New Brunswick's Liberal government is opening the spending taps a little wider as it prepares for a re-election campaign in 2018.
Finance Minister Cathy Rogers said in her capital budget speech Wednesday that the government will spend $815 million in 2018-19 to build or maintain roads, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure.
'It's the fourth year of the mandate. It's an election budget. That's obvious from the amount.' - Bruce Fitch, PC finance critic
Not counting federal funding of $47 million, that's $768.1 million in net spending by the province — $67 million more than the Liberals had planned to spend in 2018-19.
"Some would argue that we cannot afford these investments," Rogers said. "Your government believes that we cannot afford the consequences of ignoring these investments. To delay further would only increase the cost to New Brunswickers later."
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The capital budget does not include details of any new, major spending projects. Rogers said those details will come later, when individual ministers release capital estimates for their departments.
In recent days, politicians in Fredericton and the neighbouring rural community of Hanwell have heatedly debated in which new municipality a new school should go, but the capital budget makes no mention of the project.
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development confirmed in an email early Wednesday evening there are no funds in the budget for a new school in the Hanwell area.
"There are a number of major school construction and upgrade projects underway which will be concluding next year to free up funds for projects like this next year," said department spokesperson Kelly Cormier.
$28.1M for new projects
Of the $815.3 million total, Rogers said $28.1 million would be for new projects, and $787.2 million would be for maintenance and to continue work on previously announced projects.
That includes additions and renovations already underway at hospitals in Moncton, Saint John, Bathurst and Fredericton.
Rogers told reporters the spending plan had increased because "our plan is adjusted annually according to New Brunswickers' priorities."
Progressive Conservative finance critic Bruce Fitch said the more realistic explanation is next year's election.
"Here we are," he said. "It's the fourth year of the mandate. It's an election budget. That's obvious from the amount."
Tourism, energy returns expected
Rogers said other than health, education and roads, the infrastructure spending is in areas that will produce economic returns, such as tourism and clean energy.
"I do not believe this is about the election year," she said. "This is about investing where the priorities are."
But Rogers used the speech to again challenge Progressive Conservative Opposition Leader Blaine Higgs, the former finance minister in the PC government of David Alward.
She said if the Liberals had followed the spending plan in Higgs's last capital budget in February 2014, they would have to spend $300 million less on projects in 2018-19.
"Our capital investments are further evidence of our commitment to protect health care, and this includes protecting our rural hospitals from closure," she said in her speech.
The government approved supplementary capital spending of $17 million in 2017-18 for nursing homes, Canada 150 projects, and other projects, but that doesn't account for all of the increase for 2018-19.