The St. John’s Board of Trade has been among the current government’s most vocal critics in regards to fiscal responsibility. Finance Minister Tom Osborne spoke at their luncheon on Thursday.
Finance Minister Tom Osborne spoke at the St. John’s Board of Trade luncheon on Thursday.
The St. John’s Board of Trade has been critical of the government’s spending habits in the past, and Thursday was no different. Before introducing Osborne as guest speaker, Andrea Stack, chair of the St. John’s Board of Trade, reiterated the organization’s concerns.
“While we applaud the government for another year of budgeting for reduced deficit, we also feel that our debt and expenditures are not under control,” Stack said.
Stack said that Newfoundland doesn’t have a problem with revenue; it has a problem with spending. She said that Newfoundland’s expenditures are 44 per cent higher than the average of other Canadian provinces but did not offer further detail or explanation as to why this might be.
Osborne began his speech by reiterating the decrease in the deficit over the past two years from a projected $2.7 billion to just over $800 million at the end of the 2017-2018 fiscal year – an accomplishment he mentioned several times throughout the course of his speech.
Much of the strength of Newfoundland’s economy depends on oil revenues, which have improved since the last fiscal year. Many of the successes Osborne announced during his speech were made possible by increases in oil revenue, leading to concerns around what sort of effect a drop in the price of crude would have on the economy. These were concerns Osborne attempted to address in his speech.
“We are working very diligently to try and reduce our reliance on oil and reduce our spending – because it is a problem – and to create a business environment that will work for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” Osborne said.
Osborne said there were many promising industries in the province that government is focusing attention on. Some of the industries that Osborne sees playing a big role in the economy include mining, tourism, film and television, agriculture and, of course, continued development of our oil and gas reserves.
“While we’ve had the wealthiest decade that this province has ever experienced, I can tell you from being in the House of Assembly, we’ve overlooked some of the traditional industries that have created employment here,” said Osborne. “So we are learning from the mistakes of the past and we are focusing on diversifying the economy.”
In regard to cutting down on government expenditures, Osborne announced the consolidation of the government’s vehicle fleet under one department. He said this measure will result in a reduction in the number of vehicles used by the provincial government by 10 per cent, saving tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to Osborne, the government has also reduced leased space by 92,000 square feet resulting in 2.7 million in savings. He said government had cut 795 core government positions, with no apparent negative effects on the economy or interruption in services.
Osborne also revealed plans for a shared services model that would consolidate certain government branches in order to reduce redundancy. Osbourne finished with an assurance that the Liberal government was well on track to reach a surplus by 2022.
After Osborne’s speech, Stack returned to say a few words. While her concerns were not completely eased, she did have some positive things to say about the budget and Osbourne’s announcements.
“We’re happy to see any tax reductions moving in the right direction and I can say the shared service model that you did unveil is a step in the right direction of using technology and combining services it will save time for business owners and people of the province going forward,” Stack said.