Nfld. & Labrador

Could have handled deficit reduction levy differently, Dwight Ball admits

Dwight Ball says his cash-strapped government might have taken a different approach to raising money than the controversial deficit reduction levy.
Premier Dwight Ball says his government will not make any further concessions or changes in this year's budget.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball admits that in hindsight his cash-strapped government might have taken a different approach to raising money than the controversial deficit reduction levy that was substantially whittled down on Wednesday. 

"So the structure itself, yeah, I guess in retrospect if you had to do it all over again, you know, maybe we would look at it a little different," Ball said in an interview with Here & Now's Debbie Cooper. 

On Wednesday, Ball announced that the deficit reduction levy would not be applied to anyone earning $50,000 or less, raising the threshold from $20,000. 

As well, most other income-tax filers will pay less than first announced, while the highest bands of taxpayers will pay more. 

The Liberals were stung by criticism about the levy, which opponents saw as regressive and harshest on lower-income earners.

The levy, which was introduced in the April 14 budget, was expected to reap $126 million a year before being phased out in a few years. 

Backlash worked, says McCurdy

In announcing new levy rules on Wednesday, the Liberals said debt leniency granted by the federal government gave them some more money to make a change.

But NDP Leader Earle McCurdy says it was actually the budget backlash — most of it focused on the deficit reduction levy — that forced their hands.

"This change came about from the strong backlash. Had there been no backlash, with or without the $27-million break from the federal government, the levy would have remained in place," said McCurdy.

Protests were launched across the province in response to the budget, and the biggest — a May 7 rally at Confederation Building in St. John's — drew thousands of people.

With the shift in the levy rates, the NDP is now backing off its plan to filibuster the levy introduction bill.

Sticking to other budget plans

Despite Wednesday's change, Ball insists that he will make no further concessions to criticisms in the budget. 

"There's nothing that I foresee in the days coming that would change budget 2016-2017," he said. 

Ball said that while his government will not cave in and reverse heavily contested decisions to cut public library funding and to follow through with all-day kindergarten, he wants the public to know that his government is listening. 

These are tough times and not easy decisions to be made.- Dwight Ball

"We'll always work with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the future to make sure we will bring the necessary improvements that we want to be able to deliver," he said.

"These are tough times and not easy decisions to be made."

He also addressed a recent poll by the Angus Reid institute that named him Canada's least favourite premier.

"You're never going to be popular when you've had to make the decisions like we've had to make," he said. 

Ball said that even though times are tough right now, he remains hopeful for the province's future. 

"It's not about Dwight Ball right now. It's about the future of our province," he said. 

"That's what I lose sleep about and that's what I find the most stress over."

With files from Debbie Cooper

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