Furey vows urgent action, public consultations on recommendations in economic report
'We all knew this was coming,' says Newfoundland and Labrador premier
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey says the province's financial circumstances are unsustainable and the total provincial debt of $47 billion is an unbearable load for residents.
In a video released Thursday evening, Furey offered his full thoughts for the first time about the recently released, and blunt, Moya Greene report, which outlines the province's dire fiscal situation.
"Our province is spending more than we have. We are borrowing just to pay interest on what we owe. Over a billion dollars a year with nothing to show for it. Our credit card debt is out of control," Furey said.
Furey touched on a number of highlights from the report, from his appointed economic recovery team, including the need for the provincial government to quickly rein spending in to match revenue, and the fear of losing control of the province's future if nothing is done.
The premier said "urgent actions" include:
- Raising taxes on people "who can afford it."
- Reviewing public sector salaries and eliminating bonuses.
- Evaluating the future of Nalcor and the province's future position in oil equity.
- Investing in technology innovation and the green economy.
- Amalgamating health authorities.
- Reaching a new deal with Memorial University.
- Examining "the purpose of a school district that continues to keep empty schools open."
Watch Premier Andrew Furey's full statement:
The numbers in the Greene report "should ring loudly for us all," said Furey.
"This situation predates the pandemic and it has been compounded exponentially by Muskrat Falls."
The premier provided no specifics about how the provincial government would implement the actions he mentioned. Furey also didn't take questions from the media Thursday evening, but has scheduled an availability for Friday morning.
A collaborative approach
The premier also said the province plans to approach fluctuations in the oil and gas sector by pursuing a green transition, continuing to build the technology sector and streamlining health care with the goal of reinvesting savings "into the social determinants of health."
"These are just some of the bells that will ring in our reclamation," he said.
Decisions made for the province's future will be come from a collaborative approach, including public consultations, said Furey. Waste needs to be eliminated and accountability increased for government as well as non-elected officials on boards and agencies, said the premier.
"The decisions will be collectively ours as to where we go from here. But they must be informed decisions because we know they will be hard ones," he said.
"This approach needs to be fair and balanced built on principled, ethical action, a moral covenant to act based on answering one fundamental question. Not 'is this decision good for me, or my group, but is it good for the future of the province?' Through consultations, everyone has the opportunity to add their voice. We all knew this was coming."
Interim Opposition Leader David Brazil, who met with members of the media minutes after the video was released, said he was surprised and disappointed by Furey's decision to release a video to address the public about the report.
"It's borderline baffling that he wouldn't give the opportunity for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, through the media, to get clarification on what he's proposing and to get some better understanding as to how we would approach challenging situations that are in this report," Brazil said.
"We in the House of Assembly, and I know the opposition have agreed, we will be collaborative. We will work with the government, but we need to know, as the people do, what the information is and where and how we're going to move this forward."
Memorial University political science professor Russell Williams called Furey's statement "surprisingly vague," adding that it's not clear what Furey is specifically planning to do with the report's recommendations.
"Some of those vague areas were made worse, obviously, by the fact that there was no opportunity to ask him questions about it afterwards," said Williams.
Williams also said it's not clear what Furey meant by "a new deal with Memorial University."
"I have no idea. There's some recommendations about that in the Greene report, but the premier hasn't really said what he means by that," said Williams.
"I think if I was to boil to one simple point, this was a huge missed opportunity for the premier to actually tell us either what he thinks about the substantive recommendations in the Greene report, or to tell us what his plan is for a process going forward as to how he's going to choose what to implement."
With files from Mark Quinn