Infrastructure budget up $31.7M from original plan

The Gallant government unveiled its capital construction budget Wednesday, with a total expense $31.7 million higher than planned because of new federal programs driving up provincial spending.

Capital spending of almost $758M is mostly for maintenance and projects already announced

Finance Minister Cathy Rogers says the government wanted to take advantage of two federal cost-shared programs, which add more than $31 million to the capital budget. (CBC)

The Gallant government unveiled its capital construction budget Wednesday, with a total expense $31.7 million higher than planned because of new federal programs driving up provincial spending.

The government will spend $757.9 million on infrastructure in 2017-18.

Of that total, $659.4 million is for maintenance or to continue work on projects the Liberals have already announced.

The $31.7 million spike from the original spending plan is because the federal government launched two infrastructure programs, for post-secondary institutions and clean water systems, that required provincial matching funds.

Federal plans are 'opportunities'

"We're always looking for leveraging opportunities," Finance Minister Cathy Rogers told reporters about the federal programs. "When we have these opportunities, and they fit with our priorities … we're just thankful to have that."

The province had planned to spend $696.3 million on infrastructure this year.

But the election of a federal Liberal government in October 2015 changed the equation because of the Trudeau government's own infrastructure programs.

Ottawa's Clean Water and Wastewater Fund and its Post-Secondary Strategic Investment Fund required the province to kick in half the funding for projects in New Brunswick, throwing off the province's forecast by $31.5 million.

Expects balanced budget in 2020

Rogers said that's only a small deviation and it won't change the government's plan to balance its budget by 2020.

"We're committed to our plan," she said. "We have a plan for fiscal balance and we intend to meet or exceed this. On this capital budget, we're up less than five per cent off the plan."

Bruce Fitch, the Progressive Conservative finance critic, says the province doesn't have to take advantage of every federal program just because it's there. (CBC)
But Bruce Fitch, the Opposition Progressive Conservative finance critic, said there's no obligation for the province to agree to federal shared-cost programs.

"It's up to the government whether or not to sign up," Fitch said.

"Just because a program is there doesn't necessarily mean you have to take the money. Hopefully, those decisions are being thought through by the government and aren't just a knee-jerk reaction."

Brand-new infrastructure projects, worth $98.5 million, were not listed in Wednesday's capital budget. Those lists will come out when individual departments release their capital estimates. he province will spend $110.3 on health infrastructure in the coming year and $88.1 million in education.

The health money will include continuing work on additions and renovations at three hospitals, the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional in Fredericton, and the Chaleur Regional in Bathurst. All were announced in earlier years.

The overlying issue is New Brunswick is reaching a record-high net debt and hasn't had a balanced budget.- Bruce Fitch, Progressive Conservative finance critic

​Fitch criticized the spending level, calling the projects "goodies. … This government is really identifying itself with a tax-and-spend Liberal philosophy."

But Fitch wouldn't say which of the individual projects he'd reject, and he acknowledged some of his PC colleagues had demanded some of the projects.

"Everybody wants their project completed, everybody wants the spending to occur, but the overlying issue is New Brunswick is reaching a record-high net debt and hasn't had a balanced budget," he said.

The capital budget also commits $12.6 million in tourism, which Rogers said is a record amount.

"Tourism is not an expense, she said. "It's an investment with a return available,"

Another $20.3 million is budgeted for energy retrofits and renewable energy projects, an increase of 50 per cent over the previous fiscal year.

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.