Blaine Higgs ponders school closures to battle debt
Finance minister calls for "serious changes in how we do business" as deficit, debt continue to grow
A pair of bleak financial reports has Finance Minister Blaine Higgs revisiting the idea of closing schools.
Higgs made the comments Thursday after Auditor General Kim MacPherson said the province is facing a disturbing long-term trend of more deficits and debt.
"One of the elements is rationalizing assets," she said. "That would work to reduce your spending.
"We have many roads and highways. We have many hospitals. We have many schools."
The province has reduced spending in most departments, but a shortfall in revenue drove the projected deficit upward by $59.5 million in the second quarter. The projected deficit for end of the current budget year on March 31, 2014 is now $538.2 million.
The government has stayed away from closing hospitals and has merged only a handful of schools.
"When you look at our declining enrolment and the number of schools that we have … ," he said.
Higgs feels the "structure" of the province is bigger than needed.
"We have to look at serious changes in how we do business."
Higgs also revised his debt projection for the current year on Thursday, lowering it by $7.2 million to sit at $587.2 million. That will put the overall net debt in the vicinity of $11.6 billion.
The provincial government did manage to shave $93.2 million in its spending in the second quarter.
Higgs said more work needs to be done to reduce spending and appeared frustrated that any attempt to save money is criticized – including recent questions about the Department of Transportation's snowplowing budget.
"They've done great things looking at the efficiencies and the operations of their system, and the minute you see a snowflake, people expect to see a plow drive by," said Higgs.
"We know we have to manage and keep the roads in a very safe manner for everybody to drive on, but we all have to look at how things can be managed differently in this province, and it's so hard to get that message."