Throne speech touts Atlantic Accord but offers little by way of new plans
Speech praises Liberal accomplishments, NDP leader questions lack of environmental issues
The 48th session of the province's legislature got underway on Thursday, with the lieutenant-governor reading from a throne speech that was mostly devoid of any new details.
The speech outlines the Liberals' targets heading into a spring election, but fell short of offering insight into many new projects or promises for 2019.
It begins with the Liberal government touting its recent renewal of the Atlantic Accord, which secured $2.5 billion in federal funding for the province over the next 38 years.
"Our government has stabilized spending," read Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote. "While bringing government spending under control, we have worked closely with industry to attract investment that will advance projects in the mining and oil and gas sectors."
That section didn't impress Richard Alexander, executive director of the N.L. Employers' Council.
"I think it's shocking and a little bit disappointing to be honest with you," he said.
"I don't think there's anybody in this province that would think that spending $600 million a year more, as we did this year, than what we brought in [as] revenue is having spending under control."
Alexander would have liked the speech to confront the province's spending problem — the largest per capita expenditures in the country, for a province that also has the highest revenue per capita.
No section for environment
NDP Leader Alison Coffin spoke with media after the speech, and said she was concerned about a subject missing from the speech.
"They totally omitted the environment. There was no discussion of how we're going to improve our environment," she said.
The speech has several different subheadings, like Growing Employment, Leaving No Stone Unturned, and Giving Our Children a Start, but there is no section dedicated to environmental concerns.
In fact, the word "climate" doesn't appear anywhere in the 35-page speech, and there's only three brief mentions of environmental issues: how the government has cut the carbon footprint of the ferry service, how the province is a leader in environmentally conscious mining, and how there is room for growing renewable resources.
Coffin said the speech was vague and full of platitudes.
"You could tell that they're getting ready for an election and they're touting a lot of the things that they've done so far, but there are a lot of things that were really missing."
PC leader Ches Crosbie told CBC Here and Now that he wasn't concerned by the speech. He believes an election will be called after Easter and his party will win, thus rendering the Liberal's best laid plans to waste.
Finishing Muskrat Falls
The speech also says the Liberal government has taken steps to mitigate the impending problems associated with Muskrat Falls.
"In short, we have made excellent progress to get the Muskrat Falls project on track for a strong finish and we are making great strides to managing the costs for the benefit of the people of the province."
The speech makes reference to replacing the Waterford Hospital, and starting construction on the new health-care facilities in Corner Brook, but makes no mention of replacing Her Majesty's Penitentiary.
New justice legislation
Among the few new initiatives mentioned in the speech, government is bringing forward new legislation to allow police to disclose a person's criminal history to their domestic partner — known as Clare's Law in the United Kingdom.
The Department of Justice and Public Safety will also look into allowing people to work community service hours in exchange for paying down fines — something previously mentioned by Justice Minister Andrew Parsons on CBC Radio's On the Go in November 2017.
The speech states the Liberals intentions to develop more opportunities in sectors like oil, mining and agriculture, while saying it will comply with recommendations from things like the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the provincial Premier's Task Force on Improving Educational Outcomes.
It also talks about the Liberal government's commitment to growing the province through immigration, and "engaging employers in facilitating workplace-based language training" for migrant workers.
While it was new information for the public, Jamie Baker of the Association for New Canadians, has known for a while.
"It's on-the-job language training," he said. "It's important to learn the language that really is crucial to be able to do your job."
Baker said he's pleased to see government making immigration a priority, particularly the retention of new Canadians.
Last year, 1,500 people became permanent residents in the province. The province plans to up that number to 1,700 by 2022 to offset the number of deaths over births.