Nfld. & Labrador

Opposition accuses Liberals of preparing for election with 3-month supply bill

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady says the Liberal government does not want an election, but has to be prepared in case opposition parties shoot down the upcoming budget.

If they don't support it, they'll be jeopardizing essential services, says finance minister

Finance Minister Siobhán Coady announced Thursday that a budget will be presented Sept. 30. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador 's finance minister insists a three-month interim supply bill is just standard practice before a budget is released, but the Progressive Conservatives say something else is afoot.

PC finance critic Tony Wakeham suggested the Liberals intend to go to the polls this fall, drawing a harsh rebuttal from Finance Minister Siobhán Coady during question period on Tuesday.

Coady said it's PC Leader Ches Crosbie who has publicly pondered shooting down the budget and triggering an election.

"We are in a minority government," she said. "If the member opposite is musing about that, we have to be prepared."

Coady insisted three months is a normal amount of time to secure funding before a budget can be passed. Once a budget is passed, the interim supply bill ceases.

Tory finance critic Tony Wakeham says the House of Assembly could pass a budget in October without needing a three-month interim supply bill. File photo. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Wakeham argued it could be passed much sooner, and cited the last four years of budgets being passed in 24 or fewer legislative days.

Coady laughed off his numbers, saying "two can play that game," and pointed out that while it took 24 legislative days or less to pass each budget, that actually amounted to as much as 57 calendar days.

"I completely concur that the people of the province do not want an election," Coady said. "But when the opposition plays politics, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are worried about COVID, they're worried about their jobs, they're worried about their future, and [the PCs] are playing politics."

Coady says opposition to bill will risk services

Debate began Tuesday over whether to pass the interim supply bill. The Liberals will need support from at least one member of the PCs or NDP.

It remains unclear which way the opposition parties will vote.

The province is getting by on a six-month interim supply bill signed in the early days of the pandemic. That expires at the end of this month, leaving the province without authorization to spend any money.

Coady said the opposition will be threatening essential services if they shut down the new bill.

"They would be impacting health care. They would be impacting teachers. They would be impacting seniors getting their pharmaceuticals. They would impacting the health, safety and services of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

Get back to the real issues, Wakeham says

Speaking with reporters outside the House of Assembly, Wakeham said the supply bill should not be an issue to debate right now with the province's oil industry on the brink of a total collapse.

"I think this is nothing more than a distraction," Wakeham said.

Maybe it's time to not be a friend of Ottawa.- Tony Wakeham on oil talks

He reiterated the PCs do not intend on tanking the budget and triggering an election. When asked why not just accept the three-month interim supply bill and move on with working on the budget, he said the question remains — why do they need three months?

"They've tried to put the blame [on us] to say that somehow or another we are going to force an election or we are going to take down the government. Nothing could be further from the truth," Wakeham said.

He said elected officials should be primarily focused on finding a solution to the problems facing the oil industry.

"They keep talking about the fact that they've been meeting for five months," Wakeham said of talks between the feds and the province. "They've also talked about their friendly relationship with Ottawa. Maybe it's time to not be a friend of Ottawa, or have a friendly relationship, but stand up for Newfoundland and Labrador and start demanding some fair treatment."

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