy suggestions from more-collaborative opposition parties is, well, virtually upon us.

So, in the great spirit of a new minority government that claims it’s ready to listen, here’s an idea.

Let’s scrap the phony baloney provincial pre-budget consultations.

For years now, the provincial Department of Finance has trundled the minister of Finance and other ministers around the province, ostensibly to get public feedback to inform and improve the province’s spending priorities. Only problem is, by the time the minister-and-pony-show sets off to meet the public (usually through January) the kind of policy decisions the public wants to talk about are long since made for the current budget year, and bureaucrats are already nailing down their line items. Finance Minister Tom Osborne said as much on Tuesday.

In essence, those who make presentations are really only getting an opportunity to blow off steam or get things off their chests. Meaningful input would have to be made months earlier.

There are plenty of smart people in this province, and they are certainly not restricted to the ranks of government. If their ideas are be used properly, they have to be put forward in a forum that actually offers an opportunity to influence the government’s direction.

Listening to the public in late January just doesn’t do it.

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