GANDER, NL – There’s no doubt the province’s fiscal situation is in dire need of re-evaluation, says Health Minister and Gander MHA John Haggie.
“Government has a significant spending problem,” said Haggie, who was in Gander Jan. 18 hosting a pre-budget consultation seeking the public’s ideas on how government can help address that problem.
The province’ net debt is currently at $13.6 billion, according to the pre-consultation budget booklet.
Roundtable discussions were held at the Gander to gather ideas and insights from local citizens, with government facilitators at each table capturing input and consolidating data.
Four tables were occupied with approximately 20 people in attendance.
Government posed two questions in relation to improving efficiencies and spending.
On efficiencies, the first question was how government can spend less while maintaining the current quality of its programs and services.
On the topic of reduction, the second question asked which programs and services should be subject to cuts, and which should not.
Following each question, facilitators summarized thoughts from the table.
Some ideas put forward to reduce spending included re-evaluating ferry services in low-use areas, re-thinking the possibility of resettlement to reduce costs associated with maintaining those areas, re-evaluating the use of technology in schools and healthcare in rural locations, and retaining specialist physicians in lieu of locums to save money.
In areas where revenue could be raised, some participants suggested installing tolls on parts of the highway and increasing the price of ferry transport.
Some participants also felt strongly that no further reductions should be made in the areas of municipal support, education and income assistance – although most felt these areas should still be reviewed for possible efficiencies.
Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce chair Debby Yannakidis said she thought the session was helpful.
“There are a lot of inefficiencies within government,” she said. “I believe reaching out to the public is a good step, and this is an excellent event to do that.”
Yannakidis told the Beacon she senses uncertainty among the local business community regarding the province’s financial state.
“There is a quiet, underlying nervousness about the economic situation,” she said. “For example, in 2017, I believe most of the businesses that I am aware of forecasted no growth. The mandate was stay the course, to try and keep and maintain the business. And I believe that people are looking at the same thing for the next year or two.”
Gander resident Ryan Wagg is not optimistic about the province’s economic situation.
Having moved from Alberta with his family to Newfoundland to raise his children, he says he’s finding it tough to remain here.
Working in a seasonal job, he feels the pinch of the 15-per-cent provincial tax, and the prediction of a future hydro rate rise is also causing concern.
“My wife and I have had serious discussions about remaining in this province,” he said. “We can move to another province with better wages, opportunities and more services.”
Anyone interested in giving their feedback regarding the province’s finances and upcoming budget can do so online at https://www.engagenl.ca/participation-opportunities/current