Opposition members fume over PC delays to projects
Liberal Opposition MLAs say 'dramatic' cuts favour Progressive Conservative ridings
Opposition members protested Wednesday against the deferral of infrastructure projects by the Blaine Higgs government, and their concern about the spending cuts was shared by federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc.
LeBlanc said the new provincial government was putting federal money at risk by delaying cost-shared projects.
In the legislature, some MLAs said they were surprised by the dramatic cuts in the proposed capital budget, which slashes $250 million from the previous government's spending plan.
Others said the Progressive Conservative government was playing favourites by allowing a new school in Hanwell while delaying other school projects in Moncton and Campbellton.
The budget calls for delays in several high-profile projects, including government buildings, schools and highways. Some projects, such as the Centennial Building and new courthouse in Fredericton, are already underway.
The PCs have said the cuts are necessary because the previous Liberal government promised too much.
During question period, opposition members took the government to task.
Federal funding at risk?
Lisa Harris, the Liberal MLA for Miramichi Bay-Neguac, described the capital budget as "austerity" and accused Higgs of spending money only in PC ridings.
Harris also said delays may cause the withdrawal of federal money from shared projects.
"These cut-and-slash decisions will leave millions of federal dollars on the table for other provinces to grab."
Later in the day, LeBlanc, the Beausejour MP and intergovernmental affairs minister, said the federal government was surprised to learn of the cuts by Higgs, which he said could affect joint federal-provincial projects.
"We think it's not in the economic interest of New Brunswick," LeBlanc said in Ottawa.
"Normally, when you pay 50 per cent of the bill you don't have 100 per cent of the decision-making authority. He didn't have the courage to tell us ahead of time."
LeBlanc said he hopes the cuts are not "ideological or some sort of political vengeance on his part," as Harris and other provincial opposition members suggested.
"I don't think, frankly, it augurs very well for somebody who will want to collaborate with the government on other spending priories. I think he's off to a very bad start."
In the legislature, Higgs did not deny the risk of losing federal funds, but said this wasn't reason enough to spend money the province doesn't have.
"We do not need to invent projects because there is money in Ottawa to pay half the cost," he said. "I suggested that if they change the rules, we are there, but I do not need 50-cent dollars for projects I do not need."
Liberal Jean-Claude D'Amours of Edmundston-Madawaska Centre said it was "disgraceful" to see the government delay the mother and child unit at the Edmundston Regional Hospital.
"This was not a new project or new funds; it was a project already [started]," D'Amours said.
The Liberal government promised $2 million for it last November.
Health Minister Ted Flemming said the project is good and may still go forward, just not this year.
"It will go forward at the right time, it will go forward for the right reasons, and it will not go forward simply because the member opposite wants money spent in his own riding," Flemming said.
MLA Denis Landry of Bathurst-East-Nepisiguit-Saint-Isidore asked Higgs if he's done any research or consultation before delaying road projects such as the Route 11 upgrades between Cocagne River and Little Bouctouche River and between Glenwood and Miramichi.
Higgs said these delays should not be a surprise because "it was not anything that I have not been talking about for the last six months and beyond."
"We have seen a cycle of volatility in road construction because there has been a difference in philosophy — just spend money and create jobs with taxpayers' dollars. I do not share that philosophy, and I have been very clear on that."
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc.Dec 12, 2018 7:22 PM AT