Liberals will dump government ‘waste’ to fulfil promises

Costing of commitments shows expectation of return to surplus in 2019-20

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on November 23, 2015

Liberal candidates (from left) Siobhan Coady, Paul Antle, Cathy Bennett and party Leader Dwight Ball take questions after releasing the costing of the Liberal party campaign promises, in a news conference at the Hampton Inn and Suites in St. John’s Sunday.

With Elizabeth MacDonald Releasing campaign promises piece by piece over the last several weeks, the provincial Liberals held court Sunday to put out the last and offer the estimated costs on their commitments.

At the Hampton Inn and Suites on Stavanger Drive in St. John’s, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball presented the numbers, taking questions alongside candidates Cathy Bennett, Paul Antle and Siobhan Coady.

The party has indicated roughly $38 million in new spending planned for the coming fiscal year, should they take control.

And yet, the Liberals expect the province’s coming mid-year financial update to show a higher-than-expected deficit.

A party promise to halt the change in the HST will mean $180 million in lost revenue in the first year alone.

Ball also reiterated the party’s planning does not include any public-sector job cuts.

So what about revenues?

The Grits say they will save $383 million over the next four years by cutting “government waste.” “It’ll come from every area where we can find it,” Ball said.

“It’s about the multi-year tendering. It’s about changes in procurement. It’s making sure we can keep contractors accountable on infrastructure work and so on, so it’s all of that. It’s basically putting accountability in place. It’s a different way of doing things I can tell you.”

He said a Liberal government will sell off property as well.

The Liberals think they can gather in roughly $200 million over the next four years (or $50 million a year) through the sale of idle assets and Crown land.

“We have, in the district of St. John’s Centre, a half a dozen buildings that have been left vacant in the most lucrative time for real estate management in the history of our province,” Bennett said, noting every vacant building comes with an unanswered operating cost.

Antle said the estimate on the sales revenues was developed by Liberal members, working with real estate experts and economist Jim Feehan.

In addition, the party has planned small packets of spending to spur economic diversification, expecting it to translate into $359 million in new revenue by the end of 2019-20.

The Grits’ plan suggests total savings of $974 million over the next four years, with roughly $221 million in new spending for the same period.

Within the planned spending, more than half (about $126 million) falls under the umbrella of health and healthy living, covering everything from the promise to establish new “primary health care teams” (a cost of $10 million over four years) to the often-repeated commitment to find ways to help seniors stay in their own homes longer (with $21 million in spending planned over four years for healthy living assessments and $35 million over four years in “expanded home support”).

Some promised items from the campaign were not fully costed out.

Planned expenditures include $15 million into 2017 for planning and assessment of the best approach to contracting for a new Waterford Hospital. However there is no new money allocated for actual construction.

“There would have to be a budget change in Year 3, 4 and beyond depending on how we decided to proceed with this,” Ball said, adding the cost of the new facility will fall differently, under different budget years, depending on the arrangement.

Other large infrastructure projects, including a new penitentiary, were similarly not included. But Ball noted they did not have timelines set in the platform promises.

The campaigns continue Monday.

All party leaders will be attending the funeral of Ron Hynes, but the Liberal numbers will likely be raised in a CBC-hosted leaders’ debate Monday night.

 Notes from the Liberal platform

There were a few points of interest in the estimates backing the Liberal campaign promises:

• Agriculture funding co-ordinator — It is expected roughly $60,000 will be spent over two years for the position.

• Tourism marketing — An additional $4 million is promised over the next four years, on top of any current budget commitments.

• Appointments commission — Setting up the promised hands-off approach is expected to cost about $600,000 over the next four years.

• Redefining oil — The offshore industries association has laid out plans to push diversification and growth within the sector. To assist, the Liberals are planning to spend a back-loaded $7 million over the next four years on R&D, with $1 million committed in each of the next two years.

• New businesses — The Liberals plan to spend $9.5 million over four years ($2 million in the first fiscal year) for a “labour-based tax credits for emerging industries,” to push for more start-ups and rapid growth in fledgling enterprises. There are related commitments as well, including $5.5 million in new spending over the next four years for a mentorship program for young entrepreneurs.