Finance Minister Blaine Higgs warns the province’s continued economic recovery is contingent on the re-election of the Progressive Conservatives in the Sept. 22 election.
The finance minister issued the final financial statement before the upcoming provincial election on Wednesday. The report showed the province’s deficit hit $498.7 million for 2013-14.
While the Progressive Conservatives promised in the 2010 election to balance the budget during their first term, Higgs said on Thursday the economy is turning around and its future improvement rests with the Tories remaining at the helm of the provincial government.
“We really have stabilized in New Brunswick and we really feel confident in that, the risk is that with any change in government it all stops, it all disappears and someone has to reinvent this,” Higgs said on CBC's Information Morning Fredericton on Thursday.
“The focus of our government has been setting up a continuous improvement process that carries on government after government. That process is not solidified at this point and I am very concerned that that’s all at risk in an election and that’s why certainly I’m being part of this election because we can’t lose this.”
The Progressive Conservatives have been trying to portray Liberal Leader Brian Gallant as too risky to form the next government. Higgs’s comments on Thursday reinforce his party’s campaign theme heading into the upcoming election.
The Tories have been consistently trailing the Liberals in public opinion polls.
The most recent Corporate Research Associates poll said 53 per cent of decided voters were backing the Liberals, followed by the Tories at 28 per cent, the NDP at 16 per cent and the Greens at three per cent.
The percentage of undecided voters was 33 per cent.
Higgs is watching all funding announcements
While Higgs has continued his tough talk about fiscal restraint, cabinet ministers and Tory MLAs have been busy in recent weeks announcing funding initiatives around the province.
The finance minister said each of those projects have been approved in his March budget.
Higgs said he’s checked the various statements to make sure none of the announcements involve any new spending.
“We haven’t approved one single new budget item in [the cabinet committee] board of management to add to our budget forecast for this year,” he said.
“If new spending comes into play in this election that has to be costed … No one will be more disappointed than I and the premier has been very clear that this is not going to be a spending election, we can’t afford it in this province. We can’t add $300 [million] to $400 million to the bottom line. I am hopeful that the public will understand that.”
The Legislative Assembly passed a new law this year that will force each political party to provide a cost for any campaign promise made, starting 90 days before the election.
The parties must declare the estimated cost and revenue effect of any promise and what the estimate is based on. The estimates have to be reviewed and approved by an accountant.
After the election results are official, any registered political party can ask the courts to review whether another party followed the law. If a judge rules the party failed to comply, it can lose its public subsidy.
Resource development jobs
The finance minister underscored his belief that Sept. 22 will be a “key election” for the province’s future.
He said the Progressive Conservatives have a clear plan for growing the economy in a potential second term.
Higgs pointed out the province's unemployment rate dropped below 10 per cent in May. He also said the Tories believe a focus on the natural resources sector, and specifically industries such as shale gas, will lead to even more jobs in the future.
“We have been very clear about natural resource development is the key to our economic future," the finance minister said.
"We can talk about education improvements and all that and I agree with all of that that we can make inroads there, but the … reason we are losing people to other provinces are for jobs created through natural resource development.
"We have that potential in New Brunswick we are moving forward in that direction and I just absolutely believe it is the right thing to do in a responsible manner.”