Federal minister feuds with N.B. premier after dramatic project cuts
By Kevin Bissett, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Wednesday, December 12, 2018 3:56PM AST
Last Updated Thursday, December 13, 2018 8:31AM AST
FREDERICTON -- The federal intergovernmental affairs minister has launched an attack on the Tory premier of his home province, after dramatic project cuts that left millions of federal dollars on the table.
Dominic LeBlanc said the cuts announced Tuesday in the New Brunswick government's capital budget were done in a "unilateral and belligerent" way.
"I think that they were irresponsible cuts that won't help the New Brunswick economy," he said in an interview Wednesday.
The Tory government is cutting $265 million from planned spending, including postponing the twinning of sections of Route 11, which runs through LeBlanc's federal riding.
LeBlanc said Premier Blaine Higgs had lots of opportunity to discuss the cuts with him while the two were at the first ministers' meeting in Montreal last week, but instead he learned of the cuts through the media Tuesday.
"Normally if you're paying 50 per cent of a particular initiative you don't have 100 per cent of the decision-making authority. I think it augers very poorly for other things that he'll want to do with the Government of Canada," LeBlanc said.
"These things have always worked through a negotiation and co-operative arrangement. He seems to have a different approach which I don't think is in the long term interests of the New Brunswick economy."
In the provincial legislature Wednesday, Higgs said past governments have had a thirst to generate projects just to get federal funding, but he said a taxpayer-funded economy is never successful.
"We have infrastructure we need to fix. We have bridges, we have roads, we have schools, we have places we need to put money for the future of our province. We don't need to invent in projects because there's money in Ottawa to pay half the cost. I don't need 50-cent dollars for projects I don't need," Higgs said.
Donald Wright, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick, said Higgs and his minority government may have only a short mandate, and is making tough decisions early in an effort to balance the books.
"Higgs wants to play to his strengths as the competent fiscal manager who is not going to drive this province over the cliff," Wright said. "He's probably looking at a two-year mandate. Better to do it now, early in that mandate, than later in the mandate."
LeBlanc said the cuts were "high-handed" and not respectful for New Brunswickers who voted in the last federal election.
"We campaigned clearly on making investments in economic infrastructure and we won 10 out of 10 seats, which I think is considerably better than Mr. Higgs did," LeBlanc said.
The province said it will re-evaluate a number of other projects such as a new justice complex in Fredericton and a planned new New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.
Saint John - Rothesay Liberal MP Wayne Long took to Twitter Tuesday night to complain about the cuts, and took aim at provincial Education Minister Dominic Cardy.
"Isn't it funny that the (New Brunswick Museum) and (Saint John High School) funding is cut in my riding when DominicCardy gets a new school. What a complete hypocrite," he wrote.
Cardy replied: "I invite you to contact the Dept and ask about my involvement in this decision. Then I'll invite you to apologize. Posturing helps no one."
LeBlanc said he won't reach out to Higgs to talk specifically about the spending cuts, but expects they'll have the opportunity in the course of regular business in the weeks to come.
He said future requests from Higgs for funding for New Brunswick will have to be evaluated differently.
"I think it would be evaluated in light of his unilateral and belligerent approach to these kind of investments. It appears we have a partner who doesn't share the same interest in collaboration," he said.