After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the finances in Newfoundland and Labrador became so desperate that Premier Dwight Ball sent a desperate plea to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In a letter dated March 20 that outlines the province’s dire straits, Ball tells the prime minister that the province would be unable to pay its bills without immediate federal assistance.
“As highlighted in discussions regarding changes to the Fiscal Stabilization Program, the Province has never fully recovered from the 2015-16 downturn in the economy when royalty revenues declined by over $1 billion,” Premier Ball writes.
“To put it bluntly, our recent attempts to finalize our borrowing program, both short term and long term, have been unsuccessful. We have no other recourse to raise the necessary funds to maintain the operations of government,” he adds.
“Our Province has run out of time.”
At a COVID-19 briefing, Ball told reporters the letter was necessary.
“It’s really just expressing where we as a province, where I see it going, and the need for the federal government to look at Newfoundland and Labrador as a unique province,” he said.
Last week, the Bank of Canada provided relief, purchasing debt from provinces, allowing the provincial government to hold an emergency session of the House of Assembly, and borrow $2 billion.
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Kyle Hanniman, a Queens University professor who specializes in political economy, credits the Bank of Canada’s support. “Missing payroll and other spending commitments is a problem no matter what the context. But it is particularly problematic today, where the key to combatting COVID-19 and the economic fallout is keeping cash and credit circulating.”
Even before COVID-19, Newfoundland and Labrador’s public finances were in trouble. It had the highest operating deficit and overall debt, per capita, in Canada.
The pandemic’s fallout continues. The Come By Chance oil refinery, which processes up to 130,000 barrels per day, is halting production. Oil prices have plummeted, sinking the market for jet fuel and propane, two of the refinery’s main products.
“It’s gonna take about 5 days to shut it down safely,” wrote Glenn Nolan of the United Steelworkers Union in a Facebook post to members. “It’ll be in idle mode. It could be 2 months, up to 5 months.”
Nolan added the union’s top priority is that its members stay safe. The union has declined further comment.
Premier Ball says his province’s “economic crisis” is far from over, and it will need much more financial help, after Canada emerges from the pandemic.