Nfld. & Labrador

Why the Liberals' budget wishes are practically impossible to grant

The Opposition is calling for health and education to be left untouched in Thursday's budget, although as Peter Cowan writes, that would take away the majority of government's options to cut spending.

Low taxes, balanced budgets and plentiful services don't exist in world of low-priced oil

Liberal MHA Dale Kirby says government should not cut spending in the education and health sectors. (CBC)

The Liberals have already started balking at cuts in the upcoming budget. On Friday, they came out against $7-million in cuts to education, and that's just the start of the cuts that will come in this Thursday's budget.

Liberal education critic Dale Kirby pointed to other provinces that he says have shielded health and education from cuts.

"They are the primary reasons why government exists. I think it's absolutely ridiculous they would choose to cut either unduly," Kirby told reporters.

It's a nice idea. Health and education consistently rank high on people's list of priorities, and everyone wants the best education possible for their children and world-class health care when they get sick.

But right now it's the province's finances that are going in for surgery.

Plunging oil prices have cost this province more than $1.5 billion in oil royalties, and that shortfall is not expected to be resolved any time soon.

So why not spare these two parts of the budget?

Simple: education and health care are just too big. Together, they represent more than half the provincial budget. We spend $4.3 billion just on those services.

As well, it's not like the Liberals have suggested cuts elsewhere. Aside from the reduction of eight MHAs, the Liberals have opposed almost every cut that the government has made.

Few other options

Finance Minister Ross Wiseman has already shown that the health and education portfolios will bear the brunt of the cuts. Of the 1,420 jobs that will be eliminated by attrition, only 425 will be in the core civil service. 

The majority will come through what the government calls the "broader public service," which is dominated by the health and school systems. 

If you're not going to cut, one of your only other options is ringing up a big deficit, an idea the Liberals have also panned.

"We have to be realistic here. We cannot pass debt on to the next generation," Ball said last fall in an interview with On Point. 

That leaves just tax and fee increases, and based on the party's outrage over the hike to out-of-province moose licences last week, don't expect support the Liberals to come out in favour of making people pay more — especially in an election year.

Ball will face a big test this week. If he wants to be taken seriously as premier-in-waiting, he will have to present a credible alternative to the budget.

About the Author

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.

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