Minister defends new school for colleague's riding while other projects postponed
Finance Minister Ernie Steeves says new school needed, or kids may be bused to Oromocto, Nackawic
Finance Minister Ernie Steeves is defending his government's plan to postpone school projects in eastern New Brunswick but allow a proposed school in the education minister's riding to go ahead.
Steeves told Information Morning Fredericton the new Hanwell school, which will be located in Education Minister Dominic Cardy's Fredericton West-Hanwell riding, is needed because there's no more space for students at existing Fredericton schools and no more portable classrooms can be added.
Without a new school, children would have to be bused up to 40 minutes away.
"Those kids were going to face being bused out of the Hanwell region to either Oromocto or Nackawic," said Steeves.
"That school has been number one on the DEC's hit list if you will … for the last three years," Steeves said. "I remember Brian Macdonald, when he was MLA, going on about that a lot and the Liberal government had totally ignored it. Probably or maybe because it was in a Conservative riding. I don't know."
Steeves said the theory the project was saved because it's in a minister's riding doesn't hold water. He pointed to plans to build a new school for 1,300 students in Moncton, although he seemed to think the school was planned for nearby Dieppe.
"We don't have any MLA there, nor do we have much chance of ever having an MLA there," said Steeves.
Moncton has three Liberals MLAs and two Progressive Conservative MLAs, including Steeves.
Construction has not started on the Hanwell school, and a decision hasn't been made about where to put it.
The tight capital budget Steeves delivered on Tuesday postponed planning for a new K-8 school in Moncton to replace Bessborough and Hillcrest schools and for the design of a new K-8 school in Campbellton.
Concerns about Playhouse, plows
Steeves didn't bring good news for Fredericton residents looking for money for several projects in the city.
The city was expecting provincial money to rebuild the Playhouse and build a new pool.
But Steeves didn't inspire hope.
"It's not going to be this year," he said.
The People's Alliance has said it will support the capital budget but is concerned about a lack of funding to upgrade the winter snow removal fleet in the province.
While Steeves said the concern was "legitimate," he didn't pledge more funding for it.
"We're doing what we can with what we have and [we] really are trying to do the best and make the best decisions for New Brunswick."
Steeves said the cuts to spending were difficult to present to caucus.
"That was a hard sell, yes, I will say that," said Steeves.
"Nobody wants to deliver tough news, but I had to deliver it to them."
And it's not all doom and gloom, he said. Many projects are still underway, including a $130-million, five-year refurbishment at the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst, and the capital budget overall is more than $600 million.
"We're still doing the upgrades," said Steeves.
"I don't want people to think that this is just about going away."
With files from Information Morning Fredericton