New Brunswick

PCs dramatically cut infrastructure spending in capital budget

The new Progressive Conservative government is dramatically scaling back spending on infrastructure with a capital budget almost one-third lower than what the previous Liberal government had planned.

PCs propose spending $60.2M on schools, down from $105.8M the Liberals budgeted for 2018-19

Finance Minister Ernie Steeves presented a capital budget on Tuesday, saying the province had 'failed to curtail' infrastructure spending. (Michel Corriveau/Radio-Canada)

The new Progressive Conservative government is dramatically scaling back spending on infrastructure with a capital budget almost one-third lower than what the previous Liberal government had planned.

There is a smattering of new projects in the spending plan, including new kindergarten-to-Grade 8 schools for Moncton and Hanwell, but the overall belt-tightening is clear.

The government is postponing several major, high-profile projects, including:

  • A new Centennial Building and courthouse complex in Fredericton.
  • A new New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.
  • Route 11 upgrades between Cocagne River and Little Bouctouche River and between Glenwood and Miramichi.
  • Planning for a new school in Moncton to replace Bessborough and Hillcrest schools.
  • The design of a new K-8 school in Campbellton.
  • Renovations to the Memramcook Institute.

Total spending is $600.6 million in 2019-2020, far below the $865.5 million the Liberals had forecast for the same year.

Finance Minister Ernie Steeves told the legislature that while a burst of stimulus money a decade ago stabilized the economy after a global market crash, "we have failed to curtail our infrastructure spending as the economy started to improve."

He called the continued large-scale deficit spending on infrastructure "a large factor in the near doubling of our net debt" and warned that debt could grow more quickly if interest rates rise as a result of a downgrade of the province's credit rating.

In education, the PCs will spend $60.2 million in schools next year, down from the $105.8 million the Liberals budgeted for 2018-19.

That includes a new anglophone K-8 school for the rural community of Hanwell, outside Fredericton, in the riding of Education Minister Dominic Cardy. The school location has been the subject of a long local lobbying campaign.

Cuts in Liberal ridings

Cardy was jeered by opposition MLAs as he told the house the decision was a sign of the Higgs government taking politics out of school-funding decisions.

"In terms of schools and renovations to schools, the majority of projects that have been eliminated are in Liberal ridings, and at the same time the minister of education sees a new school being built in his own riding," said Liberal MLA Roger Melanson.

Steeves disputed that, noting the Moncton area is getting a new school for 1,300 students.

"I don't think that's founded at all," Steeves said.

He also told reporters that some of the postponed projects could be revived once the province has a chance to evaluate them.

"A lot of the projects are deferred and we'll see where they are next year," Steeves said. "For this year, we're focused on balancing the budget, on keeping that bond rating steady. If that goes down, our interest rates go up and we just spend so much more money."

The new Moncton school is a francophone K-8 school. The previous Liberal government had announced plans for the school to take pressure off two overcrowded schools in the city, École Le Sommet and École Champlain.

The Anglophone West district education council has proposed a new Hanwell K-8 school. PCs have set aside money for this project in their proposed budget. (Anglophone School District West)

On roads and bridges, the Tories will spend $321.1 million, a reduction from the $458.1 million the Liberals allocated for this year.

The PC capital budget also includes $123.8 million for health-care infrastructure, an increase from the $99.9 million by the Liberals — but all but $32 million of the PC total is to continue work on projects already underway.

That includes a new maternity and newborn unit at the Moncton Hospital, a surgical suite addition at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, additions and renovations at the Chaleur and Dr. Everett Chalmers regional hospitals and a mental health treatment centre for youth in Campbellton.

The budget includes a five-year spending plan that projects similar amounts of spending in all areas for the fiscal years through 2023-2024.

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