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Opposition skeptical as N.B. reveals unexpected pre-election surplus
Published Tuesday, August 21, 2018 1:38PM ADT Last Updated Tuesday, August 21, 2018 8:08PM ADT
FREDERICTON -- New Brunswick's Liberal government got some good pre-election news Tuesday: The auditor general said the province actually had a surplus last year after a decade of deficits.
Audited statements showed a surplus of $67 million for the fiscal year of 2017-2018.
Finance Minister Cathy Rogers said the surplus is the result of a $150-million increase in revenues -- largely due to corporate income taxes.
"But in addition to the improvement on revenue, we also saw a $109-million decrease in expenditures," Rogers said.
The government also saw almost $109 million in additional federal funding, including $52 million in extra equalization payments, and Rogers said the economy is growing at a rate faster than predicted by private sector economists.
The provincial election campaign officially begins Thursday, but the parties have been in election mode for weeks and opposition party leaders were skeptical Tuesday about the state of the province's finances.
Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs called the audited statement a "hollow document" because it is based on last year's figures and doesn't include current spending.
"Is there anything in this that reflects the current level of spending that's going on in this province? Is there anything in any shape or form that reflects the $1.3 billion of announcements that have been made since January of this year? I would suggest no -- none of it is there," Higgs said at a campaign event on the banks of the Saint John River.
Green Leader David Coon suggested New Brunswickers would get a different kind of surprise in next year's fiscal statements.
"It's a nice trick, and you can do it if you defer spending into the current year and end up overspending in the current year. That's my concern -- that's what they did," Coon said.
Rogers said the government is forecasting modest deficits over the next few years -- with the net debt expected to top $14 billion by the end of March next year.
Also Tuesday, the Progressive Conservatives unveiled part of their platform. Higgs said a Tory government would allow MLAs to vote their conscience on issues in the legislature.
He also promised to toughen conflict of interest rules, expand the role of the ethics commissioner and increase funding for the auditor general's office.
Higgs attacked the spending of the Liberal government, and asked New Brunswickers to consider its record.
"Are you better off than you were four years ago? Are you and your family healthier and wealthier? You're probably wiser, I'll give you that, because we're not falling for it again, are we? We can't afford another four years of Brian Gallant's reckless spending and lack of action," he said.
The Liberals, meanwhile, promised Tuesday to provide free second-language training if re-elected.
Premier Brian Gallant, who launched his re-election campaign on Sunday, said the training could help attract investment and bring jobs to the province.
"The diversity of New Brunswick's workforce is a huge competitive advantage for our province, in part because a bilingual workforce helps attract investment and brings jobs to the province," he said.
The premier also announced, that if re-elected, his government would maintain a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing that it imposed in 2014.
The Progressive Conservatives have said they could consider lifting the moratorium in selected areas if there was support for it.
For its part, the Green Party is promising a different kind of government than that offered by the Liberals and PCs in the past.
"We've got major challenges that we want to take on and we need to solve those together. We've got lots of ideas we'll be bringing forward in the election," said Coon, who holds his party's lone seat in the legislature.
The Greens will release their platform next Monday.
The NDP says it will launch its official campaign Thursday, so far nominating 29 candidates with plans to run 49 in the vote expected on Sept. 24. It currently holds no seats.