It was a fiery question period as Liberal opposition members took aim at the Blaine Higgs Conservatives for slashing more than $200 million in the New Brunswick capital budget.
“I would say to the premier, ask the families that have lost family members on Route 11 and ask them if the 50-cent dollar was worth it,” shouted Liberal MLA Lisa Harris during QP.
“Mr. Speaker, I hope there is a paramedic in the House. The emotions and tensions are rising,” replied Premier Higgs.
Tuesday, the province announced it would be shelving infrastructure projects in various stages ranging from healthcare, to roads and education. The move is a way to curtail spending and balance the books by March of 2020.
“I agree with postponing new projects. What I don’t agree with is gutting places like [the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure] to the point where the current assets are not being able to be maintained and new assets brought in,” said People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin.
Health care cuts are being felt in Saint John where previous financial commitments to the intensive care, surgical and oncology units have now been shelved. In some cases, funding announcements had already been made.
“It was the Liberal government that told them they could and we’re just telling them we can’t afford it,” said Finance Minister Ernie Steeves.
Cuts are also being made to the coronary care unit project at the Moncton Hospital, where fundraising has started.
“It’s very disheartening that you know with community leaders out there raising funds that now the government isn’t going to pull their weight,” said Rob McKee, the MLA for Moncton Centre.
In some cases, such as some of the Route 11 upgrades, federal dollars are already committed.
“You’re basically saying, ‘Well it’s not, we don’t want to partner with you, it’s our way or the highway. Or in this case no highway,'” said Benoit Bourque, a Liberal MLA in Kent South.
Federal MP Dominic LeBlanc has expressed his concern with the province’s heavy-handed approach to the capital projects.
“I don’t think it augers very well for somebody who will want to collaborate with our government on other spending priorities if he behaves in this highhanded way, so I think he’s off to a very bad start in terms of building a constructive relationship with our government,” LeBlanc said in Ottawa Wednesday.
The finance minister says that’s not the issue; it comes down to dollars and cents.
“It’s like a BOGO, it’s like a buy one get one free and if you can’t afford the first one, then the second one being free doesn’t matter to you,” said Steeves.
The opposition is suggesting these cuts are sending a message to Ottawa that New Brunswick isn’t open for business. The Tories continue to stand behind their decision that not all projects can be given the green light, especially with a target to balance the books by in two years.