PCs outline 'next steps' for fiscal reforms

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is using his inaugural budget to start laying the groundwork for future financial reforms.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is using his inaugural budget to start laying the groundwork for future financial reforms.

The finance minister had warned the province was in a fiscal crisis and the Progressive Conservative government had to take steps to eliminate a structural deficit. 

Higgs announced plans to trim $220-million out of an $8-billion budget, still leaving a 448-million deficit.

Higgs is promising the Tories will balance the budget by 2014-15 and at the same time introduce new balanced budget targets and multi-year capital budget.

"The public understands and supports the fact we have to make fundamental changes in the way we deliver essential services as the current model of service delivery is not sustainable," Higgs said.

"We have to examine and take action in education and health care and government in general, to be able to provide quality services for future generations."

Higgs does not explain in detail what changes are in the offing, but he points to problem areas the provincial government will tackle.

Although the Department of Education’s budget was not cut, the finance minister said changes must be made to how schools are administered.

Higgs said many of the province’s 321 schools are filled to less than 60 per cent capacity.

"With our education partners, we must develop long-term strategies to make certain we have the right number of education facilities located in the right places and explore new and innovative options for the use of space in our schools," Higgs said.

The health department is another budget that remained unscathed. But Higgs said the provincial government has to decide, "do we need more or do we need to do more with what we have."

New Brunswick’s aging population will continue to put stress on the province’s fiscal situation. Higgs acknowledged in the budget the provincial government is studying options on how it funds services to seniors.

"The current system is unsustainable if we are to meet future needs," Higgs said.

"It must be accountable and fair to seniors facing difficult life choices."

While health, education and senior care were singled out by the finance minister in the budget as areas that will be subject to future reform, Higgs outlined a plan to usher in future changes across all departments.

The provincial government will conduct a structural review of all core government services and will examine regionalization of services and consolidation or sharing of administration or other services.

The provincial government will also review all recommendations made by the Office of the Auditor General in the last five years to see if reforms that would improve efficiency and transparency have been implemented. (Mike Ferguson, the former auditor general, is now the deputy minister of finance.)