N.B. government touts fiscal restraint with $673 million capital budget

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New Brunswick finance minister Ernie Steeves says the province is holding the line on capital spending despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have prioritized projects that balance our needs against what we can afford, acknowledge where we are in our recovery, and the important role the private sector will also play in supporting this recovery,” said Steeves during his speech before the legislature on Tuesday.

“While it would be easy to significantly increase our capital plan during these uncertain times, I appreciate that difficult decisions had to be made.”

Read more: New Brunswick government tables 2020-21 capital budget in legislature

The third capital budget of the Blaine Higgs PC government totals $673.4 million for 2021-2022, up from $599.2 million in 2020-2021.

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Of that, $128 million is going to the healthcare system, with $83.9 million for the continuation of renovations and $44.3 million for equipment and capital improvements.

Education and Early Childhood Development is getting $72.6 million for school infrastructure. Another $307.7 million is earmarked for improvements and maintenance of roads, highways and bridges.

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Details on what the money for each department will go to has not been released.

Steeves stressed the importance of not reacting to the pandemic with excess spending.

“We have made strides in recent years to improve our fiscal standing, and COVID-19 has upended this progress. This does not mean that we should no longer be fiscally disciplined. Rather, the pandemic has highlighted the need to always be diligent with the public finances of the province,” he said.

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“While some may note that interest rates are low and we should spend more, I wish to remind New Brunswickers that there is no guarantee that interest rates will always be this low, and the decisions we take today will be impacted by future interest rate increases.”

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Steeves told reporters that the capital budget includes $7.5 million for the design of a new Fredericton Courthouse.

The refurbishment of the Centennial Building, which was slated to hold a new Fredericton Courthouse was cancelled in Higgs’ first capital budget. The Centennial building has since been sold to a private developer.