Premier Brian Gallant has vowed to protect health care and education in next month's provincial budget.

"I'm going to go through the town halls and ensure we get the last piece of [public] feedback before we make the ultimate decisions in the next few weeks," Gallant told reporters in Saint John on Monday.

"But unless I'm surprised and I hear something I haven't heard over the last few weeks and months, New Brunswickers want us to protect health care, they want us to protect education, and that's exactly what we'll do."

The New Brunswick government had listed the complete closure of up to 10 hospitals and reducing the number of school teachers and educational assistants as among the options being considered to eliminate the province's $600-million structural deficit.

The recently-released Choices to Move New Brunswick Forward report laid out six key initiatives to reduce expenditures or increase revenues, based on public feedback during the strategic program review over the past year.

Some of the other options include:

  • Increasing the HST to 15 per cent from 13 per cent.
  • Introducing highway tolls.
  • Increasing the corporate income tax rate.
  • Rightsizing senior management in the civil service.

Gallant says all of the options were included in a bid to be transparent.

"These are choices that we have to make as a province together to get our province's economy and our financial situation on the right track," he said outside a Summit on Economic Inclusion.

At least two or three of the options must move ahead to balance the budget, he said.

"It becomes very clear to me, however, if we are to ensure a good quality of life and a strong economy, that we have to invest in education and we have to invest in health care and that's why we'll protect it."

The budget is slated for Feb. 2.

Ten public meetings will be held across the province up until Jan. 21, including one in Saint John on Wednesday.