Most Islanders say wait to balance budget: minister
Conservative finance critic skeptical that Sheridan will ever have a balanced budget
P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan has wrapped up pre-budget talks with Islanders and said most of those he's heard from want government to wait another year before balancing the books.
Last year, Sheridan had to a plan to balance the province's finances in 2014-2015. That was already a two-year delay from his original deficit reduction strategy.
Sheridan said 85 per cent of the groups he spoke with during the most recent budget consultation sessions told him to push back balancing the budget for another year.
"They said they didn't want to see further expenditure cuts, they didn't want to see that, bottom line, front-line services being cut and that was the overwhelming viewpoint," he said.
Erin McGrath-Gaudet, of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said she disagrees.
"They're also not balancing our budget in good times," she said. "So I think at the end of the day we're going to have to have a little bit of pain and I'd rather see them deal with it now and start on that path than to keep kicking the can further down the road."
Lori MacKay, with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, sides with Sheridan. Many of CUPE's members work for government.
"The implementation of HST — which is going to be a benefit to the business community — that's the main reason that this has been implemented and apparently going to help the economy. I think we need to let that play itself out," she said.
Conservative Finance Critic James Alyward is skeptical that Sheridan will ever have a balanced budget.
"We know how terrible this minister is with numbers in the first place and it's a shame that he's in charge of finances here on P.E.I.," he said.
Sheridan's deficit at the end of this fiscal year is projected to be about $76 million.
He said if he was to stick to his original plan, he'd have to cut $26 million in government expenditures next year and even more the following year.
"We will take the extra year, we'll make two jumps down to that number and then get to the zero in that next year. It's exactly the same situation that every other province finds themself in right now," he said.