New Brunswick government hesitant to use projected surplus on aid programs

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick announces $480-million surplus during fiscal update' New Brunswick announces $480-million surplus during fiscal update
WATCH: Government of New Brunswick officials announced they are expecting $832 million more than they budgeted for. That brings the province to a projected surplus of more than $480 million for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Suzanne Lapointe breaks down the mixed results to the third-quarter results. – Feb 15, 2022

The province is currently on track to surpass last year’s $408.5 million budgetary surplus in the upcoming 2021-2022 budget.

In Tuesday’s third quarter results announcement, Finance Minister Ernie Steeves announced that they are expecting $832 million more than they originally budgeted for, resulting in a projected $487.8-million surplus.

“This is happening across the country and is attributed to one-time federal transfers, unprecedented federal supports to individuals and businesses and economies rebounding from the pandemic quicker than expected” Steeves said on Tuesday, explaining the province was not in a hurry to spend any of the surplus.

“We can’t expect (to) have this level of revenue growth in all future years. In the next few years we will see the withdrawal of federal supports and our program spending will continue to be influenced by COVID 19,” he said.

Read more: Finance minister credits federal transfers for keeping New Brunswick in the black

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The government’s reluctance to spend the surplus drew criticism from all three opposition parties.

Liberal finance critic Rob McKee criticized the government for not using that money to help New Brunswickers who are increasingly struggling to make ends meet between inflation and the housing crisis.

“They should be looking at one-time type of programs to help everyday New Brunswickers,” McKee said.

“That’s what the money was there for throughout the pandemic from the federal government and we believe that they did not use it for the purpose that it was intended to be there for.”

Green Party finance critic Kevin Arseneau said he would like to see the money invested in chronically understaffed areas like education and health care, as well as clean energy initiatives, in an interview on Tuesday.

“When I think about climate change, I’m thinking here about resilience of our communities, investing also in eco-energy programs because let’s be honest, we can’t keep using the electricity we’re using today. We need to start going down,” Arseneau said.

Read more: Higgs government to table 2021-2022 New Brunswick budget Tuesday (March 2021)

In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin said he would like to see a portion of the surplus used in various measures to reduce everyday costs for New Brunswickers, as well as health-care worker recruitment.

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“Doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals are leaving this province to work in other areas which (are) offering higher salaries. Investing some of the budget surplus in recruitment would be a good use of this money,” he said.

Steeves said using the influx of federal cash for one-time aid programs is not possible.

“That’s awful hard to do when you receive this money six months or six weeks before the end of the fiscal year. You just can’t get it down so much,” Steeves said on Tuesday.

“What we do has to be legislated, and government, quite frankly, is not nimble enough to do business that way. So the decisions that we make have to be for it, not just this year, but for all of the years as well.”

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