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A sense of what’s to come


The fact so many answers overlapped from one meeting to the next as the consultation process on Newfoundland and Labrador’s fiscal situation reached this region last week is illuminating.

Close to 40 people attended Thursday night's meeting in Placentia to discuss how the provincial government should treat a projected $2-billion deficit for 2016-17.

Granted, you’re talking about a small sample size with only 60-odd people willing to take time to sit down with others and discuss what government should or shouldn’t be spending money on. But there were common ideas — regionalization, cuts at administrative levels of government, travel cutbacks for politicians and civil servants and the exploration of public-private partnerships were among them.

These people generally understand the reality of Newfoundland and Labrador’s situation. The dwindling price of oil leaves government with no choice but to consider making dramatic changes. One needs to look no further than New Brunswick to get a sense of what’s in store for us.

Its deficit is forecast to hit $347 million in the new fiscal year — less than 20 per cent of what Newfoundland and Labrador is faced with. The measures their government introduced earlier this month are far reaching. There’s a HST increase, highway tolls, increased taxes, courthouse closures and a plan to eliminate 4,500 jobs over three years.

Again, this is all happening in a province that’s not in near as bad a pickle as Newfoundland and Labrador is. These cuts are bound to impact public services and the pocketbooks of residents.

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If increased taxes become a reality here too, that will force people here to adjust their budgets accordingly. The Liberals have confirmed public sector cuts are on the table. Those people will be forced to find work elsewhere, and maybe even outside the province, leading to a brain drain of sorts.

What if Newfoundland and Labrador follows New Brunswick’s lead and closes courthouses? Logistically, there’s a lot of land for the justice system to cover. The proper courthouse in Harbour Grace is already closed and in need of repairs that are in all likelihood quite costly. How else would it be for a building that’s over 180 years old?

The government is now renting space in the Babb Building for court proceedings. If it decided to move all cases heard in Harbour Grace to St. John’s, that would place a considerable strain on people involved in court matters. Not everyone has the means to make it to St. John’s for an appearance. Trinity-Conception RCMP would also be in a tough spot allocating the resources to get suspects out to the city. The law society in New Brunswick is already labeling that province’s move to close courthouses irresponsible.

If New Brunswick sees it fit to eliminate 4,500 jobs, you figure this province is looking at least that many cuts to the public sector — assuming that wouldn’t prove too costly to providing services we rely on.

Dwight Ball has a lot to think about in the weeks ahead. Government has some tough decisions to make. Chances are, so will the general public once the next budget is in.

Andrew Robinson is The Compass' editor. He can be reached at editor@cbncompass.ca.

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