New Brunswick

Alward tells civil servants overhaul is prudent

New Brunswick Premier David Alward told senior civil servants on Friday that he would be overhauling the New Brunswick government, even if he weren't facing a $450 million deficit.

Says he would engage in "government renewal" even without a deficit

New Brunswick Premier David Alward told senior civil servants on Friday that he would be overhauling the provincial government even if he weren't facing a $450 million deficit.

In a speech that focused mostly on the measures he has taken to streamline spending, Alward reiterated that he has centralized the payroll and budgeting functions of government.

He joked about the reputation of his finance minister, Blaine Higgs.

For months Higgs has been using the same vocabulary that Alward used in his 25-minute address, with phrases such as "performance indicators" and "process improvement" peppered throughout.

There has been much speculation that his next steps will include deep cuts to spending and civil service layoffs. Alward acknowledged the speculation without offering any assurances.

"News stories, memos, emails, rumours, tweets, gossip about what's going to happen to your work, your individual work, your departments, your salaries, your pensions," he said.

The speech was intended to lay the groundwork for next Tuesday's budget, which is expected to include significant cuts. But Alward described the coming changes as "government renewal."

"Increasing efficiency and accountability, streamlining administration, adopting better business practices, and continuing to improve, are the right things to do regardless of our current fiscal situation," he said.

Last March, the Alward government delayed promised tax cuts, trimmed provincial spending and hiked gas and cigarette taxes in its initial attempt to slay the provincial deficit.

In that budget, Higgs announced New Brunswick’s deficit would fall to $448.8 million in 2011-12 by cutting $220 million in spending and then raising $100 million by pushing up taxes on tobacco and fuel.

The Tories also limited the number of top bureaucrats and axed a handful of government agencies, such as the Provincial Capital Commission, the Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Secretariat for Community Non-Profit Organizations.