Nfld. & Labrador

Dwight Ball outlines The Way Forward strategy, says fiscal update due Oct. 27

The premier and cabinet gave a briefing Tuesday of what's on the table for an all-day event billed as a "long term approach" for the province's success.

All-day event at The Rooms meant to gather feedback on government ideas

Dwight Ball briefed participants on what to expect from Tuesday's event at The Rooms in St. John's. (CBC)

Premier Dwight Ball revealed the fall fiscal update will come Oct. 27, and detailed his government's strategy to move Newfoundland and Labrador towards long term success in a day-long meeting billed as "The Way Forward."

"It's been a year of change, it's been a year of challenge," said Ball Tuesday, addressing the crowd at The Rooms in St. John's as he began spelling out a few bullet points of what would be discussed by business, cultural and community leaders throughout the day.

Ball broke down the day's events into three themes. The first, Securing Our Footing, centres on reducing government spending. Finance Minister Cathy Bennett said part of that will be creating a leaner management structure in the province. 

The themes are considered a preview of what the fiscal update will entail later this month. 

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons added the province will aim to reduce various regulatory boards, agencies and commissions — of which there are currently 218 — by 20 per cent by April 2020, but that no such boards related to health or education would be considered for cuts.

Boosts to construction, agriculture sectors

Ball also said a part of Securing Our Footing will be rolling out a multi-year infrastructure plan in advance of provincial budgets, so the construction industry can plan ahead and create stable employment opportunities. 

Ball said agriculture will get a big boost under his government's plan, and hopes to look at new initiatives and crops, such as the province's first canola field planted this year. (Submitted by John Sheppard )

In terms of agriculture, Ball said the province's farms currently only satisfy 10 per cent of Newfoundland and Labrador's overall food requirements. He's aiming to double that to 20 per cent by 2022, in part by freeing up more Crown land for agricultural production.

Immigration, groundfish improvements

The second part of the government's strategy, Realizing Our Potential, involves boosting immigration. Ball said in 2015, Newfoundland and Labrador welcomed 1,100 immigrants. He wants to boost that to 1,600 a year by 2022, through a combination of promotional efforts and working with federal and municipal governments.

Ball also said improving the province's education sector is key, and he is looking towards improving literacy, teacher training and skills development, although he provided no concrete goals on how this would be accomplished.

Ball spoke least to the third theme of the day, Building For Our Future, saying he would talk later about how to create long term conditions for growth, and that part of that prosperity would include a "successful groundfish industry."

Following his kick-off speech, various cabinet ministers spoke briefly about other changes on the horizon: Service NL Minister Eddie Joyce mentioned changes to the process for public tendering, while Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady spoke of creating a "major project unit" to help companies looking to invest in large projects navigate through bureaucracy. 

Chris Mitchelmore, the minister in charge of tourism, said his department is looking to double spending by tourists by 2020.

'An outcome problem'

Ball dedicated the afternoon to speaking about ideas related to the province's education and health care systems.

"We do have an outcome problem," he said, adding that issues like country-leading rates of obesity and chronic disease are "preventing us from reaching our potential."

Ball noted Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest per capita spending on health care in Canada.

Health Minister Johh Haggie then outlined a road map of how to combat that.

Haggie said a pilot project to improve access to primary health care teams, and thereby reduce pressure on emergency rooms, was a success at the Gathering Place in St. John's, and that team-based approach "will be essential" to creating a healthier populace. To that end, new health care teams will be rolled out in other regions of the province.

Sherry Gambin-Walsh, minister of children, seniors and social development, explained initiatives aimed at helping schools identify problems or gaps related to physical activity and health, as well as a new support model for people with disabilities. 

The latter involves streamlining government services and taking a more hands-off approach to how people with complex needs spend provincial funding. She said rather than being prescriptive about how money can be used, people will be allowed more choice to divide up cash to address multiple personal challenges such as transportation or equipment.

Ministers Gerry Byrne (left) and John Haggie (far right) look on as Education Minister Dale Kirby announces a task force on the K-12 curriculum. (CBC)

Education collaboration

In the K-12 system, Education Minister Dale Kirby announced a task force to examine the curriculum and report back in 2017, promising to act on its recommendations in the 2018 school year. He also mentioned the government's goal to increase revenue through "international education activities," such as selling the provincial curriculum to other jurisdictions around the world, or boosting the number of international K-12 students.

Minister Gerry Byrne said CNA campuses will become 'centres of excellence' designed to foster regional entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Liberals also plan on boosting post-secondary education by increasing collaboration between Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic. The minister that oversees the two, Gerry Byrne, said he had "big plans" for CNA in particular, announcing the creation of campus 'centres of excellence' to serve as hubs for entrepreneurship and innovation, although he did not go into further specifics or timelines on the matter.

Ball promised to create a fisheries advisory council as well, which was part of the party's platform. 

Most of the day's sessions were closed to the media, as participants discuss details of the points outlined by government.

With files from Peter Cowan