New Brunswick

Victor Boudreau launches strategic program review

The Liberal government has tapped a retired federal finance official to lead the strategic program review, an initiative that is designed to chop millions out of the provincial deficit.

Strategic program review is intended to find $250M in annual savings starting in 2016-17

Health Minister Victor Boudreau announced the advisory committee for the strategic program review on Tuesday. The program review is intended to find $250 million in savings a year starting in 2016-17. (CBC)

The Liberal government has tapped a retired federal finance official to lead the strategic program review, an initiative that is designed to chop millions out of the provincial deficit.

Health Minister Victor Boudreau, the minister responsible for the strategic program review, said the members of the initiative's advisory committee on Tuesday, which will be led by Michael Horgan.

"We need to right our fiscal ship," Boudreau said at the announcement.

Boudreau said the province is looking at a $400-million structural deficit, according to the latest Department of Finance figures.

"But with that, we also have commitments that we want to move on, we also realize that some elements of this review may have negative impacts on the economy, so you probably have to aim for even higher," he said.

"But we want to make sure that we really engage New Brunswickers, we want to engage our civil service, we are building on what's been done by the former government, we are not starting at ground zero."

$250M in savings

The strategic program review, which was promised during the election campaign, will find at least $250 million in savings.

That would leave roughly $150 million to fix the structural deficit. That could be tackled by raising revenue.

When Premier Brian Gallant promised the spending review in the election, he compared it to one led by former prime minister Jean Chrétien and finance minister Paul Martin in the 1990s.

Michael Horgan, who retired in 2014 as a federal deputy minister of finance, is the chair of the advisory council for the strategic program review.
The chair of the program review has a lengthy track record when it comes to financial issues.

Horgan retired in 2014 as a federal deputy minister of finance. He also played a lead role in advising Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government in the recent fight to balance the budget. 

Horgan lived in Moncton while he was working as the president of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

The program review's advisory committee will give their advice on issues surrounding governance, innovation, human resources and economics.

Could result in job cuts

Horgan said the committee will look for ways to deal with the $400-million structural deficit.

He said the advisory committee will look at the different areas of provincial spending to see if there are places that could be cut. The former civil servant also said the committee will make recommendations on raising funds, such as taxes, fees, levies or possible privatization of services.

When asked specifically about areas that could be privatized, Horgan said NB Power will not enter the discussion.

However, Horgan said the committee could look at other Crown corporations, such as NB Liquor, as a possible service that could be offloaded.

We do not believe that we can do this alone. We must consider all ideas.-Health Minister Victor Boudreau

On Tuesday, Boudreau said he could not promise the review would not lead to job cuts in the civil service.

Boudreau, who served as a finance minister in the former Shawn Graham government, said all ideas are "on the table" when it comes to the program review.

"We do not believe that we can do this alone. We must consider all ideas," he said.

"That is why we will be talking to New Brunswickers, building upon previous efforts and engaging a panel of outside experts to find creative solutions to address our fiscal challenges.”

Finance Minister Roger Melanson struck a similar tone in December after announcing his capital budget. He said the provincial government would consider various measures, including highway tolls, in order to deal with the deficit.

The other members of the advisory committee are:

  • David Alston, the chief innovation officer for IntroHive.
  • Rachelle Gagnon, a senior manager at Assomption Life in charge of human resources and organizational development.
  • André Leclerc, an economics professor of economics at the University of Moncton in Edmundston.

Horgan's law firm will be paid a $5,000 monthly retainer for his services. The three other members of the advisory committee will not be paid salaries and will simply have their expenses reimbursed.

The provincial government has also created a secretariat, which is comprised of civil servants, to help the committee.

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