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The fiscal situation: what it means for the disadvantaged

Last month, Premier Dwight Ball and his Finance Minister Cathy Bennett told us the deficit is expected to reach $1.96 billion this fiscal year, well above the roughly $1.1 billion forecast by their Progressive Conservative predecessors in last spring’s budget.

According to news reports, the Liberals also plan to review the Muskrat Falls energy project at an additional cost of $750,000 to $1 million. This is a project that has already eaten up more than $5 billion of public money, is over budget (cost overruns are projected to hike its price tag to well over $7 billion), and behind schedule.

During that pre-Christmas news conference, layoffs were never mentioned (sure, there were a few internal tweaks such as a stop to non-essential government travel), but the words “corrective action” by the finance minister and a warning from the premier that “the status quo is not an option” sound ominous. The measures are brought about, in part, because of decreased revenues due to low oil prices and decreased production. We were also assured the situation will not get better anytime soon — only worse.

The price of food is also sky-rocketing for a number of reasons, not least of which is the low Canadian dollar. Last month the CBC reported the cost of groceries in 2015 rose “faster than inflation” and there is no indication this year will bring any improvements. In fact, it may even worsen as the loonie sinks against the U.S. dollar, bringing with it higher costs for our mainly imported fruits and vegetables. At one Carbonear supermarket, two small bags of cheap food and essentials — no fruits and veggies here — will now set you back $25.

So, where do the economically disadvantaged fit in a province that may eventually have to cut jobs and reduce government spending to keep its good credit rating?

Premier Ball has never had a well-developed anti-poverty strategy, but he has committed to providing affordable housing for people on income support and a minimum wage  that “guarantees an annual increase based on the consumer price index.” He has kept his promise on the HST and cancelled the two per cent increase announced in the PC budget of 2015. The Tories planned to hike the Harmonized Sales Tax from 13 per cent to 15 per cent on Jan.1.

As for “corrective action,” it should be taken to assist those who must endure hunger for six or seven days each month just so they can keep some heat burning in their house; to help those for whom full stomachs and warm homes have yet to become reality.

We can only hope that any ‘corrective action” taken toward our poor and vulnerable is positive. For history, including our own, has taught us that no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse. It is to be hoped the Liberal government has no plans to take “corrective action” against a population already at its breaking point.

Pat Cullen is a journalist and community volunteer who lives in Carbonear. She can be reached at 596-1505 or

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