Liberal Leader Dwight Ball says ongoing volatility in the price of oil will likely be the biggest single issue facing Newfoundland and Labrador in the coming months.
The leader of the Official Opposition predicts the slump in oil markets will mean a tough year or two, and he doesn't believe the governing Progressive Conservatives have prepared the province for this downturn.
What's more, he said Newfoundland and Labrador is the least prepared of oil-dependent provinces in Canada for the current situation, largely because the government failed to diversify the economy over the past decade.
With so many people from this province working in Alberta's oil industry, he said we face a "double-whammy" as the oil sector feels the pinch of plummeting prices.
"... they bring that money back to the Newfoundland and Labrador economy. So, as things slow down in Newfoundland and Labrador, it's also slowing down in Alberta," Ball stated in a year-end interview with the CBC.
Ball believes the natural resource sector will rebound, and the province will weather the storm. However, with the government facing some tough decisions about how to deal with a massive loss in revenues, he said it's important not to "shock the system" with too many layoffs, tax increases or cuts in programming.
He said there must be a balance.
"We need stability in government," he said. "We need to make sure the services are there when (people) need them the most."
A Liberal government, he said, would target economic diversification and "driving revenue" as its primary focus.
With oil prices at five-year lows, Finance Minister Ross Wiseman announced before Christmas that the province's deficit for the 2014-15 fiscal year will now top $900-million, an increase of nearly $380-million from budget day.
The province prepared its budget based on assumptions that the price of oil would average around US $105 per barrel, but the price is now below $60.
'We need stability in government. We need to make sure the services are there when (people) need them the most.' - Dwight Ball
The government has already announced a spending and hiring freeze, and Premier Paul Davis has not ruled out further cost-saving measures.
Meanwhile, Ball said he'd like to see an election called as early as February, and who can blame him.
The Liberals are on a roll, winning seven consecutive byelections and swelling their ranks to 16 MHAs.
Late January would be the one-year mark of Kathy Dunderdale's resignation as premier, and Ball believes it would signify that the governing PCs are serious about taking the politics out of the timing of elections.
Under legislation, a general election must be held sometime in 2015.
"Right now, with the premier making sure his objective and his priority is making sure that his party, his PC Party, is ready for the election, but really this should be about the people having their say," said Ball.