New Brunswick’s official opposition took aim at the new budget announced by the Progressive Conservative government on Tuesday, alleging the government is “manipulating” the numbers.
“Mr. Speaker, responsible, accountable, transparent governments don’t leave their moral compass at the door when developing budgets,” said Rob McKee, Liberal finance critic, in his speech on Thursday.
McKee, who has been vocal that the numbers are not to be trusted, said his party believes the province is under-estimating revenues and over-estimating expenditures.
He didn’t hold back when it came to criticisms on recruitment and retention of health-care workers, citing the number of families without a primary caregiver.
The rent cap, for which he said there are many gaps, was just a small adjustment to address a real crisis in housing.
“Gas prices are through the roof and the premier’s solution to the situation was to pawn it off to the federal government,” said McKee, adding the quickest solution was to rebate the gas tax in the province.
McKee touched on inflation and the high cost of living, which the Liberals argue wasn’t given enough attention in the budget. He addressed the labour disputes the province has faced, including with CUPE New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Nurses Union.
On the surpluses, McKee said he doesn’t think the numbers are as good as they seem.
“I don’t believe, for a minute, it was public servants who advised government to underestimate revenues by so much and to drastically underspend budgets allocated to needed services and infrastructure,” McKee said in his speech.
He said the government has “turned off the taps” in funding to two-thirds of the departments.
McKee said there is a balance to be struck between spending and debt and keeping up with good social programming and a bolstered health-care system.
“That’s what good governments do. They find balance between addressing our social and health care and different needs at the same time paying down debt because that is also an important part of it,” he said speaking with reporters.
While the government is projecting a surplus of $35 million for 2022-23, that’s small in comparison with the $488-million surplus for the current fiscal year that ends March 31.
Net debt will increase over the next year by $15.4 million to $12.99 billion, which represents $16,332 for every New Brunswicker.
Finance Minister Ernie Steeves defended the budget when speaking to reporters on Tuesday.
“All I can say is we do the best prediction we can. We don’t go in looking to float the numbers one way or another,” he said.
The Liberals said they’ll continue to apply pressure for transparency and accountability on all fiscal updates.
— with files from the Canadian Press.