Nfld. & Labrador

7 ways the Liberals want to change N.L.'s economic outlook

The Liberals outlined multiple strategies on Tuesday during an all-day meeting titled "The Way Forward." Here's some of their most notable ideas.

Province unveiled growth strategies at 'The Way Forward' meeting Tuesday

Dwight Ball, centre, flanked by members of his cabinet, announced an exhaustive list of changes coming to Newfoundland and Labrador Tuesday in St. John's. (CBC)

Tuesday marked a massive brainstorming session as the Liberal government and invited guests from a range of backgrounds — business, culture, non-profit and more — gathered in St. John's to go over the province's new strategy for success, titled 'The Way Forward.'

Dwight Ball's government hoped to glean feedback from the day-long event on its myriad of proposals on how to change the province's finances, which will then be made public on its associated website.

Here's a few of the more notable changes the Liberals proposed.

1. Public sector penny-pinching

Budget 2017 promises a big change in the way departments get their money: zero-based budgeting. 

Basically, departments have always assumed they were working with a set amount of cash as their base. Ball said that will no longer be the case, with all departments now required to start from $0 and justify every expense.

This model also applies to all government agencies and boards. Speaking of which...

2. Slashing the ABCs

The province's agencies, boards, and commissions that is.

Newfoundland and Labrador has 218 various government-run ABCs,  and that's too many, say the Liberals. House Leader Andrew Parsons admitted some of these boards are outdated and don't even have permanent staff. 

The province has set a goal of reducing that 218 figure by 20 per cent by April 1, 2020, although Parsons promised no board related to health care or education would be touched.

3. Playing the real estate game

With a large public service comes a lot of leased real estate: 770,000 square feet of it.

Saying some of that space is vacant or under utilized, the province hopes to dump some of that — aiming to eliminate 14,000 square feet by March of 2017.

Parsons estimated a commercial rate of $25 a square foot, so if the government succeeds in their plan, that's a $350,000 savings. He added the province is also looking to sell off some other real estate assets altogether

4. The N.L. pothole problem, solved?

Want your road fixed up?

The time to speak out is now: in January 2017, the Liberals promise to roll out an infrastructure timetable identifying road, bridge and other similar projects for the next five years. The government will gather feedback on what should be first in the coming weeks. This process will continue to be updated on an annual basis.

There's no shortage of roads in need of repair across the province. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

Ball said having such a roadmap, along with advanced tendering, will help construction companies plan out work and hire the right people – hopefully maximizing contributions from the federal government as well.

In the same vein, the Liberals promise a similar five-year marine infrastructure plan, detailing all upcoming construction related to wharves, ferries and other similar projects.

5. Oil, gas and other natural resources

While Ball slammed prior government's approach to focusing on oil and gas... the Liberals can't ignore the resource's money-making potential.

To that end, the province promises to decrease the time companies in that sector spend between exploration to development. One way that could happen is through "industry facilitators": selected civil servants in the Department of Natural Resources who can hold the hand of oil and gas companies (along with other sectors, such as mining) and guide them more-or-less painlessly through the world of government bureaucracy.

The Liberals also promised the creation of a "Major Projects Unit," essentially boosting the industry facilitator role up a notch when it comes to particularly large potential projects for the province.

6. Calling all artists

Amid the economics of The Way Forward, Ball's government promised there was room for improvement to arts and culture, too.

Tuesday's mandate called for the creation of special legislation to create what it calls "fair payment guidelines" for artists, and increase access for artists to health benefits and pension plans. 

The Liberals also promised to develop digital media supports for artists, and increase access to export markets, ideas being developed in conjunction with an Arts Advisory Committee.

Drake made hotlines cool. Was he the inspiration for the province's new 1-800 number? (Drake/Apple Music)

7. Hotline bling

The Liberals' mantra for the day: an efficient public sector is a cheap public sector. They offered up a host of ways to streamline government operations, the most public of which is a new 1-800 number in order to simplify people's access to all government services. 

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Perry Trimper called that hotline an "immediate goal," and then got even more ambitious: a 'digital by design' website.

That site would offer a range of government services by 2022, adding to the baby steps the province has already taken in that direction by putting driver's licence renewals online.

With files from Peter Cowan