Schools, health care, roads top New Brunswick capital spending plan

N.B. capital budget calls for $757.9M in investments for public infrastructure
WATCH ABOVE: Cathy Rogers has announced the details of her first capital budget as New Brunswick’s Minister of Finance. Although the official opposition says the spending must stop, the province staunchly defends their use of taxpayers’ funds as strategic investments. Global’s Jeremy Keefe reports.

Health care, roads and schools are top of the list in the New Brunswick government’s $757.9 million capital spending plan for 2017-18.

READ MORE: N.B. government scales back capital budget by $53 million

The spending plan was tabled Wednesday and included a spending increase of just over $100,000 from last year.

The government says its plans will contribute $560 million to the province’s GDP and support 8,300 jobs.

Finance Minister Cathy Rogers told reporters projects are being chosen with New Brunswickers in mind.

“Spend, spend, spend is a burden on taxpayers,” Rogers said. “We are investing strategically and we are investing where we will see a return on investment.”

She added they’re trying to look for “leveraging opportunities” for partners such as the federal government. Of the total budget, $29.9 million came from other partners.

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A large amount of funding – $659.4 million – will go towards maintenance and continuation for previously announced projects. There is also $98.5 million for new investments yet to be revealed.

READ MORE: New Brunswick budget: tax hikes, civil service cuts, no new highway tolls

Rogers said $110.3 million will be spent on health care, with money going towards the continuing work on Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital, Chaleur Regional Hospital and Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont Hospital Centre.

Education is also seeing investment for both upgrades and new builds.

Rogers said $88.1 million is being earmarked to upgrade schools including Fredericton High School, Harrison Trimble High School, Polyvalente W.-A. Losier and École Louis-J.-Robichaud.

Money will also be spent on new schools such as elementary schools in West Saint John and Miramichi East, a Grade 3-8 school in Dieppe, a new Moncton North Grade 6-8 school, the replacement for École Arc-en-ciel, and a new Campbellton kindergarten to Grade 8 school.

“We care very much about all levels so we want to make sure that we provide infrastructure that is quality for education and health care,” Rogers said. “You know if we don’t invest in these things we’re going to start impacting the health care that we’re mandated to provide.”

Roads and other infrastructure projects like the Fundy Trail Parkway Connector and Two Nations Crossing are also seeing major investment with $447 million set to be spent. Route 108 in New Denmark and Route 105 in Fredericton will also see some of the funding.

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But the official Opposition is calling the government’s spending a “tax and spend Liberal philosophy.”

“This is largely borrowed money and it’s coming out of the pockets of the taxpayers,” said Bruce Fitch, the Opposition finance critic. “There’s only one taxpayer and again the taxpayer is looking to ante up to pay for these goodies.”

Fitch also expressed concerns about the province’s net debt and whether it would be addressed.

The budget also sets aside $12.6 million for tourism infrastructure and $20.3 million for energy retrofits and renewable energy.

Green Party Leader David Coon said the energy investment – up more than 50 per cent from last year – is something he was expecting but is happy to see it included.

“The great thing about this is those all reflect an investment especially with the focus on energy efficiency in buildings the government owns will return more than they’re spending,” Coon said, adding the province’s climate action plan agreement with Ottawa would see further investment into renewable energy.