N.B. faces 'fiscal crisis': throne speech
New Brunswick's worsening economic situation overshadowed the Progressive Conservative's first throne speech Tuesday, which stuck to the party's campaign commitments and avoided any lofty rhetoric.
The Conservatives won a significant majority in the Sept. 27 election but face an unemployment rate of close to 10 per cent and a ballooning provincial deficit.
The grim economic outlook was a consistent theme throughout Tuesday's speech.
N.B. throne speech highlights
- A new Crown corporation will focus on economic development.
- A legislative committee will review the delays in the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station refurbishment.
- NB Power will create a strategy to implement a three-year power rate freeze.
- Elections will be reinstated for members of the boards of directors of regional health authorities by 2012.
- Early French immersion programs will be reviewed.
- A law will be introduced to cut down on driver distractions, such as cellphones.
- Child care spaces for toddlers and infants will be increased.
- The government will create a lobbyist registry, introduce a referendum act and allow more free votes in the legislature.
- Fees will be removed for the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
"Many families and communities have been affected with job losses, and these challenges are being compounded by another one: the province is facing a serious financial crisis," Premier David Alward said in a news conference.
"We will stop and reverse New Brunswick's fiscal deterioration. We will begin the task of putting our province back on the right track and in the black."
In the throne speech, Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas said the province is facing a "fiscal crisis" but that the Alward government would meet its obligations under the province's Fiscal Responsibility and Balanced Budget Act.
That act requires the government's books to be balanced by the end of four budget periods starting with the 2011-12 fiscal year.
However, at a news conference after the throne speech, Alward said that while the government would stick to the spirit of the act, it would likely not be possible to meet all of its strict rules.
While the speech warned of the troubling financial situation, it did not delve into specifics of any future fiscal austerity measures.
For example, the throne speech avoided any reference to the one per cent budget cut that has been applied to government departments or the planned two per cent budget reduction that is slated to hit departments next year.
Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is expected to unveil the province's capital budget and give an overall economic and fiscal update before the legislative assembly adjourns in December.
The throne speech did not offer any significant departures from the Conservatives' campaign platform.
The party will move forward with a planned reduction in corporate taxes for small businesses that will see the rates dropped to 2.5 per cent from five per cent.
The government will carry out a planned reduction in the general corporate income tax to 10 per cent but will not follow through on another promised reduction that would have dropped the corporate tax rate to eight per cent.
As well, the Tories are fulfilling a promise to halt the planned tax cut for citizens earning more than $118,000.
The Alward government will also use the first session to put in place measures intended to battle the rising property tax levels that have angered many homeowners in recent years.
Some municipalities, particularly Moncton, Fredericton, Saint John, Dieppe, Oromocto and Quispamsis, have witnessed large increases in property tax assessments in recent years.
The Tories will cap property assessments for all homeowners at three per cent for the next two years.
Seniors will be given further property tax rate relief starting in 2012 after a series of public consultations with seniors groups, municipalities and other interest groups.
In the election, the Tories promised to permanently freeze property assessments.
"Over the next year, we will put in place the tools we need to put in place to bring forward the freeze for seniors," Alward said.