In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball said the province is struggling under the combination of low oil prices, a border shutdown cutting off vital tourism and coronavirus restrictions crippling the fishing season and processing plants.
“It’s been a tough start to 2020 for Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Ball.
“What we need right now, is support from the federal government.”
Newfoundland is one of several provinces with rich natural resources that are not eligible for transfer payments under the existing, but often controversial, federal formula.
However, Ball says it’s taken a significant economic hit and that’s leaving many big oil exploration projects that had been underway in the province facing uncertain futures, along with fishing jobs and processing plants being shut down as a result of the social distancing needed to limit the virus spread.
If they shut down, he said, that work might never come back.
Ball said while he would like to see the eligibility criteria changed, he thinks the province can help itself if it can get a boost from the federal government and doesn’t necessarily need full transfer payments.
“We can actually help ourselves with some support from the federal government,” he said.
“We need some action right now so we can get those industries back to work, get people back to work so we can actually contribute to Canada as opposed to taking extra transfer payments.”
Ball warned the province is on a “tight” timeline to address the problem.
“The other option would be industry collapse and the government got to come in with huge transfers to support Newfoundland and Labrador.”
The Atlantic provinces begin the next stage in their reopening process this weekend.
That will take the form of loosening travel restrictions within an Atlantic bubble zone made up of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
But the provinces continue to bar travellers from other parts of Canada, something civil rights advocates are challenging in court as a constitutional violation.
Section 6 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to free movement across Canada.
Ball wouldn’t answer when asked whether he thinks those travel prohibitions infringe on Charter rights.
He said the province and others in Atlantic Canada plan to look at whether to reopen more broadly next month but that keeping locals safe is their priority.