One of the first things Premier Tom Marshall mentioned upon taking his position was that government decisions should reflect what people want, and Finance Minister Charlene Johnson says that came through in the 2014 budget.
Johnson stopped by St. Jude’s Hotel in Clarenville on April 8 to attend a local chamber of commerce dinner and give a budget speech.
“Premier Marshall said when we was shown in that we want to hear from you. We want you to know we are listening,” she told the group of about 20 people, leaving many empty seats in the room.
Johnson says this region is a “beehive of activity” from projects such as Hebron, and the province is set to lead Canada in GDP going into next year. That said, there are challenges and Johnson says her office used input from the 12 pre-budget consultations earlier this year to shape the 2014/2015 budget.
“I think you’ll see when I go through some of the highlights, you’ll see we truly did listen to what people had to say in pre-budget,” she says.
The idea to extend drug coverage for people coming off income support from six months to one year came from a conversation she had with someone struggling to get back into the workforce, according to Johnson.
“The self-confidence people get when they come back into the workforce, you can’t put a price tag on that,” says Johnson. “But when you look at (the fact that) these (people) will be contributing to society, contributing to the much-needed workforce, those dollars will pay off for us in the long-term anyway when it comes to taxes.”
Johnson says they’ve also invested $4.8 million more in law enforcement, with 10 new positions at the Memorial University police studies program, and new RCMP officers hired throughout the province.
The province will run a deficit of $537.5 million this year, and the provincial debt will reach $9.8 billion. The government forecasts a return to surplus in 2015, continuing on into 2016.
This year, the province will invest $552 million into Nalcor for oil and gas extraction and the Muskrat Falls hydro project.
“I can’t wait until 2017. I truly hope that I get re-elected so I can flick that switch when (Muskrat Falls) starts up,” Johnson told the crowd.
“It’s a real game changer for our province, not only for an environmental perspective, but an economic perspective, the fact that we’re finally going to be connected to the grid in North America, is a long time coming.”
Next year Johnson says she hopes to begin pre-budget consultations earlier to have more time to analyze people’s suggestions, so next year’s budget can reflect what people want from their government.
“These are some of the things that were important to people, important to us, and were investments that will only pay off many dividends in the future,” she says.
At the end of the speech, Coun. Paul Tilley of Clarenville asked what the province is doing to work with municipalities on a new fiscal arrangement. Johnson responded that the province has hired one full time staff member to work on the negotiations
To hear full audio of Johnson’s speech, CLICK HERE.