Nfld. & Labrador

All N.L. assets up for review, says finance minister, but opposition says 'enough is enough'

Newfoundland and Labrador's finance minister says the provincial government will undergo a review of the province's assets to determine their value and decide whether it makes sense to hold on to them — but the opposition says the review is a waste of time and money.

Review will cost about $5M, says provincial government

The Liberal government is paying $5 million to conduct an independent review to assess all of the province's assets to determine their worth and inform future decisions. (Sarah Smellie/The Canadian Press)

Newfoundland and Labrador's finance minister says the provincial government will undergo a review of the province's assets to determine their value and decide whether to hold onto them — but the opposition says the review is a waste of time and money.

Siobhan Coady said Tuesday the review will be undertaken by Rothschild and Co., a multinational bank and financial services company based in France, which will review the province's assets to determine their value and file a report in March.

Coady said the review will cost the province about $5 million but she wouldn't confirm the report would be made public, due to the potential presence of "commercially sensitive information." 

The purpose of the review is to be informed on the province's assets to make the right decisions for the province's long-term future, she said.

"I think that's a very responsible and prudent thing to do," Coady said. "No decisions have been made at this point. We're going to receive their considerations … then we'll determine our path forward from there."

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady says the new report is expected by the end of March. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Although all assets are under the microscope, Coady said, the review will focus on the province's oil and gas holdings, registries, the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation and Marble Mountain.

All four were mentioned by name in The Big Reset, a five- to six-year plan tabled by the premier's economic recovery team, headed by Moya Greene, which recommended everything from tax increases and spending cuts to streamlining the public service to address the province's financial problems.

While the provincial government says the report is still being reviewed, Coady said the Rothschild report serves a different purpose.

"This is now looking at the value of our assets … for consideration as to how to best optimize them for the province," she said.

"We are trying to address our debt and our deficit.… We don't want to continue to burden our children and our grandchildren."

Following the announcement, PC finance critic Tony Wakeham says he wonders why the review is being done at all.

"Why do we need to go out and spend another $5 million if the Greene report … was going to be their economic plan?" he said. "Why not share the information with the people of the province?"

Tory finance critic Tony Wakeham says the province should release the findings of the Greene report before conducting another review. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

In a media release, Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees union, said he believes the report is being done to justify privatization.

"This government talks about making tough choices … but what we are seeing here is the same, tired approach that has failed in jurisdiction after jurisdiction," he said. "We're pouring millions into these consulting firms to come up with predetermined solutions while they buy $500 dinners to party fundraisers. Enough is enough."

It wouldn't be that we're not supportive of our offshore; it means we have a debt issue that we want to address.- Siobhan Coady

 

The Greene report recommended the government sell all its oil and gas equity interests in the project when oil prices improve, along with selling the Bull Arm Fabrication site, but Coady said the recommendations are still up in the air.

"Is it time for us to consider selling that asset?" she said. "Or is this a great investment and we should continue? [That] is what will be answered."

Newfoundland and Labrador's energy corporation, Nalcor, owns a 10 per cent ownership interest in the Hibernia South project, which is an extension of the main Hibernia project. (CBC)

If Rothschild recommends the province move away from oil and gas, Coady said, the province would have to find a balance.

"We're still supportive of our offshore. It might be that it's more prudent for us as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to take the money from our offshore asset and pay it down on debt, right?" she said.

"It wouldn't be that we're not supportive of our offshore; it means we have a debt issue that we want to address."

Interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn says he doesn't believe the province wants to sell its oil and gas assets.

Interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn doesn't believe the province will sell its oil and gas equity stakes. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

"I don't get the feeling that there's a strategy to it. Where is the long-term plan?" Dinn said.

"They're not interested in the bold thinking. I think they're probably hoping that there's going to be a few suggestions to back up what they already plan to do."

Dinn said he feels the results of the review are "pre-determined."

"It almost seems as if we've got the answers, they've got the answers they want, they now just want the evidence to back them up in reverse order. I think in many ways it's troublesome."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Kennedy

Journalist

Alex Kennedy works for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.

With files from Patrick Butler and Mark Quinn

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