N.B. auditor general says provincial debt now almost $12 billion

FREDERICTON – New Brunswick’s auditor general remains very concerned about the continued growth of the province’s net debt.

In her annual report released Thursday, Kim MacPherson says the province must do more to address its structural deficit and growth of the debt.

MacPherson said the net debt has risen to $11.6 billion, an increase of 69 per cent or $4.7 billion since 2006 — or about $15,400 per New Brunswicker.

MORE: Read the New Brunswick Auditor General’s report

She also revealed the debt is scheduled to increase by $530.7 million by end of this fiscal year, which will push it over $12 billion.

Last year, New Brunswick reported a deficit of $498.7 million, the sixth year in a row the province was in the red.

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MacPherson says while the province has shown progress in cutting back expenses, it’s not enough. She says the government needs to achieve or exceed new net debt reduction targets.

Brian Gallant’s Liberal government has promised a balanced budget in six years.

Review on pension changes

MacPherson also reviewed the changes made to the province’s pension plans.

The province converted the Public Service Superannuation plan to a shared-risk pension plan structure last year to ensure its sustainability.

READ MORE: The great pension divide: an in-depth look

She said while the changes will save some money, it will also mean some new or mid-career employees will have to work longer, contribute more or receive fewer benefits.

“Given the Province’s announced intention to convert more pension plans to shared risk pension plans we believe the question of appropriate accounting treatment will be an even more important issue in future audits,” she said in the report.

Point Lepreau refurbishment ‘generally reasonable’

MacPherson completed her second assessment of the $2.4-billion Point Lepreau refurbishment, noting the costs were generally reasonable, but NB Power needs to better prepare for capital projects in the future.

The report says the cost of the project will have to be recovered from ratepayers over time.

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NB Power is working on a solution to its ailing Mactaquac Dam and aiming to decide its future by December 2016.

Estimates for the cost of the project have ranged from $3 billion to $5 billion, but NB Power’s vice-president of generation and business development said there’s no way of knowing how much each option will cost without further research.

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