New Brunswick

Taxpayers hit with $31M in cancellation costs after Higgs stops 4 major projects

The cancellation of four major Liberal infrastructure projects represents higher costs for taxpayers in the short term, according to figures released by the Blaine Higgs government.

Province must pay $31M this year after cancelling new Fredericton courthouse and other infrastructure projects

The Progressive Conservative government of Blaine Higgs has stopped work on a new courthouse and refurbished Centennial Building in Fredericton. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The cancellation of four major Liberal infrastructure projects represents higher costs for taxpayers in the short term, according to figures released by the Blaine Higgs government.

The Finance Department says the scrapping of the projects adds $31 million in expenses to the province's budget this fiscal year.

The cost of building a major piece of infrastructure is normally spread out over the life of the project. But if a project is cancelled after work begins, accounting rules require that the costs be added to the books at that time.

"Costs are primarily associated with paying for and expensing work completed to date on these projects," spokesperson Vicky Deschenes said in an email.

The province has bought land for an 11-kilometre, two-lane bypass leading into Miramichi, but that project was cancelled in December. (Department of Transportation)

She said the cost breakdown is:

  • $16 million for the cancellation of two phases of the Route 11 upgrade.

  • $11 million for the aborted plan to refurbish Fredericton's Centennial Building and construct a new courthouse attached to it.

  • $3 million for the scrapping of a replacement New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.

  • $1 million for road work in the Perth-Andover area that is not going ahead.

Deschenes said some of the costs were offset by savings in other areas, leading to capital account spending projected to be $21.7 million over budget in 2018-19.

The savings from the cancellations will add up in future years when the spread-out costs don't appear on the books.

The $272-million Route 11 project was to twin the highway from north of Shediac to near Bouctouche and to build a bypass road near Miramichi. The province was going to spend $147 million with the rest coming from the federal government.

The new Progressive Conservative government said it will finish one part of the Shediac-Bouctouche section but will cancel the other section as well as the Miramichi bypass.

The new Fredericton courthouse was going to connect to the remaining part of the Centennial Building by a two-storey passageway, but the project was cancelled after construction started. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

Premier Blaine Higgs signalled when he was still opposition leader that he didn't think Route 11 needed the upgrades the Liberals had promised.

And he said last fall that Fredericton didn't need the new courthouse attached to the Centennial Building, a project that would have cost $76 million.

"We don't need more government buildings in this province," he said. "We do this all over the province. We build one here because there's one somewhere else."

At the legislature's public accounts committee last month, the deputy minister of justice told MLAs that a new Fredericton courthouse would address "security concerns" of people using the existing building, which dates to 1930.

Mike Comeau told MLAs that judges, lawyers and staff using the building were reluctant to describe their security concerns in detail.

"Honestly, they don't want to expose any weaknesses to anyone who might have bad ideas," he said.

"So I'm loath to catalogue in detail the specific things that make, for example, the Miramichi courthouse, or the Saint John or the Moncton law courts more desirable than the current justice building in Fredericton."

Former New Brunswick Court of Appeal Chief Justice Ernest Drapeau also complained publicly in 2016 that the court's small hearing room in the building can't accommodate simultaneous translation, despite the requirement that the court function bilingually.

"You may be surprised to know that, but that's a fact," said Drapeau, who applauded the announcement of the new building in early 2017.  

Comeau said after the PCs cancelled the project, officials were asked to assess the "functional and security limitations" of the existing building so that it can be upgraded.

The New Brunswick Museum replacement would have cost provincial taxpayers $50 million.

The cancelled road work in Perth-Andover was a $19 million project to re-engineer the village's downtown, lifting Route 105 above flood level and reconfiguring where it meets Route 109.

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