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BORDERLINES COLUMN: Unusual sources offer budget smarts - Feb. 10, 2014

Some of the most financially sound, competent statements recently made about the province’s future come from two individuals who, currently, have no input in the matter, but perhaps deserve to.
Following the release of what some commentators called a “stay-the-course” budget from the PC government and Finance Minister Blaine Higgs, Dominic Cardy, leader of the NDP, said his party idenfified $213 million in possible annualized savings achievable, in part, by doing what both the Liberals and PCs had hinted at or promised, yet not actually done: cut from the top of a bloated government bureaucracy.
The NDP suggests a reduction of cabinet, a 50 per cent reduction in senior management in government, along with curtailing corporate handouts.
The latter is a critical point. Following the Lord government’s bailout of the corporate forestry sector in 2005, economist David Campbell pointed out the obvious: “Politics keeps the government from implementing a sustainable (and industry supported) model and politics dictates a $250 million bailout.”
Nothing has changed since then. We continue to spend money we do not have to assist businesses whose planning was insufficient, or whose business models didn’t ensure success. Government ought not to pick winners and losers, least of not with our money. But it does, and it does so wastefully: the government even spends $3 million a year identifying which businesses will receive government handouts each year, Cardy quipped.
“It is not healthy to have so much of our private economy run on public money, and that takes funds away from things that could actually create jobs, like education, training and support to small business,” Cardy stated.
At the same time government is busy helping big businesses that don’t need the help, it is ignoring the people who do.
Green Party leader David Coon criticized the loss of $3 million from Efficiency NB, which used to aid homeowners in keeping energy and heating costs manageable. (Presumably, Margaret-Ann Blaney will still retain her cushy patronage job.)
Coon also exposes the validity of PC claims the resource development is our saviour-in-waiting by looking at the government’s own budget figures. The government last year projected non-metal royalties (natural gas, potash, etc.) of $38 million, but received only $17.7 million. The 2014 forecast is for 16.6 million. Metal tax revenue for 2103 was forecast at $40 million, but dipped to $35 million. The forecast for 2014 is a meagre $2 million. These figures, paltry compared to a $8.4 billion budget, show imminent prosperity through resource exploitation is unlikely.
“More boondoggle than boon,” Coon’s budget-day tweet aptly summarized.
Coon’s path for the province, outlined in a recent letter on the party’s website, envisions local, sustainable ecosystems. He’s talking about self-sufficiency and diversifying the economy in a way that empowers local communities. Worth a try, isn’t it?
And why not? The NDP and the Greens, parties without seats in government and thus with meager resources, have able to find viable plans and viable cost savings the PCs and Liberals, with their massive party machines, have either overlooked or ignored.
The people of New Brunswick are not stupid. They know the province is in a dicey financial situation. They understand the province has a spending problem, and may be willing to give someone a try who actually has a plan to bring that spending under control.
And the NDP, normally characterized as a “tax-and-spend” group just delivered a healthy dose of old-fashioned fiscal-conservative free-market common sense — something the province desperately needs, right now.
In one example, Cardy’s release claimed MLAs spend $4 million a year paying rent. Move MLAs to spare offices in government buildings, and the result is a $2 million savings, Cardy argued.
Grand idea. Why wasn’t it already done? Good question.
And here’s another question the Greens and NDP can ask in the weeks before Sept. 22: if neither the Liberals nor the PCs have managed the province’s finances well, why not give some other flavour of politician a try?
Because the same-old, same-old isn’t getting us anywhere, other than further in debt.
Faulkner is the editor of the Courier/Courier Weekend.