N.B. finance minister says tax cuts are coming, but not necessarily in the budget

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick set to unveil provincial budget'
New Brunswick set to unveil provincial budget
WATCH: All eyes are on Finance Minister Ernie Steeves as he prepares to unveil the New Brunswick provincial budget. It’ll be the last before the province heads to the polls later this year. Silas Brown reports – Mar 18, 2024

New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves says tax cuts “would certainly be in our future,” but that they may not be included in Tuesday’s provincial budget.

Steeves made the comments during a brief Q&A with reporters Monday, noting that the government has had a habit of announcing tax cuts part-way through the fiscal year.

“We’ve done tax cuts throughout the year, we’ve done a lot of programs throughout the year and I think that will probably be the plan for more this year,” he said.

The title of Tuesday’s budget is “Stronger than Ever,” a slogan that is likely familiar to New Brunswick political junkies. The New Brunswick PC party had a bus wrapped with the slogan and the face of Premier Blaine Higgs last fall, as he very nearly pulled the trigger on an early election.

But despite the nominal connection to the campaign that never was, Steeves said this won’t be a spendy, election-style budget.

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“This premier and I like to think myself and the rest of treasury board and finance and throughout cabinet believe that every year you have to be fiscally conservative and you have to be careful with how you spend your money,” he said.

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Steeves said he and the rest of cabinet recognize that “people are hurting,” but said they’ve responded with programs like the $300 affordability payment, eligible to households who made more than $3,000 but less than $70,000 last year, as well as a low-income energy efficiency program.

Liberal Leader Susan Holt said the government seems not to realize that the “Stronger than Ever” tagline doesn’t seem to match the mood of New Brunswickers.

“We have been pushing the premier to recognize that New Brunswickers do not feel stronger than ever and I hope that this budget recognizes the cost-of-living crisis that more and more New Brunswickers are experiencing,” she said.

Click to play video: 'N.B. Liberals preparing platform for next provincial election'
N.B. Liberals preparing platform for next provincial election

To address that issue, Holt says she hopes to see the provincial portion of the HST taken off power bills, the carbon adjuster removed, a full school food program implemented and a credible plan to spur housing development. She also wants to see funding to accelerate the creation of collaborative care practices to broaden access to primary health care.

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According to recent polling from Angus Reid, health care and affordability are far and away the two most important issues in the province. With an election scheduled to happen this fall, 84 per cent of those surveyed said the province was doing a poor or very poor job of addressing the cost of living. On health care, 64 per cent said the government was performing poorly or very poorly.

Green Leader David Coon also highlighted the two issues as the most pressing, calling for primary health care-focused investment, the incentivization of affordable housing and targeted cost-of-living relief for the most vulnerable.

Coon also backed the calls from the New Brunswick Medical Society and the New Brunswick Nurses Union, which have called for a nearly $600-million increase in health spending this year.

“We need a generational investment in this budget to save our health-care system. It’s really that serious,” he said.

“It’s got to be there.”

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