Nfld. & Labrador

Opposition parties, Independents shave month off Liberals' spending bill

Opposition parties and two Independent MHAs have scored a partial victory, and chatter about an imminent provincial election has been scaled back.

Liberals proposed 3-month interim supply bill ahead of budget on Sept. 30

The House of Assembly opened this week, and with it a bill that will keep money flowing is up for debate. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

The bill designed to keep the financial wheels of the provincial government churning is not yet a done deal, but the opposition parties and two Independent MHAs have scored a partial victory in the process, one that seemingly quiets any chatter about an imminent provincial election. 

Debate continues this week in the House of Assembly on the Liberals' interim supply bill, which allows government money to keep flowing, ahead of a formal budget being passed. 

For example, the bill would include funds to ensure workers are paid and the province to meet other financial obligations. 

Late Tuesday night, the PCs, NDP and two Independent MHAs scored a political victory by passing an amendment making the interim supply bill for two months, instead of the three months the Liberals wanted. 

"I think we simply demonstrated to the government that they can't do any old thing they want to do … and we kept them to a sense of fiscal discipline," PC Leader Ches Crosbie said Wednesday afternoon. 

Tory Leader Ches Crosbie says PC, NDP and Independent MHAs in Tuesday night's vote showed the Liberal minority government 'they can't do any old thing they want to.' (CBC)

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said "she didn't understand the logic" of endorsing a 60-day bill. She said it took 57 days to pass a budget in 2018. 

"I'd rather have more than less [time]," Coady added. 

3-month bill was non-starter

The PCs and NDP had originally balked at the three-month proposal. 

"We've been accommodating within reason … but to be asking for three months right now is overreaching," Crosbie said earlier this week. "Three months is a large blank cheque."

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady announced last week a budget would be presented Sept. 30. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

That measure doesn't mean the entire interim supply bill has passed because other parts of the legislation must be voted on individually.

But the Tuesday night vote on the amendment underscores that the Liberal minority government needs votes from across the aisles in order to get bills passed. 

 Coady has said a budget will be presented Sept. 30. The interim supply bill must be approved before that.

Budgets are usually announced in the spring, but the pandemic disrupted that financial schedule, and in March the opposition parties supported a six-month $4.6-billion interim supply bill.

Election speculation cools

The NDP had expressed concerns that a three-month supply bill would give the Liberals an opportunity to call a general election this fall.

On Wednesday, Crosbie pointedly said his party is not looking to potentially help bring down the government on a confidence vote related to the budget.

"They have plenty of time, the budget will pass —  [Coady] tells us in the House that there's going to be nothing in it that we can object to, I'll take her on face value on that." he said.

"There won't be an issue passing the budget. There will not be an election, they will have plenty of money to pay the bills."

On Tuesday, before the vote on the bill's amendment, both Coady and PC MHA and finance critic Tony Wakeham said neither party wants an election right now.

The supply bill was debated for a few hours on Wednesday morning and will continue this week. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn and Stephanie Kinsella

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