Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Oil-Rich Newfoundland and Labrador Stresses Fiscal Prudence in Throne Speech: Newfoundland Throne Speech Preaches Prudence

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Oil-Rich Newfoundland and Labrador Stresses Fiscal Prudence in Throne Speech: Newfoundland Throne Speech Preaches Prudence

Article excerpt

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Fiscal restraint loomed large even in oil-rich Newfoundland and Labrador as the legislature opened Monday with a throne speech stressing the need to act now to protect future prosperity.

Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie delivered Premier Kathy Dunderdale's blueprint for a financially prudent new session led by a third straight Tory majority government elected last October.

He began with a moment of silence for 14-year-old Burton Winters, whose recent death in Labrador sparked renewed demands for better search and rescue response.

The speech underscored the need to make choices now to ensure newfound prosperity continues for generations to come.

"If we squander opportunities by making short-sighted decisions today, it is our children and our grandchildren who will reap the consequences," Dunderdale told the legislature.

Recent big-spending budgets that invested in health care, social programs and construction relied heavily on offshore oil and mineral profits.

Dunderdale recently signalled in a speech to the St. John's Board of Trade that the province must rein in spending and cut debt.

Years of fiscal surpluses over most of the last decade are about to give way to two years of predicted deficits as offshore oil production dips due to refits and maintenance.

Dunderdale has ruled out tax hikes and program cuts, but instructed departments to trim costs by becoming more efficient.

She also wants to bring down per capita debt -- the highest in Canada -- to the national average within 10 years.

Total provincial debt is estimated at about $7.7 billion this year, down from a high of $12 billion eight years ago.

Late last year, Finance Minister Tom Marshall predicted deficits of about $400 million for 2012-13 and $211 million in 2013-14.

"Whether we are talking about 30 years from now, or two years from now, the future we reap will be determined by the seeds we sow -- the choices we make -- right here, right now," Crosbie read from the throne speech.

"We will not allow poor choices based on failed philosophies and narrow agendas to reverse every gain we have worked so hard to achieve."

The throne speech casts the proposed $6.2-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador as a crucial means to develop renewable energy. Opposition critics and a growing list of former public servants and lawyers -- including former Tory premier Brian Peckford -- have raised doubts.

They fear the plan to bring hydro from Labrador to Newfoundland and then Nova Scotia using subsea cables is prone to cost overruns. They're not convinced the province has thoroughly studied other options.

The issue will likely dominate the new legislative session, but the throne speech makes the government's position clear as it prepares to decide this spring whether to approve Muskrat Falls.

"In the decades to come, there will be sufficient renewable energy in Labrador to fuel unprecedented growth throughout our province," Crosbie read. …

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