Vickers comments come after Premier Blaine Higgs admitted in an interview with CBC radio that government has updated financial numbers. But the premier, his finance minister and government spokespeople have indicated those numbers might not be released until July.
“Those numbers should be made public and provided to MLAs to help inform the debate and discussion when the legislature resumes,” Vickers said. “This will be important information for MLAs when we get into discussions of what measures we can take to help the economy. The government also promised when the house adjourned to have budget estimates for each department, so it’s important to know what we’re working with.”
A recent report from Scotiabank indicated the province could be facing a deficit in excess of $1 billion dollars this year, a fiscal challenge all provinces are facing as they invest in measures to help support the economy, which has been devastated by COVID-19. In his CBC interview Premier Higgs indicated he’s looking at a deficit considerably less than that, and that numbers have been provided to party leaders at the COVID cabinet committee meeting which meets behind closed doors.
“As I’ve stated in the past, I’m forbidden from discussing what is said in this committee due to cabinet confidentiality reasons. But since the Premier has opened the door and talked about this publicly, I’ll confirm what he said. The numbers told to us, verbally, are much less than the Scotiabank predictions,” said Vickers.
“The primary mandate of this committee has been to protect public health, and all four leaders have worked together well on that. But the committee can’t be used as a cover for keeping information from the public or stifling debate. The appropriate forum for discussing the state of the budget, and what measures should be taken to help the economy is the Legislative Assembly.”
Vickers said the tone and approach in the legislature from the opposition Liberals will change.
“This is not the time for partisan bickering from any party. We are facing an economic crisis. We’ll ask straight questions, and expect straight factual answers, as the premier once promised he would bring to the legislature,” Vickers said.
“We’ve done a great job so far from a public health perspective. But we can’t use this public health crisis to forgo public debate and discussion on critical issues. For us the most pressing issue in the coming months is what government can do to help rebuild the economy. I’m not sure people fully appreciate how bad things could become for the economy if the province doesn’t step up,” said Vickers.
“The Scotiabank report indicated New Brunswick is the province that has done the least so far to help the economy. I think it’s reasonable to suggest the province can do more, and we’ll ask reasonable questions on this when the legislature resumes.”