I feel compelled to respond to a letter published by the Telegram on Aug. 2 from MHA Tony Wakeham.
In his letter, Wakeham was dismissive of my comments seeking collaboration, stating that we “ran for office saying (we) were ready to govern.”
Wakeham knows that in a minority government we need collaboration to tackle important issues.
I take the combative and condescending tone throughout his letter as a continued sign that he and his party have no intention of collaborating with us.
I note that in Wakeham’s letter to the Telegram regarding the Moody’s credit rating, two prominent words were missing: Muskrat Falls.
Moody’s certainly didn’t ignore Muskrat Falls.
They have previously referred to the project and Nalcor as a “significant contingent liability” on our province, and a “downward pressure on (our) ratings.”
In their most recent news release, they state that “the financial health of Nalcor is weak following the construction of the CAD12.7 billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam project” and that Nalcor “accounts for over one-third of the province's total direct and indirect debt.”
Put another way, Muskrat Falls is responsible for over 30 per cent of this province’s direct and indirect debt. Unlike Wakeham and his party, as the governing party we don’t have the luxury of ignoring our biggest problem.
In dealing with that problem, we have seen our debt-servicing costs increase to the second-highest spending category in the provincial budget, behind only healthcare. Our province is paying more on interest today than we do on education.
The PC’s current idea of collaboration, driven by Ches Crosbie but dutifully carried out by Wakeham and others, is an attempt to strong arm us into decisions based on their election platform.
Even so, we have repeatedly, in writing and in the House of Assembly, asked them to provide suggestions on how we could reduce costs to accommodate their additional spending demands.
Crosbie’s final response to us stated that we needed to reprioritize, but that “how this is achieved at the line-by-line level is the business of a government, which has exclusive access to the information and exclusive authority to draft budgets.”
To translate Crosbie’s response: not my problem, you figure it out.
It has been two months since these discussions with the PC party took place, and to date we still have not received any solutions from them on how we could move forward with these worthwhile items. We do not disagree with Crosbie or Wakeham that these would be positive changes, but we must reiterate repeatedly that we are not in a position to add spending right now.
We cannot do everything we want, largely because of the Muskrat Falls project hanging over our head. This is one of the largest points Moody’s made in moving our credit rating back to its 2006 level.
While it appears that true collaboration is currently the farthest thing from Wakeham and Crosbie’s minds, I remain hopeful that we can have meaningful discussions with all 40 MHAs on finding sustainable ways to reduce costs while still delivering important services.
In the meantime, we will continue to collaborate actively with the NDP and the Independent members while we wait on a more productive approach from the PC party.
To Tony Wakeham, I say this — I am always open to discussing areas where government can save money with you. But that discussion must be an honest one that reflects the realities left to us from the reckless spending of your predecessors.
Your party was a massive part of the problem we currently face. You have an opportunity to be a part of the solution. My door is always open.
Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board,
MHA for Waterford Valley