Premier David Alward’s government outlined a plan in its throne speech on Wednesday to cut the number of MLAs during the upcoming electoral boundaries redistribution initiative.
The Alward government’s second throne speech continued to warn of challenging economic times and broadly listed a series of looming reforms that will streamline the New Brunswick government.
In recent months, civil servants in government departments and nurses have been laid off in the province’s attempt to curtail its $545-million forecasted deficit. Now, some of New Brunswick’s 55 MLAs will also be among those losing their jobs.
The Electoral Boundaries and Redistribution Act is being revised to "ensure provincial ridings are as representative and equitable as possible." But the Alward government is sending a clear signal that there will be fewer politicians in Fredericton after the 2014 election.
'In these times of spending restraint and operational review, the members of this house should not be considered exempt.' —Lt. Gov. Graydon Nicholas
"In these times of spending restraint and operational review, the members of this house should not be considered exempt," Lt. Gov. Graydon Nicholas said in the throne speech.
"In the last session, members voted to reduce the cost of MLA pensions. In this session, members will consider the question of representation in the legislature. The number of electoral districts in our province will be reduced as part of the above amendments."
Alward said he does not know how many MLAs will be in the next legislative assembly. But the reforms will be put in place before the 2014 election.
"I am not going to prejudge that number. That will be part of the discussion that will take place as we go forward,"Alward told reporters.
"What I can tell you is that if we look at the rest of the country, after P.E.I., we are the most represented province in Canada. But again, MLAs do vital work on behalf of the people of New Brunswick."
The existing law mandates the riding boundaries be reviewed every 10 years after the national census. It also stipulates how many electors can be in a riding but it gives the independent commission, which is led by two judges, the ability to go above or below that fixed amount of electors by 10 per cent.
Even with that flexibility built into the law, it is believed that northern New Brunswick would stand to lose seats due to population decline.
The move to downsize the number of MLAs inside the legislature comes as the House of Commons has announced that it is going to add seats.
While New Brunswick voters will be electing fewer MLAs in the next provincial election, they will be voting for future senators in future elections.
The Alward government will follow through on a promise to introduce legislation to elect senators. It is expected the provision will be ready in time for next year’s municipal election.
Multi-year capital budget
The provincial government has been attempting to rein in its spending since it took office in October 2010. Finance Minister Blaine Higgs’s original forecast of a $447-million deficit has now jumped to $545-million.
The first hint of the province’s financial belt tightening came last year when the capital budget was cut almost in half.
The throne speech is committing to a multi-year capital budget plan that will explain what projects will move forward during the period of restraint.
"Your government is serious about fiscal responsibility and reducing the deficit," the throne speech said.
Alward told reporters that his government is still trying to cope with "massive deficit left by the previous government." He said that fact is guiding the government's financial restraint.
"We know the business of government can't remain business as usual. It is time to do things different," Alward said.
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy said in June that he would like to see the number of MLAs be slashed to 38, a move that would save roughly $2 million annually.
Cardy made the announcement in response to a report on proposals for legislative reform.
The NDP would also endorse a move toward proportional representation. But in the short term, Cardy said, it is time to reduce the number of MLAs.
The Alward government is also looking at a series of reforms to how departments and agencies operate.
There is a report upcoming on reforming NB Liquor’s mandate and future.
The throne speech is committing to legislation that will help implement the comprehensive report.
Daniel Allain, the president and chief executive officer of NB Liquor, had raised the idea of privatizing the corporation. That idea was dismissed. But the provincial government did move forward on the review of the liquor corporation’s mandate.
"The premier tasked the board of directors and management to review ways to strengthen retail strategies and find new ones, increase revenues and improve the culture and governance of the organization," the throne speech said.
"The review is complete and your government will begin implementing approved recommendations in early 2012."
There is also a move afoot to overhaul the culture of government, according to the throne speech.
Alward recently announced a new financial administration structure inside the bureaucracy.
The initiative will continue to look what are core government services.
"By improving the culture of government to focus on core services, accountability through performance measures and continuous performance, a foundation for continuing discipline and responsible government is being established," the throne speech said.
These steps will include introducing a so-called balanced scorecard initiative that will chart specific goals and directions so success can be tracked. NB Power introduced a similar plan under former president David Hay.