A document presented to the Liberal government by Blaine Higgs when he was in opposition provides further insight into the cuts he would implement if given the chance.
These cuts directly contradict some of the things Higgs has said during this campaign. This document include significant cuts to the capital budget which would mean less investment in rural roads, closing the Perth-Andover hospital and cutting mental health services offered in Campbellton.
Higgs also promoted centralizing power in the premier’s office, limiting the involvement of cabinet ministers in key decisions and instead utilizing external consultants to conduct government business.
Higgs referenced the document in the legislature on Dec. 8, 2015.
“I had a long meeting with the current Minister of Health and Minister responsible for Strategic Program Review. I presented a document, Playing with New Brunswick’s Future, and all the things that we learned during that process,” Higgs said at the time.
Higgs has talked about finding $538 million in savings if elected but has provided no real details on how he would achieve that. However he has said that he would bring back some of the ideas he had in the past, ideas that he now refuses to acknowledge during the campaign.
“Mr. Higgs has spoken about meetings he had with government while in opposition. This was a document he provided at one of those meetings,” said Liberal campaign spokesperson Greg Byrne. “Along with his secret plan to make massive cuts in education, these are more cuts that New Brunswickers should be concerned about.”
When he was finance minister Blaine Higgs had a secret plan to make cuts in education that included laying off more than 500 teachers and closing as many as 79 schools.
As a member of the Conservative government cabinet, Higgs appointed a team of consultants called the project management office to report directly to him on 12 projects he viewed as a personal priority.
One of these projects was to find savings by cutting services to the most vulnerable New Brunswickers at the department of Social Development. The consultant hired for that project was EY and the millions of dollars wasted in that enterprise was the subject of an auditor general’s report. In response to the report, Higgs said of the cuts proposed by EY for both Education and Social Development: “absolutely they’d have come back” if he had remained in power.
Some of the cuts identified for Education in the EY report are:
- eliminating 545 teachers, 259 educational assistants and 85 school librarians;
- closing up to 79 schools;
- privatizing school bus services and school custodial services;
- cutting daycare funding by up to $2 million;
- cutting autism services by up to $2.1 million.
“In order to address the deficit, a Liberal government took a different approach than Higgs,” said Byrne.
“Addressing our deficit was a major issue in our first mandate so we listened to Mr Higgs along with thousands of other New Brunwsickers,” said Byrne. “Ultimately we took a different approach, a more balanced approach in which we were able to protect the important services provided to New Brunswickers.”
“Our approach has worked. Unlike Mr Higgs we were able to hit our targets to bring the books into balance. We were also able to improve roads, including rural roads, keep hospitals like the one in Perth Andover open, make more investments in education and increase the number of teachers instead of firing hundreds of them and closing schools.”
The Liberal plan for the next four years includes further investments in education and health care and a detailed plan to grow the economy and create more and better jobs for New Brunswickers. The full Liberal platform includes very modest increases to the fiscal framework that would allow a Liberal government to continue hitting its budget targets, as it has for the past four years, and bring the books back into balance by 2021-22.
A copy of this report is available here.