Higgs complains about slow pace of deficit fight

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is issuing a stern warning to provincial civil servants who may be standing in the way of the government's deficit-reduction plan.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is issuing a stern warning to provincial civil servants who may be standing in the way of the Progressive Conservative government’s deficit-reduction plan.

The Department of Finance's fiscal update for the first quarter of 2011 shows the projected deficit is higher than Higgs forecasted in March.

Higgs had said the projected deficit would be $448 million in 2011-12, but the latest figure has grown to $514 million — an increase of $65.5 million.

The finance minister said in an interview on Wednesday that he's getting resistance to spending cuts, including from within the civil service.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs said he's unhappy with the slow pace in cutting the deficit. ((David Smith/Canadian Press))
Higgs said he's not happy about that hesitation.

"If there are those who don't want to be part of it and do not want to deliver best results for this province, maybe they should work for another province," Higgs said.

The fiscal statement outlined that forecasted revenues from Atlantic Lottery Corp. were down $8.2 million. Anticipated profits for ALC and casino revenues were also lower than projected.

The update said $37.1 million has been blamed on a pension expense and provision for losses. As well, the Department of Health spent an extra $19.2 million on the prescription drug program and the regional health authorities.

Higgs said overspending at the Department of Health demonstrates the need for big changes in that budget. He is asking the health department and others to find more savings and to get back on target.

Premier David Alward's government wants to eliminate the deficit by 2014 but at current spending patterns, it won't make it.

Social assistance rates questioned

The finance minister also questioned whether the province's social assistance system is one reason employers are having a hard time finding workers.

"We got 23,000 people on social assistance. Surely, there's some of them that could be trained and would fit. We don't seem to be closing the gap very well," Higgs said.

According to the Department of Social Development's caseload profile, there were 25,034 active social assistance cases and 40,771 social assistance recipients so far this month.

Among the active social assistance cases, 63.5 per cent of the recipients are single individuals and 24.2 per cent are one-parent families.

As well, 54.8 per cent of the active cases are led by women.

A single person on social assistance receives $537 under the transitional assistance program and a one adult and one child household would receive $809.

Higgs said he would like to address the deficit either through cutting departmental budgets or getting people work rather than raising taxes.

"Can we say that we will not be in a position or not need to be in a position to raise taxes? I don't think we can say that," he said.

"But the point is, that is not our goal. Our goal is to reduce the level of spending, look for new sources of where we can grow our economy and create employment so that we actually have more tax dollars coming in under the current system."