Parties must estimate costs of election promises, Higgs says
Finance Minister Blaine Higgs announced reforms to the Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act
Finance Minister Blaine Higgs will be introducing legislative amendments that will force political parties to publicly state the cost of their election promises and will dock ministerial salaries for running deficits.
“Elected representatives must be accountable for taxpayers’ dollars, not only when making commitments to voters, but also when making decisions at the cabinet table,” he said.
The new Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act would force political parties to disclose costs of their promises or indicate that they have no idea how much the proposal will cost taxpayers.
Political parties will be required to state the cost of any election promise made 90 days prior to voters heading to the polls. During the formal election period, parties will be forced to release how much each campaign promise will cost on the day that it is made.
The proposed bill requires the cost disclosure to be verified from a chartered professional accountant to prove that proper process was used to calculate the cost.
Political parties failing to disclose these estimates could lose their annual operating allowance.
Higgs said on Wednesday that his party's 2010 election platform would have been different if the bill he presented had been in place.
He also said he is facing "horrendous" demands for pre-election spending from the Tory caucus.
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy said his party was involved in discussions with the Alward government about the aspect of the bill that requires political parties to disclose the costs of election promises.
Cardy said the bill was a "pretty good idea."
"I think there is a responsibility for parties that if we are going to be getting access to public money, as all the parties in New Brunswick have, including the government, that we have got to out in front of the public and present platforms that have some connection to reality," Cardy said.
"And that has been a problem for all the parties in the past, including my own."
Ministers face fines for deficits
The proposed amendments will also force cabinet ministers to watch how they spend their budgets.
If there is a deficit, a government will be required to trim the deficit by $125 million. If the books are balanced, governments will be required to deliver a surplus in the following year.
Cabinet ministers will face a $2,500 administrative penalty if they fail to reduce the deficit or do not maintain a surplus.
The fines will not represent a significant dent in cabinet ministers' salaries. A New Brunswick cabinet minister earns roughly $136,000 a year and the premier earns $162,000.
Cabinet ministers who allow the province to fall into deficit may be able to avoid the $2,500 fine, according to the Finance minister.
Higgs told reporters on Wednesday his pay likely would have been cut twice had this provision been in place during the last four years.
According to the public accounts and Higgss' current budget papers, the finance minister and the entire Alward cabinet would actually have been facing three straight $2,500 penalties for failing to reduce the deficit by the required minimum of $125 million year.
In the fiscal year ended on March 31, 2013, the Alward government presided over a deficit increase of $262.4 million and the latest estimates are that the deficit increased by another $99.5 million in the year ended March 31 2014.
In the current year, the deficit is budgeted to fall, but only by $76.5 million — all violations under Higgs's proposed new law.
There is a provision that takes into account extraordinary events, such as natural disasters, wars, economic crashes, etc. But those events must have a combined effect of at least $20 million on the budget.
Liberal Roger Melanson criticized Higgs over the bill and pointed out how the Alward government has missed its own budget targets.
“This is after this government … made three fundamental promises one of which was balance the budget within four years, without raising taxes or reducing services. Four months before the vote they come up with this piece of legislation to make believe to New Brunswickers that they are serious about this,” Melanson said.
The proposed legislation would also expand the mandate of the Legislative Library to help political parties calculate election promises.