Provincial budget on Sept. 30 will address 'tremendously high' deficit, Coady says
Opposition parties not sold on proposed 3-month interim supply bill
A provincial budget will be presented Sept. 30, Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said Thursday — and "financial discipline" will be front and centre in it.
Coady made the announcement at Confederation Building in St. John's, just days ahead of the House of Assembly reopening on Monday.
"I wouldn't expect any surprises in this budget. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, and we have just had that fiscal update," said Coady, referring to a fiscal snapshot in July.
At that time, the province's deficit topped $2.1 billion. Coady noted it's not the highest ever for the province but acknowledged "it's tremendously high."
This budget will continue "financial discipline and being very prudent in the spending of people's money," she said.
What exactly does that mean?
"Not overspending or going beyond what we absolutely must spend at this time," she told reporters when pressed.
New role for Coady
In mid-June, former finance minister Tom Osborne promised to present a provincial budget by the end of September.
The budget is normally tabled in April, but the schedule was thwarted because of COVID-19.
The pandemic has affected most aspects of life, and the provincial coffers were not spared. Oil and tax revenues coming into Newfoundland and Labrador have been severely slashed.
Coady replaced Osborne in a cabinet shuffle last month, after Andrew Furey won the Liberal leadership race and became premier. Coady was also appointed deputy premier.
But the government says in order to allow enough time to debate the proposed budget, it will introduce a three-month interim supply bill, money to keep the operations and essentially wheels of government turning.
Coady defended the three-month bill.
"That is a normal period of time," she said. "The three-month supply is standard."
In March, the House passed an interim supply bill worth $4.6 billion — enough money for six months of operations — to hold them over until the minority Liberal government could pass a budget.
Opposition parties not sold
PC Leader Ches Crosbie, speaking to reporters just minutes after Coady's announcement, said another interim supply bill — albeit for a shorter time frame of three months — is a non-starter.
"It's simply a nonsensical request," he said.
"We will co-operate to make sure the cheques don't bounce, but we also will be keeping the government on a short leash of accountability to the public over the billions of dollars they've spent with little accountability so far."
When asked specifically if he would consider voting down the budget, Crosbie replied it depends entirely on what's in the budget.
"Of course, since we don't know, that's not something I can say one way or another."
If the PCs and NDP vote against the budget, it would not automatically trigger an election. That depends on Independent MHAs Paul Lane and Eddie Joyce both joining them in their dissent.
NDP Leader Alison Coffin had previously said her party would not support another interim supply bill. On Thursday, she said she would be "very hesitant" to consider a three-month supply bill.
"Why do they need three months? They need one month," she told reporters.
Coffin said it is her understanding that the budget hasn't changed much from when it was drafted for an April presentation, which was put on hold due to COVID-19 — another reason why she insists that only a one-month interim supply is needed.
- A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that if the PCs and NDP voted against the proposed budget, it would trigger an election. That would require the two Independent MHAs to join them in a dissenting vote.Sep 10, 2020 3:30 PM NT