Throne speech touts cost-of-living, health-care spending, as Liberals back away from doom and gloom

Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote presented the government’s legislative priorities — and touted previously announced initiatives — on Wednesday in a throne speech that broke from past focus on Newfoundland and Labrador’s dire financial straits.

House of Assembly sitting at the Colonial Building for 2 days

A person sits in a burgundy chair speaking into a microphone.
Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote read the throne speech at the Colonial Building, the former seat of the provincial legislature, on Wednesday. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote presented the Newfoundland and Labrador government's legislative priorities — and touted previously announced initiatives — on Wednesday in a throne speech that broke from past focus on the province's dire financial straits.

Foote hinted that Newfoundland and Labrador's fiscal situation has improved, echoing a sentiment expressed by Finance Minister Siobhan Coady earlier Wednesday, when the province announced one-time payments for residents who make under $125,000.

"Now is a time to reflect, re-evaluate, and assess where Newfoundland and Labrador stands after a very turbulent few years, both here and in many places around the world," Foote said.

This year, the throne speech took place at the recently reopened Colonial Building, where the provincial legislature was located from 1850 to 1959.

The speech was a departure from the most recent throne speech, in April 2021, which began with a sobering outlook on the province's "perilous" fiscal situation.

"The road before us starts with fully coming to terms with the extensive economic crisis facing this province. It was a long slide to get to this point, and there is no overnight solution," Foote said at the time. 

That throne speech pointed to the then-impending report by the premier's economic recovery team as "foundational," and key to improving the province's fiscal situation. That report went unmentioned this time around.

In the two subsequent budgets, however, the Newfoundland and Labrador government increased its spending. Coady has pointed to higher-than-expected oil royalties as part of the reason for the rosier outlook in recent months.

Foote said this year, the provincial government will make its first contribution to a "future fund," which will include revenue from short-term, one-time and non-renewable resources.

For two days, the House of Assembly is sitting at the Colonial Building in St. John's, seen here in a file photo. (Sarah Smellie/The Canadian Press)

The government will reveal the province's current net debt in the fall fiscal update — expected to happen later this month — but in August, Coady said the debt is expected to reach $17.1 billion in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

This year, Foote's speech focused on improvements to health-care and the cost of living, as residents grapple with a lack of access to medical professionals at a time when the prices of goods and services have ballooned.

A focus on affordability

Earlier on Wednesday, the provincial government announced approximately 392,000 residents who earn $125,000 or less will receive a one-time payment of at least $250, echoing a move made recently by provinces like Saskatchewan.

In his response to the throne speech, Progressive Conservative House leader Barry Petten criticized the timing of that announcement.

"They waited until the opening of the legislature to make today's announcement — pure politics," he said.

A waist-up shop of a person in a suit and tie speaking into a microphone.
In his response to the throne speech, PC opposition house leader Barry Petten called on the government to introduce a revamped poverty reduction strategy. (CBC)

Foote announced the province will extend the reduction in provincial gasoline taxes — which reduces the price at the pump by about eight cents — to March 31, and called the province's cost of living initiatives "the most generous package in the country." 

Petten called on the government do more to reduce the cost of living, including lowering more taxes — like the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages — and introducing a renewed poverty reduction strategy.

Interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn said he's like to see the government dedicate more funds to housing.

"Successive governments have relied on the private market to solve the housing crisis. This hasn't worked. We need to make public housing a priority to increase the housing supply across the province," he said.

Foote also reiterated the provincial government's promise to introduce pay equity legislation during this session, after years of delay.

Fixing health care

In a lengthy section focused on health care, the speech touted "concrete" measures to increase access and improve recruitment and retention.

Foote said the provincial government will introduce legislative amendments to simplify the licensing process for internationally trained doctors and nurses. 

The speech included some recommendations from the Health Accord N.L., the 10-year plan to transform the province's health-care system, but Petten noted there was no commitment to implement the whole plan.

Jim Dinn stands in the media scrum area of the House of Assembly. He wears a grey blazer with a blue polo shirt, and has thin, brown glasses.
In his response to the throne speech, NDP Interim Leader Jim Dinn called on the government to create an all-party committee to explore guaranteed basic income. (Patrick Butler/CBC-Radio Canada)

Foot said the provincial government will create a cabinet committee on seniors, led by Children, Seniors and Social Development Minister John Abbot, to build on the recommendations from the Health Accord.

"This team will revolutionize how we address seniors' issues, from medical issues regarding the frail elderly to wraparound services to help seniors age in place with dignity."

Dinn also called on the provincial government to create a committee to explore a guaranteed basic income, one of the recommendations from the Health Accord not mentioned in the throne speech.

This week, St. John's city council passed a motion declaring support for guaranteed basic income and asking the provincial government to create an all-party committee to explore the topic.

Foote said the provincial government will work with the eventual provincial health authority on "immediate and long-term solutions" to improve inpatient and surgical capacity. She said the government will also look at potential expansions of operating room and bed capacity in the busiest hospitals.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Darrell Roberts is a reporter for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now