New Brunswick

Roger Melanson mum on savings from nursing home subsidy cap changes

The New Brunswick government is still refusing to say how much money taxpayers will save from a change to how seniors' nursing home fees are calculated.

Finance minister says wait for Social Development budget estimates

The New Brunswick government is still refusing to say how much money taxpayers will save from a change to how seniors' nursing home fees are calculated.

(Jacques Poitras/CBC)
And it now appears the government doesn't actually know.

Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers accused the Progressive Conservative Opposition in the legislature Wednesday of creating fear "about policies that are not even developed yet."

Finance Minister Roger Melanson says Rogers will be able to talk about the dollar figures after she consults seniors' groups about the change, which will only take effect in the fall.

"Let's allow the normal process to [follow] its course, to have this meaningful conversation with stakeholders, and when the minister does present her estimates, she'll explain," Melanson told reporters.

Seniors in New Brunswick currently have their nursing home costs subsidized by the provincial government, thanks to a cap that limits what they pay to $113 per day.

Starting in the fall, the cap will be removed for seniors whom the province says can afford to pay. They represent about 13 per cent of the total, according to government officials.

In assessing their ability to pay, the government will now look at how much money seniors have in the bank, though the homes they own won't be part of the calculation.

Seniors anxious

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Tories made the change their top issue during question period.

Progressive Conservative Leader Bruce Fitch says his MLAs are getting calls from anxious seniors who want to know what the threshold will be for removing the cap.

"That's why we're asking: what is the amount you're going to take from the seniors?" he said.

Speaking to reporters, Melanson repeatedly refused to even say if the government has a dollar figure for how much it will save.

He told reporters to wait for Rogers to present her departmental budget estimates in the legislature.

"Estimates are estimates, and she will explain what those estimates are when she does present her budget," he said.

Several Tory MLAs have painted a vivid image of the Gallant government reaching into seniors' bank accounts — likely aware that seniors tend to follow the news, and cast election ballots, in disproportionately high numbers.

At times, Rogers has appeared exasperated with the PC line of questioning.

"I'll try to get at some answers that just make our message more clear," she said Wednesday.

Premier Brian Gallant told the legislature it's normal for precise spending and revenue details to not be available until departments break down their individual budgets.

In fact, he said, the previous PC government that Fitch served as a minister used to make the same argument.

But Fitch pointed out Gallant promised to be different when running to be premier.

"He continued to say, 'I will do government differently.' If he is accusing us of hiding behind the estimates when we were in government, he is doing things exactly the same, and we expected more," Fitch said.

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