The Alward government is tightening its belt on health care and education, but the legislative assembly is spending more than $550,000 on a new stone walkway at the front of the legislature and other improvements to the grounds.
"It was not inviting," said clerk of the legislature Don Forestell, describing the area as being mostly crushed rock and crumbling concrete and asphalt before the restoration.
"It did not represent the province well to have a building where the grounds were in a state of disrepair," he said.
The elaborate new network of walkways currently underway was actually planned about eight years ago, said Forestell.
An all-party committee of MLAs approved a $12 million restoration, including a new copper roof, new stone work and new underground piping and wiring, which required tearing up the grounds, he said.
"So it was always determined that at some stage, the work would have to be done to put the the grounds in a state where it's inviting, open, and in keeping with the prominent and historical nature of the building."
'Because they made a decision in 2005 doesn't mean in 2013 we can't be revising that decision to say, 'This is not something the province needs right now'' - NDP Leader Dominic Cardy
Still, the $318,000 expenditure comes just days after Health Minister Ted Flemming warned spending has to be scaled back.
"The party's over. We're at maximum credit limit, minimum payment due is starting to be a little tough and we've got to rein some things in," Flemming said.
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy calls the walkway a luxury, particularly in light of other cuts, such as 74 health care positions being eliminated earlier this week.
"Because they made a decision in 2005 doesn't mean in 2013 we can't be revising that decision to say, 'This is not something the province needs right now,'" Cardy said.
"We shouldn't be cutting music teachers and phys ed teachers and nurses. We should be cutting back on making the MLAs and government ministers' office building look nicer. That's not a priority."
But Gail Dennison, who lives near the legislature, supports the upgrade.
"I think it absolutely had to be repaired and it's a good thing for tourists," she said. "They often come primarily to visit the art gallery and then across to tour the legislature. So it has to be a beautiful, well-kept building."
The company doing the work is from New Brunswick and was the low bidder, said Forestell. "It's being done in a very, we believe, cost-effective manner."
The additional $230,000 in other grounds improvements is slated to be finished next year, he said.